Bluehole is hard at work trying to get PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds out of Early Access on Steam and on Microsoft’s Xbox One console, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t juggling other ventures. The studio is actually one of the financial backers of upstart capital firm ESDF, which specializes in funding gaming projects. ESDF revealed its first project, the revival of the Rune series from developer Human Head Studios, in August.
For Bluehole, working with ESDF is a way to expand its presence in important regions like North America. That led the company, which exploded in popularity with the last-person-standing shooter PUBG earlier this year, to invest an undisclosed seven-figure amount into ESDF. But ESDF actually first pitched Bluehole even before PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds came out.
“At that time, ESDF partner Sam Chun was evaluating potential partners in Korea,” ESDF chief operating officer Sam Kim told GamesBeat. “By coincidence, his good friend was previously an executive at Bluehole and introduced him to Bluehole’s Chairman Byung-gyu ‘BG’ Chang. We pitched a game production model that was very similar to the path that Bluehole had undertaken to create PUBG.”
That model involves looking for holes in the market and partnering with talented creators to execute on those opportunities. ESDF also has a lot of people with experience in business and publishing, and they plan to use that to help ship games. The team includes chief executive officer Sam Goldberg, who has worked as an entrepreneur and founded the mobile-tech company The Mobile Majority along with Kim. Sam Chun, the chief financial officer, has spent more than 15 years work in private equity. And Matt Candler, who is the head of production, recently oversaw games for The Walking Dead franchise at Skybound. He previously worked on games like MechWarrior 2, Battlezone, Spyro, and more.
“We recognized that ESDF was a nimble partner with a strong business model and valuable expertise in the North American market,” Bluehole chairman BG Chang explained. “With that in mind, both of our companies were interested in forging a long-term relationship. Our investment gives us exposure to both ESDF’s team and business model, which is a perfect situation for us.”
Investing in gaming is difficult because it is such a hit driven business, but Chun explains how the company hopes to minimize risk.
“ESDF partners with strong creative talent knowing that creative drives the process of producing games — like PlayerUnknown and Human Head Studios,” he said. “ESDF’s team has a diverse skillset, which provides comprehensive coverage for software publishing. We have financial, legal, operations, game development, and game publishing experience. We are also great friends and have successfully invested together.”
This also could give Bluehole a way to diversify in North America without having to build out its own office dedicated to that.
“PUBG has been an incredible success,” said BG Chang. “But we’re always looking forward to being part of the next big prospect on the horizon, and ESDF’s role is to help us establish a larger presence in North America to unearth more of those kinds of opportunities. To a significant extent, ESDF serves as our eyes on the ground, screening potential deals and identifying great development teams and creative talent. They have an extensive network and provide us with a variety of valuable market insights.”
Rune: Ragnarok from Prey developer Human Head Studios is the first game that ESDF is backing, and it is due out at some point in the future for PC. That’s the only announced project, but ESDF finished by giving an idea of what may come next.
“We want to produce games we’re fans of,” said Kim. “The kind we really want to play when we hear about them, which is exactly what happened with this new sequel to Rune. We deploy smart development practices to be able to rapidly respond to fan feedback … while the process for creating hits is sometimes elusive and unexpected, there are those amazing times when you catch a shooting star. We look forward to sharing more games in the ESDF pipeline as they get closer to release.”