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This week was a microcosm of the game industry’s continuous expansion. And it makes me think of the dream of a golden age of gaming.
ProbablyMonsters, a startup game publisher run by former Bungie CEO Harold Ryan, announced that it had raised $250 million to continue to fund multiple triple-A games at once. Jon Goldman’s Tower 26 raised a $50 million fund to fund virtual reality games and other immersive content. Meta’s VR division announced new titles like a Ghostbusters VR game.
Raph Koster and Eric Goldberg raised $25 million for Playable Worlds to build a cloud-based sandbox massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Former Bungie and ArenaNet developers raised $22 million at One More Game to build a strategy game called Spellcraft. And MetaVRse unveiled plans to build a metaverse shopping mall with 100 floors and 100 million virtual square feet of space.
And Amy Hennig, co-creator of the Uncharted games, is now at Skydance with her own game studio, working on both a Marvel game and a Star Wars title. And 20-year-old Habbo, now owned by Azerion, announced it was going to open a non-fungible token (NFT) hotel later this year. If we expand our scope to just a longer time frame of the past year, we’ve seen some amazing moments like the launch of Unreal Engine 5, Facebook’s pivot into the metaverse, Nintendo’s Switch becoming the biggest selling console of all time,
Boom or bubble?
It seems like every corner of gaming is getting funding. That raises the question about whether we’re in a golden age of gaming, predicted long ago by Kleiner Perkins’ Bing Gordon, because just about every game project can raise money. Or is it a bubble?
That’s the kind of question we’re going to try to answer with financial and gaming experts at our GamesBeat Summit 2022 event next week from April 26 to April 28. Reggie Fils-Aime, former president of Nintendo of America, will set the stage for us with a talk on entertainment disrupted with Danny Pena of Gamertag Radio/G4.
As a refresher, we are living in a remarkable time. Microsoft’s $68.7 billion plan to buy Activision Blizzard and Take-Two’s $12.7 billion bid to buy Zynga pushed the first quarter toward a massive $98.7 billion in total value for game deals, according to a report released yesterday by Drake Star Partners.
That compares to $85 billion for all of last year, which itself was a massive leap over 2020’s $32.7 billion in deals. But even if you didn’t count the biggest deals, we also had Sony’s $3.6 billion purchase of Bungie. The March edition of Drake Star’s Global Gaming Industry Report said the 387 Q1 deals compared to 1,159 in all of 2021 and 505 deals for all of 2020. The result is a huge talent war, where it’s great for job hunters and hard for recruiters.
One concern I have often heard in times like this that the overhyped trend starts to take over and it begins to take away funding, resources, and personnel from something else that is more pure and deserving. But that assumes that we’re in a zero-sum game.
I have heard anecdotally that some game studio entrepreneurs have heard that game VCs will come running if the studios announce they’re making blockchain games. Some of that concern is validated in these numbers we saw this week. The first quarter saw 128 blockchain game deals that raised $1.2 billion. In comparison, that same time period only had 43 mobile game deals — battered by Apple’s focus on privacy over targeted ads — worth $1 billion.
On the other hand, it’s clear that tons of money is going into traditional games too. We’ve got a panel on mergers and acquisitions — with Alina Soltys of Quantum Tech Partners, Frankie Zhu of Liontree/Griffin, and Chris Petrovic of Funplus — to help sort out the M&A market and the flow of money. We’ve also got U.S. and European venture capitalists weighing, and David Gardner of LVP will talk to Neil Young of Forte about diving into blockchain games.
Hardcore fans and some game developers have opposed NFTs, much the same way that free-to-play games raised concerns of crappy games and scams a decade ago. We’ll see a debate on this topic between indie game dev Rami Ismail and David Kim of Wax Studios.
New territories like India and Africa are taking off, as a couple of our panels will show. When it came to investments or acquisitions, we saw strength in blockchain, triple-A PC and console games, mobile, esports, cloud and AR/VR.
The public markets slowed down but Drake Star expects that to pick up in the second half. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the golden age of gaming is geopolitics.
The war in Ukraine has removed it and Russia from the rest of the world for now. And China’s actions to crack down on its game industry may make it very hard for games to reach truly global markets. It’s hard to say whether this bubble will pop or just keep on expanding.
We’ve got the optimists and the pessimists. Steve Chiang (former head of studios at Warner Bros.) of Fortis and Steve Goldstein of Turtle Rock Studios will have a conversation about the age of big studios, and I’ll let you guess which one is the pessimist and which is the optimist.
Ever semi-pessimistic, Eric Goldberg of Playable Worlds and Joost Van Dreunen of Super Joost will hold a discussion about what will happen to the metaverse after it goes through the inevitable trough of disillusionment. I happened to moderate a fireside chat with Craig Donato, chief business officer at Roblox this week at Stanford University’s business school, and he made a good case about Roblox’s chances to create a user-generated content metaverse.
All of the activity — both positive and negative — shows the game industry is expansive and is capable of expanding and contracting at the same time. How companies fare in this market is dependent on their own execution. When big companies like Electronic Arts were slow to move into free-to-play games a decade ago, startups like Supercell, King, and Machine Zone took the market. Because of their success, gaming grew its audience ten-fold.
Infrastructure firms like Forte, which raised $725 million, hope to arm all companies in their entry into the blockchain games market. Big companies like Microsoft, Valve, and others will wait for regulators. And the more nimble NFT startups could take the market, according to Yat Siu, executive chairman of Animoca Brands. Others like Meta are planning to race headfirst into the metaverse hoping that VR and immersive content will explode.
We’re always a step away from either crisis, or opportunity. Game developers have endured a lot of ups and downs. I hope they get their golden age of gaming. But it always pays to be prepared to pivot in case all of the hype doesn’t come true. I hope you’ll join us at the GamesBeat Summit.
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