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If you felt like deal-making fever came to the game industry in the past quarter, you were on the mark. The first quarter’s $39 billion value of 280 announced transactions was higher than $33 billion reported for all the 664 deals of 2020, according to InvestGame.
By almost every measure — private investments, public offerings, and acquisitions — the Q1 game industry doubled the growth compared to the first two quarters of last year, according to game finance web site InvestGame, which investment specialists Sergei Evdokimov and Anton Gorodetsky founded in 2019.
So far in 2021, 249 deals have closed with a total value of $25 billion. Another 31 deals have been announced but not yet closed, leading to the $39 billion figure.
This giant economic wave is what we leaned into as we organized our GamesBeat Summit 2021 event, which takes place next week on April 28 and April 29. We have CEOs from the most active acquirers in the world, such as Lars Wingefors of Embracer Group, alongside the mature and established companies like Bobby Kotick of Activision Blizzard. In my prep calls with this group, the executives expressed their own shock at just how much buyers are paying. And yet, they weren’t worried it would all come to a stop soon.
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You can call it a bubble, a frenzy, or a hype cycle, especially when you combine games with hot topics like nonfungible tokens (NFTs) or cryptocurrencies.
But InvestGame’s data shows it isn’t all just in our heads. The transactions indicate a historic shift for the game industry in terms of capital flowing into the business at all levels of the ecosystem. Dozens of game-focused venture capitalists — Ed Fries of 1Up Ventures (another GamesBeat Summit speaker) said he’s in touch with 80 of them — are pouring money into new game studios and game-related tech startups. About $2.6 billion was invested in game companies in the first quarter, up from $1.4 billion in the first half of 2020.
Acquisitions, such as Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda for $7.5 billion, are also happening at a faster pace. The $14.3 billion worth of deals in the first quarter are up 5.9 times in deal value from a year ago. While Microsoft closed its big deal, Electronic Arts also sped up its pace with the acquisitions of Codemasters for $1.2 billion and Glu Mobile for $2.1 billion.
And public offerings of game companies, either through quick special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) or initial public offerings or direct listings, have also exploded. InvestGame said the $8.3 billion worth of offerings over 36 deals in Q1 were up 29 times from a year earlier in deal value.
Those numbers are wild, but they’re real. It’s like somebody sped up the merry-go-round. Actually, we all know what happened. The pandemic struck. People couldn’t go outside or even watch sports on TV, so they turned to games. And they stuck with games of all kinds and played more than they used to in order to distract themselves from the gloomy worlds of the pandemic and politics.
Even as the pandemic subsided and rose again in different parts of the world, games remained strong while other industries stayed weak or went bankrupt. And that made investors take notice, as they fled those industries and poured their money into game investments and public offerings.
Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities who’s watched the game industry for years, believes it will get harder for companies to beat their year-ago numbers, but he doesn’t think that will bring them all down in a crash. Rather, he believes that as long as companies communicate their growth rates properly, they won’t spook investors.
A broad economic slowdown could trigger a meltdown, for sure. But how likely is that, with interest rates at historic lows, jobs coming back in the U.S., and vaccinations taking hold? And if other industries suffer, we’ve seen that games can pick up the slack as consumers turn to gaming even more.
The financial war chests are loaded. Embracer Group raised $890 million. Roblox raised $520 million and went public at a $41.9 billion valuation. Late-stage investors poured $100 million each into Rec Room and Manticore Games. Others that went public or announced they would included Playtika, Nexters, Playstudios, Huuuge Games, TinyBuild, AppLovin, and Krafton. We saw 21 public offerings in Q1 in games, compared to seven in Q1 2020.
Another $900 million in capital was raised by nine gaming-focused VC funds in the last nine months, with Bitkraft continuing to lead the chart and participating in 10 deals with a total deal value of $160.5 million. Tencent, which was shy during the Trump years due to tension between China and the U.S., came back with a lot of investments, including 35 game investments. One of the most astounding deals was Theorycraft Games, a team of six Riot veterans who had formed the company five months earlier and still managed to raise $37 million from NetEase and others.
The top five strategic investors (Tencent, Microsoft, Embracer, Electronic Arts, and ByteDance) accounted for $10.5 billion, or about 53% of the top 15 strategic investments in Q1. In Q1, strategic investors closed 78 deals with a total value of $14.4 billion. This group included deals like Embracer Group buying Gearbox for as much as $1.2 billion.
I hope you make it to our event, which has the theme of Growing the Next Generation, where some of the finest minds in the industry will explain what all of this financial frenzy means for the future of gaming.
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