The video game industry has been on a buying spree in recent years, and the price of each acquisition only seems to climb. With Take-Two’s decision to purchase Zynga for an industry-record amount, we thought we’d take a look back at the five most expensive acquisitions in gaming history.
As we look down the list of acquisitions, a trend emerges. See if you can spot it.
5. Bytedance acquires Moonton: $US4 billion
Chinese publisher Bytedance is perhaps best known for being the parent company of viral video app TikTok. It acquired mobile developer Moonton in March 2021 for $US4 billion. Moonton’s most popular game, an iOS and Android MOBA called Mobile Legends: Bang Bang has attracted attention over the last few years as League of Legends developer Riot Games pursued it for copyright infringement. The game remains popular throughout Southeast Asia to this day. On a list of most expensive video game developer acquisitions of all time, $US4 billion looks like a bargain against what other companies have paid.
4. Activision Blizzard acquires King: $US5.9 billion
Activision Blizzard’s decision to acquire Maltese mobile developer King in February 2017 for $US5.9 billion, for a time, topped the list of most expensive games developer acquisitions of all time. King is best known for its world-beating puzzle game Candy Crush Saga. Its first major game featuring Activision-Blizzard IP, Crash Bandicoot: On The Run! released on Android and iOS in 2021. The hallmark of King’s games is addictive puzzle-solving with a lot of on-screen juice, combined with aggressive monetisation. Candy Crush‘s popularity endures to this day, though even its most dedicated players are starting to feel pretty run down.
3. Microsoft acquires ZeniMax Media: $US8.1 billion
One of the most recent buys on this list, Microsoft acquired ZeniMax Media, which included Bethesda and all of its associated studios, for $US8.1 billion in 2021. Bethesda is home to numerous valuable brands, characters, and IP which would have been attractive to Microsoft. To bring Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Doom, Wolfenstein, Dishonored, and the forthcoming Starfield under the Xbox umbrella is a massive win for Microsoft, which has struggled to find platform exclusives and now looks to fill out its popular Game Pass service. Game Pass is a hungry beast, and we fully expect to see Microsoft reappearing in our most expensive video game developer acquisitions lists again in the future.
2. Tencent acquires Supercell: $US8.6 billion
Chinese mega-publisher Tencent acquired mobile developer Supercell for $US8.6 billion in 2016. Supercell is best known for creating the popular mobile game Clash of Clans and its spin-off Clash Royale. Both titles, and Clash Royale‘s vibrant esports scene, remain immensely popular to this day. This single purchase reigned supreme as the most expensive acquisition in video game history for five long years. The record stood unchallenged until it was usurped on January 10, 2021, by:
1. Take-Two Interactive acquires Zynga: $US12.7 billion
Take-Two Interactive, the parent company of Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar Games, acquired mobile game developer Zynga for $US12.7 billion. Zynga has been around for many years, finding early success with social Facebook games like FarmVille. It would go onto greater success after moving to mobile platforms, with games like Words With Friends, CSR Racing, and Draw Something. It has spun the With Friends vertical into one of its most popular brands. Boggle With Friends, Chess With Friends, Hanging With Friends, and Matching With Friends all appear in the same series. In 2012, it struck a deal with Hasbro to create board game versions of its most popular mobile titles. Take-Two clearly values Zynga’s library of games, and we watch with interest to see how exactly it will leverage its massive new mobile powerhouse.
So, did you spot the trend? That’s right: four of the five most expensive acquisitions in video game history were for developers and publishers that specialise in mobile games. This provides a clear explanation for why so many games, even in the AAA space, are adopting mobile monetisation models. Mobile games have long tails, keep players captive, and remain popular long after release — design facets that have found their way into more traditional blockbuster games. This influence has had an outsized effect on the industry, with even the biggest AAA titles now adopting aggressive monetisation practices similar to that seen in the mobile space. Who better to help engineer these changes than the teams and studios that know the most about it? Cynical? Perhaps. Bad for players? Debatable. Savvy business? Absolutely.