The Publisher You’ve Never Heard Of Owns A Ton Of Games

The Publisher You’ve Never Heard Of Owns A Ton Of Games

A rich man salutes his latest big gambling deals.

Image: Volition/Deep Silver

The video game industry is currently undergoing a tidal wave of consolidation, and Swedish holding company Embracer Group is using it to become one of the newest players in a rapidly shrinking space. A few years ago, most people had never heard of it. Now it’s bigger than rivals like Ubisoft and Capcom, and should get even bigger as it goes. picked up Square Enix’s Tomb Raider Studios and Marvel’s Avengers.

I wish there was a succinct way to explain what Embracer is and where it came from, but there isn’t. It started as a nesting doll of investment companies that started out in retail. It’s now a vast network of independent publishing branches and individual studios that make and sell every type of game you can imagine. The brainchild of Swedish businessman Lars Wingefors, Embracer was created in 2011 and bought out other game companies since.

It was originally called Nordic Games Holding and grew out of Wingefors’ previous experience in selling excess video game inventory to the international market. Instead of selling EA’s remaining games, Nordic eventually decided to start selling their own. First, he seized the assets of the Austrian publisher JoWooD (Gothic, SpellForce) during a bankruptcy in 2011, then in particular many leftovers from THQ (Darksiders, Homefront) in 2013, after which it was rebranded as THQ Nordic.

At the time, it looked like grave robbery, but perhaps even less lucrative. By now, it’s clear that Nordic Games’ ambition went far beyond just being a THQ zombie and giving the world Darksiders III. The holding company went public in 2016, renamed Embracer in 2019, and now has over 100 studios and publishers housing more than 10,000 employees, making it bigger than Activision Blizzard in terms of body count.

Pretty much the only thing the band did besides buy stuff was hold a sharply reprimanded the 2019 AMA with 8Chan. “I condemn any unethical content that this website represents,” Wingefors later wrote in its apology. “While no one within the THQ Nordic Group would ever endorse such content, I realize that simply appearing there implicitly felt like we did.”

Monday’s $300 million deal to acquire Crystal Dynamics (Deus Ex), Eidos Montreal (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Square Enix Montreal (Hitman Sniper) is one of Embracer’s most high-profile deals to date. . Along with securing the rights to things like Thief, Legacy of Kain, and over 50 other “back-catalog games” (i.e. Gex), the sale would also see Embracer’s ranks swell by 1,100 other game developers. But in purely monetary terms, it would be one of the smallest checks that Embracer investors have cut in recent years.

Here’s who else he recently bought:

April 2020: Port house Saber Interactive for $525 million February 2021: Borderlands maker Gearbox Entertainment for $1.3 billion April 2021: Ad-supported mobile game publisher Easybrain for $640 million April 2021: Star Wars Remaster Aspyr Media machine for 450 million dollarsAugust 2021: 3D Realms and seven other studios for 313 million dollarsDecember 2021: Asmodee, French publisher of board games and RPGs for 3 billion dollars

While mega publishers like EA and Activision rely on selling tens of millions of copies of a few annualized franchises, Embracer has been busy buying dozens of baskets and stuffing a few eggs into each. Its subsidiaries publish everything from Biomutant to World War Z. It owns 4A Games, which makes the post-apocalyptic Metro series, as well as Dambuster Studios, which made Homefront: The Revolution, and is the latest studio to be cursed with development. of Dead Island. 2, a sequel that’s been MIA for eight years. As well as reclaiming old THQ properties (it bought Kingdoms of Amalur in 2018), it added new independent studios behind cult hits like Ghost Simulator and Little Nightmares.

If you want to get a sense of the scale of Embracer’s acquisition rabbit hole maze, consider the mind-blowing case of the upcoming Saints Row reboot. The parody series of GTA was created by Volition, the famous studio behind Descent, Summoner and Red Faction. THQ acquired Volition in 2000. When THQ went bankrupt in 2013, Volition was sold to Koch Media and became part of Deep Silver. Summoner and Red Faction were sold to Nordic Games. In 2018, Nordic Games finally bought Koch Media as well.

In addition to reuniting old gaming IPs, Embracer attempted to reform long-defunct studios. Free Radical Design was formed by developers who worked on GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64 in 1999. In 2000 it released TimeSplitters. In 2008 it went bankrupt and was sold to Crytek. It went terribly, and eventually all that was left was sold to Koch Media. Last year, Embracer reformed Free Radical Design with the original founders Steve Ellis and David Doak to bring the “much-loved” TimeSplitters IP back to life.

When THQ went bankrupt, it seemed like a sign that there was no more room for midsize publishers in an industry dominated by first-party staples and $100 million blockbusters. Embracer’s strategy seems to confirm this. Instead of trying to be king of the hill, he’s going to be king of the rest. It rarely releases major games, but one of its bets occasionally hits big like 2021’s Viking survival sim Valheim.

Who knows how it will work. Hopefully this means the developers at Eidos Montreal can keep their four-day work week and we will eventually have another Deus Ex who does not have the fortune of an entire company on his shoulders.


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