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Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund now owns a mobile game publisher, two esports organizers, and has a major stake in Nintendo, Embracer, and more.

Bryant Francis

April 5, 2023

3 Min Read
The logos of Scopely and Savvy Games Group.

Saudi Arabia-backed Savvy Games Group is continuing to roll out its plans to invest $37.8 billion in the video game industry. Today the company announced that it is purchasing free-to-play publisher and developer Scopely Entertainment. Savvy is paying $4.9 billion for the Culver City-headquartered company, which has released games like Star Trek Fleet Command, Stumble Guys, and Marvel Strike Force.

Its portfolio also includes a number of casual titles like Dice Buddies and GSN Casino.

According to Savvy's announcement Scopely will continue to operate independently when it comes to game development and publishing, but will gain access to Savvy's hefty financial power to "grow and deepen existing franchises" and "unlock new player audiences."

Some of those audiences will likely be outside of the publisher's usual mobile audience. Scopely will apparently be using some of Savvy's funding to create live service games for PC, console, and beyond. Savvy's war chest comes of course from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF)—a government-owned financial entity formally helmed by none other than Crown Prince and Deputy Prime Minister Mohammad bin Salman.

That signaling of a strategic expansion for Scopely comes at an interesting time. Though the free-to-play mobile game market is generally considered to be worth more than the console and PC market, it's become horribly expensive to bring players into live service ecosystems. Notable companies like Electronic Arts and Niantic have recently made cuts in mobile game production.

This also might be the first time we've gotten a sense of what companies purchased by Savvy (or who are receiving investment from PIF) are using its funds for. The source of that money however, raises questions and concerns for the game development world.

Savvy Games Group's ties to PIF put it in close contact with the Saudi government

We've mentioned multiple times in covering the PIF and Savvy Game Group's investments that the PIF's government ownership has drawn scrutiny from reporters and developers alike. Crown Prince and PIF chairperson Mohammad bin Salman was directly implicated in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the kingdom's crackdown on human rights activists and dissenters has continued to draw international criticism.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has undergone multiple reforms driven by the crown prince, including loosening restrictions on how women may participate in society. But critics allege those reforms have gone hand in hand with the continued abuse of dissenters.

In 2020, Riot Games dropped Saudi Arabian city project NEOM as a sponsor after players and broadcasters condemned the country over its treatment of LGBTQ residents. After three years, such protests now seem much less likely.

This likely will not be the last major acquisition by Savvy Games Group that we see in 2023. It will be worth watching if future acquisitions draw scrutiny—or if the Kingdom's investing strategy continues to help it make friends in video games, entertainment, and sports in the years ahead.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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