It’s almost impossible to go a week without a company being acquired, sold, or spun off in the games industry.
So, to shed some light on what’s going on behind the scenes, during the M&A process, PocketGamer.biz sat down with DECA Games CEO Ken Go to discuss the company’s journey,… acquisition to creating and accelerating their own acquisition strategy. .
DECA Games was acquired by Embracer in August 2020 and has since acquired 10 standalone game assets and four development studios. Its most recent acquisitions include Crazylabs, Gaea Interactive’s Jufeng Studio, and eight gaming assets, including Kingdoms of Camelot, Castle Age, and KillShot Bravo.
PocketGamer.biz: DECA joined the Embracer group not too long ago. What was the reason for joining them and how have things changed since they joined?
Ken Go: We had huge success with the early games we picked up from Kabam and GREE and saw a number of other big companies follow in our footsteps. We were confident in our abilities and realized that we were continually limited by capital and market visibility. We decided that a partner could help us better achieve our growing ambitions. We had built the company without outside investment because we cherished our independence and wanted to avoid financial investors who were only focused on hockey stick type growth.
We decided that a partner could help us better achieve our growing ambitions.
After being introduced to Lars Wingefors, the CEO of Embracer, and hearing about his philosophy for a decentralized group of standalone studios, I was truly intrigued. I thought it might be the best of both worlds where I could get the support of a bigger company with more resources, a network of like-minded entrepreneurs to collaborate with while maintaining my autonomy and the culture of my business.
How has the business evolved under the new owner?
With the support of Embracer, we grew rapidly. We’ve ramped up our live ops business, where we buy other developers’ games and put our own team to work on its live ops and ongoing development. It’s still the core of our business and over the last 18 months we’ve doubled the number of games in our live operations portfolio. We now operate more than 20 games.
We also started building a mobile ecosystem within Embracer to bring high quality development studios and publishers into the group. Over the past year, we’ve partnered with four amazing studios, including A Thinking Ape, IUGO, Crazylabs, and Gaea Interactive’s offshoot Jufeng studio.
We have grown from 80 people in our live operations at the time of our acquisition to over 230 and now over 730 people, including studios. With the support of Embracer, we can be more ambitious and close deals that were beyond our reach as a standalone startup.
We have grown from 80 people in our live operations business at the time of our acquisition to over 230 and now over 730 people, including studios
DECA only focuses on acquiring game assets, why would a developer sell their game to DECA?
The only obvious reason companies sell their games is financial. Developers can finance new developments by selling their old assets. There are so many live games that slowly decline over the years, usually because studios have new projects, have limited resources, or have changed focus. This can create negative feeling and ill will from the player base towards the developer and tarnish your brand.
Thus, by selling their games to a good partner, they can avoid tarnishing their reputation while receiving money and freeing up resources. The majority of our deals do not include taking a team with the game. But we are flexible and work with our partners to determine what is the best approach to a deal.
What makes DECA different from other companies acquiring gaming assets?
We have partnered with games such as Kabam, GREE, Hasbro and Wargaming and made the transition. They have all trusted us with their players and brands because of our expertise in live operations and because we have a reputation for caring for our players and our communities. People also like working with us because the process is efficient and simple.
We’ve made so many transitions now that we can plan for any potential issues in advance and avoid them. We’ve also been a remote team from the start, which means we’re used to working across borders, time zones and cultures. We have people now working in 26 countries, which gives us a big advantage in an age of restricted travel.
We partnered and transitioned games like Kabam, GREE, Hasbro and Wargaming
Tell us about additional M&As to acquire mobile developers and publishers. What is the reason behind this?
When we joined Embracer, they had no other mobile studios. They saw DECA as a step towards mobile and I was very excited to help build a mobile ecosystem with them. Almost immediately after joining Embracer, other entrepreneurs and studios started reaching out to me to understand my thinking and why I joined. Most people didn’t know much about Embracer or what it was about. The concept of joining and building an alliance of entrepreneurs and studios that can support and learn from each other really resonated.
On top of that, Embracer’s hands-off approach meant they could maintain their independence and gain the safety and support of a larger parent at the same time. Everyone involved sees the opportunity to keep building something rather than seeing the acquisition as an exit or an end.
What has been the progress in this effort?
Recent studio acquisitions have been about partnering with some of the most powerful leaders in the industry who believe in this vision of a mobile ecosystem where the sum of the parts combine into something great and more powerful together.
Fast forward to today and Embracer is the largest public game company in Europe by market capitalization. And mobile has grown from 0% to 30% of revenue in the last reported quarter.
Your most recent acquisition is Jufeng Studio in China. How will this acquisition benefit you?
With the acquisition, we added a team of over 50 people in Beijing who have expertise in live operations for Western audiences. By combining our strengths, we have added a number of legendary game franchises to our portfolio and a strong team that adds the ability to support new game projects, and expertise that will help us expand our reach in Asia.
As part of the agreement, Gaea Chairman An An has joined our team and will lead our M&A efforts in Asia going forward.
If you can’t see yourself working with someone for life, then don’t work with them for a day.
What advice would you give to companies looking to make an acquisition or be acquired? What are the positives for both parties?
Get to know the partner on the other side of the table before you decide to join forces or sell something you really like. The financial aspect is only part of the equation. There’s a famous quote that goes, “If you can’t see yourself working with someone for life, then don’t work with them for a day.”
Should we expect new DECA acquisitions in the future?
Yes, DECA will continue to add more live games of all genres to our portfolio and are always looking for games with strong audiences. We are also continually in conversation with developers and publishers looking to become part of Embracer’s mobile ecosystem.