Tencent expands Western presence with Sharkmob acquisition

James Brightman, Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019 8:49 pm

Tencent, one of China’s biggest online firms with investments across the global games business, has just added yet another game studio to its growing talent pool. Tencent announced this week that it purchased Swedish developer Sharkmob for an undisclosed sum. Unlike most other game companies that Tencent has either majority or minority stakes in, Sharkmob is now 100% owned by the Chinese giant, joining League of Legends studio Riot Games.

Sharkmob was founded in Malmö in 2017, but the development team isn’t a set of fresh faces trying to earn a reputation. The founders — Anders Holmquist, Fredrik Rundqvist, Martin Hultberg, Petter Mannerfelt and Rodrigo Cortes — have decades of experience and have worked on big franchises like Ubisoft’s The Division or Square Enix’s Hitman.

On the Sharkmob website, the studio states, “After many years in the AAA segment of the industry the dream was to get back closer to the actual development; work with smaller teams and embrace the creative work that makes game development so much fun!”

Getting acquired by Tencent doesn’t necessarily put that dream in jeopardy, as it can with some corporate acquisitions. Rundqvist, who serves as CEO, told GameDaily over email that Sharkmob will retain its autonomy.

Frederik Rundqvist, Sharkmob CEO
Fredrik Rundqvist, Sharkmob CEO

“They understand our passion and interests are crucial drivers in the work we do and in turn we recognize that the support and guidance they provide will take us further than we could go alone. That means they provide a high degree of autonomy and we maintain our creative control, which was very important for us going into the deal,” he said.

Sharkmob views the future of gaming as online and social, making it a great fit for an online behemoth like Tencent. The Swedish developer is also adamant about cross-play, another goal for game developers that’s becoming increasingly common in a world with Fortnite and titles like Dauntless from Phoenix Labs.

“We view the future of online gaming the same way and Tencent being a leading internet and games platform gives Sharkmob the reach and resources to be a part of that future,” Rundqvist stated in a press release. “Support from Tencent’s incredible group of game teams will allow us to fully pursue our passion of bringing great gaming experiences to as many players as possible.”

“Sharkmob’s creative and passionate team has a proven track record of developing triple-A titles which involves open world settings and various gameplays,” added Steven Ma, Senior Vice President of Tencent. “We look forward to more exciting innovation for game-lovers by combining Sharkmob’s development capabilities with Tencent’s technologies and expertise.”

Sharkmob is currently working on an unannounced online game and will work with Tencent on some upcoming projects as well. Getting acquired only two years in is perhaps slightly unusual for a game studio, and we had to ask if there had been any financial solvency problems that necessitated the deal. Rundqvist assured us that is not the case.

“The reason we decided to go with Tencent wasn’t financial,” he asserted. “We were in a good state even before the acquisition. We, however, have since the start of Sharkmob been having talks with major players in the industry – companies we thought could help us realize our projects and match our ambitions. We landed with Tencent, which seems to be the perfect fit.”

Tencent is a massive presence in Asia, with a market cap of more than $400 billion, and while it already holds stakes in firms like Epic, Riot, Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard and more, adding more wholly owned Western game development talent certainly makes sense. “Tencent already holds a big position on the Asian market so it stands to reason that it would be natural for them to branch out in the West at some point,” agreed Rundqvist.

Word on the street is that Tencent is now looking to leverage Riot to bring a mobile version of the esports hit League of Legends to mobile. It’ll be interesting to see how Tencent works with Sharkmob moving forward.

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