The video game industry went on to purchase in 2021. Over the course of the year, a handful of larger companies consistently bought a boatload of smaller ones, at a rate where it appeared that a new acquisition was announced every few weeks.
Of course, all of these fell into the shadow of the big one: In March, regulators approved Microsoft’s acquisition of Zenimax (Bethesda’s parent company) for $ 7.5 billion ($ 10) billion dollars, formalizing a consolidation of game development superpowers under incessantly swell organizational chart of Xbox studies . But 2021 was also packed with a lot of not-quite-ten-digit acquisitions, some of which were headline-making. Here are the most significant.
Netflix acquires Night School Studio
Well, it did not take long. In May, reports circulated that Netflix was seeking to hire a leader specifically tasked with promoting the streaming giant’s entry into video games, which began with experiments such as Black mirror: Bandersnatch. Two months later, Netflix hired Mike Verdu (formerly of EA and Oculus). And then, in September, it bought Night School Studio, an independent outfit best known for Ox-free. The duo makes sense: Night School makes atmospheric, choice-driven games, and Netflix has previously played with pick-your-own-adventure stuff, packaged as a prestige TV special. Over the past few years, Netflix has produced successful adaptations of Dota, Castlevania, and League of legends. And then there is Ox-free TV show (originally conceptualized as a movie), unveiled in January. A network for the series has not yet been announced, but come on.
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The developer says production on Ox-free II, which would be its first game released during this new event, is not affected by the acquisition and is still on its way to release for a while next year. However, this would not be Netflix’s first game. In November, Netflix added five video games to its streaming offerings, including two previously released (and lukewarmly received) adaptations of Stranger Things.
Epic buys Mediatonic
In March, Epic Games acquired Mediatonic, the studio behind 2020’s gloriously popular platform game Royale, Autumn boys. At the time, Mediatonic was planning to release Autumn boys on Xbox and Switch. It has since been pushed to 2022, where the game is still only available on PlayStation and PC. What’s more, to date, Autumn boys is still not landed in the metavers of his new overlord, Fortnite, although computer miners claim that such a crossover is imminent.
The acquisition of Mediatonic is just the latest example of Epic’s intention to dominate the party game’s metavers. In 2019, it bought Psyonix, the developer of Rocket League, the car-football-sports game about listening to extremely catchy EDM earworms. A year and a bazillion crossover events later drew Epic Rocket League from availability on Steam. So far, Autumn boys is still available on Valve’s storefront.
Epic buys Harmonix
Mediatonic was not Epic’s only major acquisition in 2021. Last month, Epic picked up Harmonix, the creators of Rockband, to design “musical journeys and gameplay” for Fortnite. During the pandemic, various popular musicians hosted concerts that were only digital Fortnite for big stars like Ariana Grande; it is not immediately clear whether Harmonix would work on experiences like them or design things more like the rhythm games to which the studio has given its name. In any case, Harmonix says it will keep its back catalog on Steam, despite Epic running its own competing PC store.
Nintendo buys Next Level
It’s not uncommon for Nintendo to buy game development studios directly, but the company started the year by officially acquiring Next Level Games, the Vancouver-based maker of Luigi’s Mansion 3. The studio has previously developed the 3DS games Metroid Prime: Federation Force and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, which both received praise from Kotaku‘s reviewers.
Sony buys Housemarque
Honestly, if you had asked me out of the cuff at some point earlier this year, I would have guessed that Housemarque was a first-rate Sony studio. Since 2012, only one of the Finnish studio games (Nex machine) came out on a non-PlayStation platform (PC). But that was not until June, after the acclaimed release in April of Return on PlayStation 5 that Sony formally carried Housemarque forward as a first-party studio.
Sony buys Bluepoint Games
Everyone saw this coming when the news was accidentally revealed in a tweet three months before, but in September, Sony bought Bluepoint Games. Best known for producing luxurious remakes of popular games such as Demons’ souls and The shadow of the colossus, Bluepoint is currently working on original games, said study director Marco Thrush IGN.
Fuck it, Sony buys everyone
In July, Sony acquired Nixxes, a studio known for working on PC ports for popular games. (Over the last few years, Sony has started releasing its biggest games on PC.) This was followed in September by the acquisition of Run Sackboy! Race! develops Firesprite. This month, Sony purchased Valkyrie Entertainment, a Seattle-based outfit that has primarily served as a support studio for AAA games, including the upcoming God of War Ragnarok. And on top of all that, back in March, Sony bought the Evo, the fighting game tournament, in partnership with Endeavor. No, technically not a development studio, but still a “holy shit” game-related acquisition.
Tencent buys Turtle Rock
Tencent continued its push into play with the acquisition of Turtle Rock Studios in December, which is fresh after the release of Back 4 Blood, the developer’s buzzy multiplayer zombie shooter. Turtle Rock marked the sixth significant acquisition for the multinational conglomerate following majority investment in Klei Entertainment (known for Do not starve), Yager (Spec Ops: The Line), and Stunlock (Battlerite). In 2021, Tencent also directly acquired Sumo Group and Fatshark, a Swedish indie studio.
Embracer buys Gearbox
In February, Embracer Group – the mega-corps that owns THQ Nordic and Koch Media – bought Gearbox, the developer of Border areas and the publisher of games like Gudfald and Middle-earth tribes. 2K, the longtime publisher of Border areas, says that this merger will not affect future games in the eternally harsh series of co-op shooters. A fantasy-inspired spinoff, Little Tina’s Wonderland, is scheduled for release in March next year.
Embracer buys Aspyr
The same day that Embracer bought Gearbox, it also picked up Aspyr, a company best known for transferring games to various devices. Aspyr is currently working on a proper remake of the 2004 RPG Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, scheduled for release on PC and PS5.
Take-Two buys Roll7
Take-Two Interactive is best known for releasing megawatt hits in Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and NBA 2K franchises, in addition to games in the relatively smaller but still blockbuster Border areas and BioShock series. But the NY-based company makes lighter food with its Private Division brand. In November, Take-Two bought Roll7 (the developers of OlliOlli skateboarding games) and placed it under the responsibility of the Private Division. OlliOlli world is scheduled for release in February.