Will Bayonetta maker PlatinumGames change after Tencent investment?
The company behind Nier: Automata and Astral Chain is Tencent’s latest gaming investment
Tencent is investing in yet another big overseas gaming company, with iconic action game maker PlatinumGames being the Chinese tech giant’s latest target.
The esteemed Japanese studio behind Bayonetta, Nier: Automata and Astral Chain announced that Tencent invested an undisclosed amount of money in the gaming company. But the Osaka-based developer said the new “partnership” with Tencent will have “no effect on the independence” of the company.
Concerns about how investment from China affects companies aren’t unfounded. As concerns about censorship from China rose last year, Tecent was caught up in the biggest controversy around this subject when it briefly stopped streaming NBA games. Game developer Blizzard also found itself criticized for punishing a professional Hearthstone player who supported the Hong Kong protests.
But PlatinumGames has its own reasons for taking the money. While the developer is known for its great action games, many are published by bigger companies like Sega and Nintendo. The company has been expressing its desire to move toward self-publishing, and it said that Tencent’s investment will help further this goal.
Still, the question of whether Tencent will influence PlatinumGames looms large. Tencent often engages in censorship at home to stay in line with China’s media controls. Fortunately, Tencent’s track record appears to show interference in the creative process of foreign companies is rare.
Perhaps the most famous gaming company owned by Tencent is Riot Games, the company behind the massively popular MOBA League of Legends. Tencent acquired a majority stake in Riot Games in 2011, and it has fully-owned Riot since 2015. But the Los Angeles-based developer is largely perceived to operate independently of its parent company.
In fact, when Tencent approached Riot Games with the proposition to make a mobile version of League of Legends in 2015, Riot Games blew it off, claiming that the experience of League of Legends is irreplicable on mobile. Ironically, Riot Games is now getting ready to release the mobile game League of Legends: Wild Rift. Riot ultimately decided to make a mobile version after Tencent’s massive success with Honor of Kings, known as Arena of Valor outside of China. That game started as a mobile knockoff of League of Legends after Riot Games refused Tencent’s proposal.
But Riot Games’ independence did come into question last year because of the Hong Kong protests. As protester activism spilled into video games, the company said that League of Legends broadcasters should “refrain” from discussing “sensitive topics” on the air.
Tencent’s 40% stake in Fortnite maker Epic Games has also been closely scrutinized. While Tencent does not seem to be involved in the development of Fortnite or other Epic Games titles, its investment in the company also came under the microscope because of the Hong Kong protests.
But unlike Riot Games, Tencent doesn’t own Epic. So when questioned by fans, Epic Games’ CEO Tim Sweeney said that gamers are free to say whatever they want in Fortnite because Tencent is merely an investor and doesn’t affect company operations.
Even if Tencent isn’t censoring gaming content abroad, though, there has still been some concern about its influence over the companies it buys. Under a Gamersky article about the PlatinumGames investment, one popular comment reads, “When Tencent was buying Supercell, it also said that it would not interfere. But then gifts, monthly subscriptions and skins gradually made their way into the game… I always worry that all the gaming companies will smell like Tencent in the future.”
There’s no evidence that Tencent is behind the changes, but it does reflect feelings toward the Chinese tech giant from fans. We reached out to Supercell, Riot Games and Tencent for comment but haven’t received a response.
For Tencent, PlatinumGames is another part of the Chinese gaming giant’s aggressive push to expand overseas. According to consulting firm Niko Partners, the Shenzhen-based company has now invested in 22 foreign gaming companies. Tencent said that it eventually wants half of its users to be from outside China.
Even without being directly involved in game development, Tencent still benefits from the companies it invests in. Tencent often becomes the sole publisher and distributor in China for the games it invests in. This includes big titles like League of Legends, Clash of Clans and Call of Duty Online. And being able to publish and organize tournaments around these games in China makes Tencent the country’s biggest player in gaming.
Investing in PlatinumGames also makes sense for Tencent because the company has been increasing its presence in console gaming. Tencent recently helped launch the Nintendo Switch in China, and it’s making more and more console games with its own studios.
Tencent competitor NetEase is following a similar gameplan. In 2018, NetEase invested US$100 million in Halo developer Bungie.
At the time, Bungie was tussling with former backer Activision over rights to the Destiny franchise, which it later secured. But the NetEase funding allowed Bungie to work on a new game, about which little is known so far.