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M&As

Netmarble bets $2.2 bn on global social casino game market

It will buy world’s No.3 player SpinX to diversify game portfolio, strengthen global business

By Aug 03, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Netmarble's BTS Universe Story, a storytelling game published in September 2020.
Netmarble's BTS Universe Story, a storytelling game published in September 2020.

South Korean game developer Netmarble Corp. decided to buy the world’s No. 3 social casino game publisher SpinX Games for $2.2 billion, betting on the global online gambling market in a move to diversify its business.

Netmarble plans to acquire 100% of Leonardo Interactive Holdings Ltd., SpinX’s holding company, for 2.5 trillion won ($2.2 billion) to diversify its game portfolio and strengthen global business competitiveness, the developer of a storytelling game BTS Universe Story said in a regulatory filing on Aug. 2. The publisher backed by Tencent will raise 1.8 trillion won in short-term loans to finance the largest acquisition by South Korea’s game industry.

SpinX, established in Hong Kong in 2014, reported a revenue of 328.9 billion won in the first half with social casino game hits such as Cash Frenzy, Lotsa Slots and Jackpot World, according to Netmarble. Social casino games allow users to play slot machines, baccaras, blackjacks and pokers online or on mobile with cryptocurrencies.

“Social casino keeps growing in the global market and SpinX is the most outstanding company in the genre,” said Netmarble’s Co-CEO Lee Seung-won. “We will expand our lines-up of casual games, adding to role-playing games (RPGs), Netmarble’s existing key genre.”

The deal is expected to help Netmarble to increase its revenue to more than 3 trillion won a year on a consolidated basis from 2.5 trillion won last year.
SpinX's social casino game Cash Frenzy.
SpinX's social casino game Cash Frenzy.

GROWING GLOBAL SOCIAL CASINO GAME MARKET

Netmarble has been interested in social casino games to bet on the fast-growing genre. In 2016, it made a bid to buy Playtika Holding Corp., but a Chinese consortium led by Giant Network Group took over the Israel-based social casino game publisher for $4.4 billion, according to foreign media reports.

Social casino games are broadly banned in South Korea due to concerns over gambling but their growth is remarkable in other countries, especially the US where offline casinos were shut due to the COVID-19. SpinX generates about 70% of its revenue from the US.

The global social casino game market is expected to grow to $7.2 billion in 2024 from $5.7 billion last year. Some South Korean social game developers such as DoubleU Games Co. and Flysher are expanding their footprint in the global stage. The local game industry urged to develop the games as a new growth industry.

“DoubleU Games is fighting with Playtika over the global top social casino game developer,” said an industry source. “We need to ease regulations on social casino games in order to promote the domestic industry.”

BUSINESS DIVERSIFYCATION

Netmarble has been diversifying its revenue streams to change the mobile game-oriented structure, which is highly volatile depending on success of new games. It even bought Coway Co., the country’s largest rental company, for 1.7 trillion won in 2019.

“Netmarble is coping with volatile sales by making inroads into various business through M&A strategies,” said a game industry source. “Social casino’s character is different from Netmarble’s key RPG genre, so it will see the effect of new business with the acquisition.”

The SpinX deal is also expected to improve Netmarble’s intellectual property (IP) competitiveness, which was weaker than other publishers. Its operating profit margin last year was 10.9%, far lower than a 38% of Nexon and a 34.1% of NCSoft Corp. as its dependence on others’ IPs is high to develop games such as Lineage 2: Revolution and Marvel Future Fight. Netmarble has been actively buying other game producers to obtain IPs. It acquired Canada-based Kabam Game Inc. for 900 billion won in 2017 and a US game developer Jam City for 150 billion won in 2015.
Netmarble's Lineage 2: Revolution.
Netmarble's Lineage 2: Revolution.

“We decided to acquire SpinX in a bid to secure strong IPs that will help our expansion in the global markets,” said a company official. “We will accelerate the expansion with our own IP in various field.”

Write to Min-Ki Koo and Joo-Wan Kim at kook@hankyung.com

Jongwoo Cheon edited this article.

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