The latest clue comes from rumors Comcast, Amazon and others are interested in a Korean gaming company.
That’s right, Comcast.
The cable and internet giant reportedly has bid or considered bidding for Korean gaming company Nexon, which makes the popular online role-playing game MapleStory, according to a local Korean business paper. Comcast is up against Amazon and Apex Legends maker Electronic Arts, which are also said to be in the mix.
Representatives from Comcast, EA, Amazon and Nexon either declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The news of Nexon’s potential sale serves as a reminder that the entertainment landscape is rapidly changing. As companies look for the next big thing beyond music subscriptions, internet connections and selling you the next iPhone, video games may hold a key.
The already huge $138 billion video game industry has produced cultural phenomena like the battle royale games Fortnite and Apex Legends and competitive sports franchises like Riot’s League of Legends. Each of those games is free to download, but they charge extra for flair like a dance move or a different look for your character. And people are buying. Epic’s Fortnite alone is estimated to have rung up $2.4 billion in revenue last year.
Analysts say that’s drawn the attention of media conglomerates and tech giants flush with cash and looking for a new way to grow. At the same time the devices you play games on now, such as the Xbox, PlayStation and Switch, are primed to disappear in the next decade, replaced by a superfast connection that allows you to play games over the internet the same way you watch Netflix today.
The technology, called game streaming, could lead to a shakeup among game makers like Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft and Bethesda Softworks, and is expected to be a major topic at next week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Google is expected to use its its Project Stream technology, first shown last year. Xbox and EA say to offer game streaming too. And as larger companies like Comcast and its competitors look to jump into the game world, they may use their substantial bank accounts to buy game makers like Nexon for their expertise.to unveil a gaming service built off
“Gaming is very international these days,” said Mike Vorhaus, a media analyst and CEO of Vorhaus Advisors. He added that any company hoping to join the fray needs to learn not just how to make a good title, but also stuff like how to give away free games like Fortnite and then make money after. And it’s a plus if the games resonate outside the US and Europe too. “With Nexon, you get a company and a brand that’s done very well in Asia and understands free-to-play games.”
Nexon was founded in Korea 25 years ago and has specialized in online games for PCs and mobile devices. Its CEO is Owen Mahoney, a veteran of EA. And it’s best known for MapleStory, a free game in which players travel a fantasy world defeating monsters, exploring dungeons and creating unique characters. The game, which you can play with friends, boasts “hundreds of hours of adventure.”
The company also makes Dungeon Fighter Online, a game where you fight your way through dark worlds and dungeons. It was particularly popular in China and eventually drew more than 600 million players worldwide.
That kind of success would be catnip to a company like Comcast, analysts say, bringing expertise in large online games while also expanding its business outside the US.
Comcast has shown interest in video games before, too. The cable and internet giant, which also owns NBC Universal, teamed up with EA to bring game streaming to TVs in 2015. The experiment, called Xfinity Games, offered people a chance to stream games like the tongue-in-cheek strategy game Plants vs. Zombies.
The project didn’t catch on and fizzled out, but it explains why Comcast might have considered a more serious move into gaming. “Comcast would get a front row seat, ostensibly, and build its ‘gamer-grade Internet’ under the Xfinity brand,” said Joost van Dreunen, head of Nielsen’s SuperData Research.
It may seem implausible that a big company with little history making games would suddenly want to buy in. But that’s just what Microsoft did when it blasted onto the scene in 2001 with its Xbox video game console, instantly making it the next big competitor to Sony and Nintendo.
Now, more tech giants are lining up to take on the industry.
Beyond, Google’s announcement, Apple, already a massive video game distributor through the iPhone and iPad App Store, is rumored to be using its deep pockets to fund a subscription game service. (The company is expected to announce a on March 25.)
Facebook, which helped turn Zynga’s FarmVille into a household name, has built several game services over the years. And in 2014, it bought Oculus VR for more than $3 billion, instantly making it one of the leaders in the video game industry’s much-hyped virtual reality push.
Amazon, for its part, has already invested billions of dollars on video games, be it through buying the popular game website Twitch for $1 billion in 2014 or various game studios like Double Helix that same year.
Whether Nexon ultimately goes to Comcast or another giant is still uncertain.
Either way, it’s clear that the game’s about to change.