Chinese tech giants are snapping up gaming studios around the world — here are some potential ramifications
LONDON – After decades of the U.S. and Japan dominating the gaming space, China’s influence is growing as its tech giants snap up gaming studios around the world.
Now, some experts think video games could look a little different in the coming years as a result.
Questions are being asked about whether the Chinese owners of U.S. and European studios will try to influence the games they make, or indeed use them to promote Chinese values. It remains to be seen but subtle changes could happen in the coming years, according to some experts.
“Some of these values might be different from what many expect,” British-Chinese writer Lu-Hai Liang told CNBC. “For example, Chinese female gamers are a massive market (500 million) and there have been many female-focused games and game studios that revel in this sector.”
Thomas David, a semiconductor engineer in the U.S., told CNBC that he thinks gamers could start to see more titles where the “good guy” is Chinese and the “bad guy” is from the West, for example.
China’s own gaming market is heavily regulated. It does not allow games that contain certain political views, gambling, gore, nudity and many other things to be released and sold in its home market. The movie industry is equally strict, with U.S. films having to be adapted before they can be released in China.
Exporting Chinese culture
“This area — how China could use games to export its culture — is incredibly important and largely missed,” Abishur Prakash, co-founder of the Center for Innovating the Future, told CNBC.
“China has several ways it can take its ideals to the world through games, and build a new kind of global power,” said Prakash. “One way is by banning certain topics, like Taiwan or human rights, from being discussed,” he said.
China could also establish “new centers within games that help showcase China’s power,” or use games to build its financial and commercial power, he said. “The next Chinese games might only allow users to purchase items in digital Yuan,” said Prakash. “Or, the Chinese games might have Chinese platforms, like TikTok, embedded into them.”
Others doubt that Chinese owners of Western gaming studios will try to change the games that get sold in the West.
“I would be very skeptical of something like that happening,” Louise Shorthouse, a senior games analyst at Ampere Analysis, told CNBC.
Steven Bailey, principal analyst at Omida, told CNBC that “Chinese companies have had involvement in various Western game companies and content for quite some time, and understand that successfully making games for the West will not be supported by such changes.”
He added: “Conversely, anyone releasing a game in China will need to adapt it for that market.”
Tencent’s sprawling investments
“Tencent keeps buying the #1 game in every niche in North America and Europe,” wrote tech investor Rodolfo Rosini on Twitter in February. “This is important because games have cultural influence. And controlling the present and how reality is portrayed is very powerful.”
“If Tencent were to buy a stake in every leading newspaper and TV company people would be up in arms, there would be political hearings etc,” he added. “Instead they play the long game and they are buying the next generation’s media properties without any competition.”
For years, Hollywood has spread American values around the world and championed the country’s military might. Now it could be China’s turn to try to do the same, but through video games. However, while Hollywood often criticizes the U.S. and the actions of Washington D.C., China’s tech giants would not be able to say a bad word against Beijing, which exercises great control over all of its domestic enterprises.
China has more gamers than any other country, making it a highly lucrative market for those that can get in. One of the reasons that U.S. and European gaming firms take investment from Chinese companies is that they’re legally obliged to partner with a Chinese company before their game can be released in the country.
U.K.-headquartered Sumo became the latest gaming firm to sell to a Chinese tech behemoth on Monday, announcing a $1.26 billion deal with Tencent, which is the world’s largest video game publisher.
Neither company immediately responded when CNBC asked how, or indeed if, Tencent will influence the games that Sumo works on.
But Tencent has traditionally taken a hands off approach to its investments and acquisitions, according to Daniel Ahmad, senior analyst at Niko Partners.
“The company could also be an invaluable partner for Tencent as it looks to push into the AAA game space itself with its own projects,” said Ahmad.
“The deal would also help Sumo utilize Tencent’s expertise in regard to games development and publishing within China,” he added.
“Chinese game studios are looking to grow overseas and while organic growth is one option, acquisition allows these companies to build a presence much faster and with local talent,” said Ahmad.
Tencent also invested $150 million in Reddit in 2019, angering some Reddit users in the process who were concerned that the platform may experience more censorship. However, this does not appear to have happened in any significant way.
Sam Bankman-Fried tried to influence witness through Signal, DOJ alleges
Former FTX chief executive Sam Bankman-Fried (C) arrives to enter a plea before US District Judge Lewis Kaplan in the Manhattan federal court, New York, January 3, 2023.
Ed Jones | AFP | Getty Images
Federal prosecutors are attempting to bar indicted FTX co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried from using encrypted messaging software, citing efforts that may “constitute witness tampering,” according to a letter filed in Manhattan federal court Friday.
Bankman-Fried reached out to the “current General Counsel of FTX US who may be a witness at trial,” prosecutors said. Ryne Miller, who was not identified by name in the government filing, is the current counsel for FTX US, and a former partner at Kirkland & Ellis.
The government claims that Bankman-Fried wrote to Miller via Signal, an encrypted messaging app, on Jan. 15, days after bankruptcy officials at crypto exchange disclosed the recovery of more than $5 billion in FTX assets.
“I would really love to reconnect and see if there’s a way for us to have a constructive relationship, use each other as resources when possible, or at least vet things with each other,” Bankman-Fried allegedly told Miller.
Bankman-Fried has also been in contact with “other current and former FTX employees,” the filing said. Federal prosecutors allege that Bankman-Fried’s request suggests an effort to influence the witness’s testimony, and that Bankman-Fried’s effort to improve his relationship with Miller “may itself constitute witness tampering.”
Both Miller and a representative for Bankman-Fried declined to comment.
In restricting Bankman-Fried’s access to Signal and other encrypted messaging platforms, the government cites a need to “prevent obstruction of justice.” Federal prosecutors claim that Bankman-Fried directed Alameda and FTX through Slack and Signal, and ordered his employees set communications to “autodelete after 30 days or less.”
Citing previously undisclosed testimony from ex-Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison, the government claimed that Bankman-Fried indicated “many legal cases turn on documentation and it is more difficult to build a legal case if information is not written down or preserved.” Ellison pled guilty to multiple charges of fraud and has been cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s efforts to build a case against Bankman-Fried.
Bankman-Fried pled not guilty to eight charges in connection with the collapse of his multibillion-dollar crypto empire, FTX. He is due in federal court in October, after being released on $250 million bond.
Amazon to start charging delivery fees on Fresh grocery orders under $150
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Amazon will start charging delivery fees for Fresh grocery orders that are less than $150, in a move it said will help keep prices low on its services.
Beginning Feb. 28, Prime members who want home delivery from Amazon Fresh will incur a $9.95 delivery fee for orders under $50, while orders between $50 and $100 will include a $6.95 delivery fee, and orders between $100 and $150 will carry a $3.95 delivery fee, the company said in a note to customers viewed by CNBC. Only Prime members can use the delivery service, although anybody can shop at an Amazon Fresh grocery store.
Amazon previously guaranteed members of its $139-a-year Prime service free delivery on Fresh orders over $35.
“This service fee will help keep prices low in our online and physical grocery stores as we better cover grocery delivery costs and continue to enable offering a consistent, fast, and high-quality delivery experience,” the notice stated.
The move comes as Amazon CEO Andy Jassy has embarked on a wide-ranging review of the company’s expenses amid slowing sales and a worsening economic outlook. Amazon has eyed laying off 18,000 employees, frozen hiring in its corporate workforce, and paused or canceled some projects such as a sidewalk robot and a telehealth service.
Amazon has previously recalibrated its approach to online grocery deliveries, a business that is notoriously challenging from a cost and efficiency perspective. In 2021, Amazon added a $10 service fee for Whole Foods delivery orders to Prime members, after previously offering them for no extra charge.
Tesla just had its best week since May 2013
Tesla CEO Elon Musk smiles as he addresses guests at the Offshore Northern Seas 2022 (ONS) meeting in Stavanger, Norway on August 29, 2022.
Carina Johansen | AFP | Getty Images
Tesla shares surged 33% this week, marking their best weekly performance since May 2013 and second best on record.
The stock rose 11% on Friday to close at $177.88. The rebound followed a six-month period in which Tesla shares had declined more than 40%. The stock’s 65% plunge in 2022 was its worst in Tesla’s 12-plus years as a public company.
Tesla’s rally this week was aided by an upbeat fourth-quarter earnings report. During the call with shareholders and analysts, CEO Elon Musk said the company was on target to potentially produce 2 million vehicles in 2023, and he suggested demand would support sales of those cars as well.
Official guidance called for production of 1.8 million vehicles this year. The company has not revised its longstanding target for 50% compound annual growth rate over a multi-year horizon.
Tesla’s five day performance charted against Rivian and Ford Motor Company.
Tesla beat on both the top and the bottom lines, recording total revenue of $24.32 billion, including $324 million of deferred revenue related to Tesla’s driver assistance systems. The company cut prices for its cars dramatically in December and January, leading to concern about demand and a buildup of inventory.
Analyst reaction to Tesla’s numbers was mixed.
“For bulls, the growth story is alive and well,” Bernstein’s Toni Sacconaghi, who has an underperform rating on the stock, wrote in a note on Thursday. “For bears, the numbers don’t lie.”
In early January, Tesla reported fourth-quarter vehicle deliveries and production that fell shy of expectations.
Tesla’s stock jump came amid a broader market rally. The S&P 500 was up 2.2% for the week and the Nasdaq gained 4.3%.
Rival electric car manufacturer Lucid spiked on Friday as well, rising 43% on reports of rumors that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, intended to take the company private.
Some of Tesla’s underperformance last year was attributed to Musk’s shift of focus to Twitter, which he acquired for $44 billion in October. Under Musk’s leadership, Twitter has experienced mass layoffs and fleeing advertisers, gutting morale.
Tesla remains the second most-shorted stock in U.S. markets, behind only Apple, meaning that a large numbers of investors are betting on a decline. Over 94 million of the automaker’s shares are shorted, according to data from S3 Partners.
Despite the rally, active short selling continues, S3 managing director Ihor Dusaniwsky told CNBC. Short sellers view Tesla’s appreciation as having created “an overheated and overbought stock that is due for at least a short-term reversal,” he said. In the last week, S3 Partners said it’s seen a 3.9% increase in total shares shorted, while investors shorting the stock lost $4.3 billion over that stretch.
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