Valve, the fiercely independent and eccentric Seattle-based game development studio that’s created some of the most celebrated brands in PC gaming including “Half Life” and the Steam platform for games distribution, is facing another round of buyout reports.
According to reports, NCsoft and Nexon (TYO:3659), two of Korea's largest game companies, are already in talks with the American software developer for a potential acquisition worth approximately $893 million. Both NCsoft and Nexon have proven massively successful while the traditional videogame industry in the US and Europe struggles with the transition to freemium business models that many developers and analysts now see as inevitable.
The newest buyout report came from Joonang News, which was first translated by VentureBeat. The tech website called Joonang News a “major Korean publication,” but was unable to verify the buyout rumors themselves. Analysts jumped almost immediately at the price-tag of $893 million, which many feel woefully underestimates Valve’s current value as a company.
Valve has weathered many rumors about potential buyouts throughout its brief but storied history atop the U.S. videogame industry. In a recent New York Times profile of his company’s atypical management structure and business values, Valve’s founder and managing director Gabe Newell said that the company would “disintegrate” before being sold.
The resurgence of these rumors, coming just weeks after Electronic Arts, Inc. (Nasdaq: EA) faced its own round of private equity buyout rumors (which the company shrugged off as “rumors and speculation”), might be more of a reflection on how much confidence in the US video game industry has been shaken by the recent downturn of once up-and-coming internet companies like Facebook Inc. (Nasdaq: FB) and Zynga Inc. (Nasdaq: ZNGA), both of which were previously thought to be instrumental in spearheading the industry’s transition to digital media and new business models.
This fallout comes during a resurgence of Japanese and Korean studios such as GREE, NCsoft, and Nexon, which are all aggressively posing what the Financial Times calls a “’freemium’ challenge” to the US game industry.
Speaking to the Financial Times last month, Owen Mahoney, a former EA executive who is now Nexon’s chief financial officer, said that freemium “is the future of the industry and that there will ultimately be limited if any other business models besides that.”
“The science of getting people to buy a $60, 60-hour game experience on a DVD in a box is a very hard thing to do,” Mahoney added. “In our view, it’s a broken or really challenged business model.”
While an acquisition in the vein of GREE’s recent buyout spree may be unlikely, expanded partnerships with US and European game companies benefit sides of the deal. Valve and Nexon already announced a partnership to bring the popular first-person shooter game “Counter-Strike” to Asian markets, after all. And this past June, Chinese game maker Tencent acquired a minority stake in Epic Games, another highly successful privately-held independent game studio in the US -- a move that the North Carolina-based developer praised as a “strategic investment.”
Valve dismissed the story as a rumor, declining further comment.
"It is a rumor," Doug Lombardi, a representative for Valve said in an email. "Nothing more."