Saturday 17 August 2019

Activision eyes women gamers in $5.9bn deal for King Digital

Candy Crush Saga has 447 million monthly users - the majority of them women
Candy Crush Saga has 447 million monthly users - the majority of them women

Laura Colby and Christopher Palmeri

How much are women gamers worth? Maybe $5.9bn to Activision Blizzard, the video-game publisher whose hits include Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.

That's how much Activision is paying for Candy Crush Saga-maker King Digital Entertainment and its 447 million monthly users - the majority of them women.

And that customer base is one reason the acquisition "makes a ton of sense", said Mark Pincus, who founded the social gaming pioneer Zynga.

"There's no question but that women like competition," said Pincus, whose company's titles include Farmville and Words With Friends. "They just don't like blood and guts and gore. The game industry has consistently got that wrong."

Women have represented almost half of the gamers in the US for the past few years, according to the research firm NewZoo BV. They account for 58pc of King's customers and 62pc of those playing Candy Crush. An even larger share of female customers end up spending money on the games, which are free to start but earn their keep through in-game purchases, according to Riccardo Zacconi, King's chief executive officer.

"If you then look at the paying side, it's much more accentuated toward a female audience," he said on a conference call on Tuesday. "And this is where one of the big opportunities here is."

The combined company will be the second-largest game-maker in the world, behind China's Tencent Holdings. It will bring together Activision titles that are played on computers or consoles with those made mostly for mobile devices from King, including Pet Rescue and Bubble Witch. Women are slightly more likely than men to play on phones or tablets than PCs or consoles.

"There's a lot of money to be made by taking women seriously, and Activision is a company that wants to make money," said Brianna Wu, head of development at Giant Spacekat, which makes video games specifically aimed at women. "Companies have been leaving a lot of money on the table."

The video game industry has struggled in recent years with its relationships with women. Some critics have lambasted publishers for games that include overly sexualised female characters or that write sexist behaviour into the play, or omit women altogether. Women players, developers and advocates have been harassed in online forums, insulted and threatened with death and rape.

"You are seeing more women in video games, but it's coming slowly," said Bonnie Ruberg, a post-doctoral scholar at University of Southern California who studies gender and sexuality in video games. She cited a growing number of independent developers who are women and an increasing number of female characters in mainstream games.

Ubisoft Entertainment's Assassin's Creed, created in 2007, this year included a female main character for the first time, and Electronic Arts put female soccer players into its popular Fifa game, including stars Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair.

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