Electronic Gaming Development Company (EGDC), a subsidiary of a foundation run by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, now owns 96.18 percent of Japanese developer SNK following a massive investment.
According to an announcement sent to SNK investors in February, EGDC recently acquired a majority of SNK’s shares on the South Korea stock exchange, where the King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown studio has been publicly traded since 2019.
Kotaku contacted SNK for comment but did not receive an immediate response.
The nitty gritty of SNK’s report notes that EGDC purchased 14,048,218 shares at ₩37,197 KRW (around $30 USD) per share for a total price tag of over ₩522 billion KRW (around $430 million USD). This more than triples EGDC’s previous investment, which saw the company secure a 28.8 percent stake in SNK from Hong Kong-based shareholder Zuikaku Co., Limited in late 2020.
Saudi Arabia spent the last year throwing money around the video game industry, with strategic investments in companies like Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive, Capcom, and Nexon. Like many of Mohammed bin Salman’s dealings, these purchases fall within the Saudi Vision 2030 strategy established during his mid-decade rise to power, which on paper is meant to diversify the kingdom’s oil-centric economy.
In reality, however, Saudi Vision 2030 is largely a propaganda campaign focused on whitewashing Saudi Arabia’s atrocious human rights record. The regressive monarchy seemingly hopes that aligning itself with entertainment industries around the world might loosen the purse strings of businesses wary of investing in the oil-rich country’s economy, especially with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the ongoing, U.S.-backed Yemeni genocide still looming overhead.
But not everyone in the games industry has taken the money and run. When the League of Legends European Championship brokered a sponsorship promoting NEOM, the idiotic techno-city envisioned by Mohammed bin Salman as a $500 billion oasis in the Saudi desert, public backlash forced tournament organizer Riot Games to apologize to its fans and back out of the deal.
“In an effort to expand our esports ecosystem, we moved too quickly to cement this partnership and caused rifts in the very community we seek to grow,” Riot said at the time. “While we missed our own expectations in this instance, we’re committed to reexamining our internal structures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
I’m no expert in geopolitical maneuvering. I don’t know what lies ahead for SNK now that it’s owned by one of the closest people the modern world has to a supervillain. It could be that bin Salman is looking to soften his regime’s image via in-game propaganda, or perhaps he’s hoping the investment itself is enough to make it look like his is a government in renaissance rather than one known for oppressing women, executing homosexuals, and promoting religious zealotry. Either way, buying SNK games just got a whole lot harder to justify.
While it sure felt bad when SNK was purchased by a pachinko manufacturer back in the day, seeing it get scooped up by Saudi Arabian war criminals is a whole new level of disappointment. King of Fighters XV is good, but not good enough to ignore this.
(h/t Patrick Miller)