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Game On: My take on Take-Two’s plan to buy Zynga for $12.7 billion

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 13, 2022

Take-Two has announced its plan to acquire Zynga, a massive mobile-gaming company best-known for FarmVille and Words With Friends, for $12.7 billion.  (Zynga Inc.)
Take-Two has announced its plan to acquire Zynga, a massive mobile-gaming company best-known for FarmVille and Words With Friends, for $12.7 billion. (Zynga Inc.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

If you thought Microsoft buying ZeniMax Media for $7.5 billion last year was a big deal, just wait – 2022 is starting off with an even bigger acquisition. On Monday, Take-Two Interactive dropped a bombshell on the gaming world when the company announced its intent to buy Zynga for a massive $12.7 billion.

Most people know Take-Two for Grand Theft Auto, BioShock, NBA 2K, Red Dead and Borderlands, while folks familiar with mobile gaming will know Zynga for FarmVille, Words With Friends and Zynga Poker. Take-Two might not be a household name, but it’s actually the third-largest publicly traded video game company in the U.S and Europe trailing behind Activision-Blizzard and Electronic Arts.

It won’t be Take-Two’s first mobile-gaming acquisition, as it also purchased Socialpoint, Playdots and Nordeus in 2017, 2020 and 2021, respectively. But it’s by far the biggest acquisition yet, with Zynga being a publicly traded company valued at nearly $3 billion in total equity.

There’s also a certain level of irony in the timing – Take-Two just released Grand Theft Auto: the Trilogy in November, a surprisingly shoddy cash grab, and now it’s buying a mobile-game studio notorious for products that can often be shoddy cash grabs.

On the other hand, Take-Two buying up Zynga is a brilliant strategy from a business standpoint. Mobile gaming is mildly popular in the U.S. but enormously successful in the Eastern Hemisphere – much more prominent than other gaming platforms, in fact.

In China and India, the two most populous countries on the planet, more than 1 billion people own smartphones – Statista estimates there are 918 million smartphone users in China alone, where they’re often used instead of desktop PCs, laptops or video game consoles, even for gaming.

That’s a weird concept to many of us in the West, but it’s the norm over there. So, Take-Two, a publisher that’s found terrific success in the West, is simply seeking to expand further into a more global market.

As a gamer, I have only one real concern seeing more and more traditional video game publishers dipping their toes in the mobile market. Mobile gaming is notorious for using pay-to-win and subscription-based models, and it’s something I’d hate to see bleed over into console and PC games any more than it already has.

Any time I get curious about a mainstream mobile game and download it, I’m usually assaulted with advertisements every minute or two until I realize how little time I get to spend actually playing, then I give up and uninstall.

It’s not a model I see myself warming up to over time, either. In the early 2010s, most mobile games were already free-to-play and overloaded with advertisements – but getting rid of ads only asked for a one-time purchase, typically between $5-$10.

In more recent years, getting rid of ads requires a subscription of around $5-$10 per month per game. In some cases, older mobile games have even transitioned from the buy-once model to the subscription-model – I purchased Temple Run in its 2011 heyday, but now I can’t play it without being hounded by ads.

It gets worse, too. Some games even use “pay-to-win” elements, giving players one-use items to gain an advantage over the competition – at the expense of real-life currency, of course. My solution is to simply not play, and, honestly, I have zero regrets thus far. Almost any type of mobile game has a superior console or PC alternative that I can buy once and own forever.

That strategy’s worked well for me, but if so-called freemium gaming expands further beyond the mobile platform, I don’t know what I’ll do. Probably grow some gray hairs and sink deeper into retro gaming.

Although many attempts to aggressively and shamelessly monetize video games using pay-to-win elements have been met with backlash, some, like Neverwinter and NBA 2K22, still manage to find success. I’d hate to see it get any worse, but it probably will. All in all, this impending acquisition is likely to give me nightmares of a 2030 pay-to-win BioShock title.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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