Mumbai: Reliance Big Entertainment’s gaming portal division is buying a 50% stake in Codemasters Software Co. Ltd, a computer games firm based in the UK, for an undisclosed sum, in a move that will give it a foothold in the global gaming business.
This acquisition, the latest in the series of international entertainment deals struck by Anil Ambani, furthers his group’s strategy to have a global imprint in this business in terms of size and influence.
Codemasters was started in a barn by two brothers, Richard and David Darling in 1986, and is today one of the oldest and most widely acclaimed game developers, with the Colin McRae series and The Lord of the Rings online games to its credit, and netted $150 million (Rs670.5 crore) in revenues last year.
The game developer has ventured into cricket and Formula One simulation games as well in recent times—two segments that are popular with Indian gamers. Reliance has bought its 50% stake from exiting investor Goldman Sachs and will now be co-owning the British firm with Balderton Capital Management (UK) Llp, a leading European venture capital firm that first invested in Codemasters in 2005.
Buying spree: The Codemasters acquisition follows investments by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Big Entertainment in studios such as DreamWorks. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Highlighting the Anil Ambani conglomerate’s larger philosophy in entertainment ventures, Zapak Digital Entertainment Ltd’s chief executive Rohit Sharma told Mint : “Reliance Big Entertainment’s investments in big studios such as (Steven Spielberg’s) DreamWorks and several others owned by Hollywood actors such as Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt, has shown our intent to globally expand across all digital and entertainment categories. We (Zapak) too had been talking to several studios and were looking to acquire global (gaming) development and marketing capabilities.”
The UK-daily Sunday Times first reported the deal on 4 April, but said Mukesh Ambani, Anil’s estranged elder brother, was making this acquisition. A Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) spokesman on Monday categorically denied any such investment by the Mukesh Ambani-led group or its promoters.
“This is a huge catch for Reliance. Codemasters have produced some of the highest quality games in the recent past and is a very serious game publisher and developer,” said Delhi-based game design consultant Anand Ramachandran, who called this the most high profile move by Zapak till date. “This (acquisition) shows a change in focus and is a significant leap for them from being an Indian player to an international gaming developer,” he said.
Sharma estimates the global gaming market to be worth $55-60 billion. “This gives us a very strong foothold on cricket as a game. We can take that franchise online, on mobiles globally and that was one of the areas we were struggling in. Secondly, Jump Games will get global IPRs (intellectual property rights) after this,” he added. Zapak also controls Jump Games Pvt. Ltd, which develops games for mobiles and has distribution across Asia, Europe, North America, and South America
“Reliance and Zapak have immense resources and will help us realize the full potential of our game coding and online excellence across so many platforms, and especially in the world’s fastest growing markets,” said Rod Cousens, chief executive of Codemasters in a statement.
The UK developer has major franchises in cricket games (The Ashes), racing games (Formula One, Dirt2 and Race Driver Grid), performance games (Dance Factory) and military simulations (Operation Flashpoint 2), according to a company statement.
Krish Raghav from Delhi contributed to this story.