Embracer Group finalizes Dark Horse Comics and Perfect World Merger

Swedish gaming conglomerate Embracer Group adds Dark Horse Comics and Perfect World Entertainment to its acquisitions.

With the end of 2021 and the start of 2022, there was still time for the Embracer Group (Nasdaq Stockholm: EMBRAC B) to make major acquisitions, including Dark Horse Comics and Perfect World Entertainment.

The Embracer Group finalizes the acquisition of PWE and Dark Horse Media this 2022. (Images: Perfect World Entertainment and Dark Horse Media)

These deals will be finalized early this year, which will have significant ramifications down the line. While this may seem to be just a typical scenario of a large holding company acquiring smaller ones, there are major implications of these particular buyouts on comic books, MMO gaming, and the entertainment industry.

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The Embracer Group

Formerly known as Nordic Games Licensing and THQ Nordic AB, the Embracer Group is a Swedish holding company that generally focused on video games. Although it began humbly in the 1990s as a young Lars Wingefors’s own second-hand comic book and video game reseller, Nordic Games would eventually grow into an international holding organization by the 2010s.

After some difficulties during the early 2000s, the Embracer Group has acquired publishing and game development studios such as Coffee Stain Studios, Deep Silver, Koch Media, and Saber Interactive. In early 2021, it purchased the Gearbox Entertainment Company. This was a major development, as Gearbox Publishing and Gearbox Software produces the Borderlands series of games, as well as owning familiar IPs Duke Nukem, Godfall, and Homeworld.

Star Trek Online (along with Champions Online and Neverwinter Online) are the MMOs acquired by the Embracer Group under PWE subsidiary Cryptic Studios.

And just prior to the acquisition of Perfect World and Dark Horse, the Embracer Group already raised capital and purchased Asmodee. The French company Asmodee is one of the largest traditional gaming publishers in the world. Among Asmodee’s most popular and financially successful game titles include Carcassonne, Catan, Diplomacy, Pandemic, Splendor, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game, and Ticket to Ride. The transaction amounted to €2.75 billion (or about $3.1 billion).

Perfect World Entertainment

It should be noted that the Embracer Group’s acquisition is not of the entire Perfect World Company, but only the North American arm, Perfect World Entertainment. However, this is still one of the biggest acquisitions the Embracer Group has made, along the lines of its previous buyouts of Gearbox.

Perfect World Entertainment or PWE publishes the Torchlight series of games. It also oversees Cryptic Studios. Cryptic Studios has been publishing and running popular MMOs such as Champions Online, Neverwinter Online, and Star Trek Online. However, the last major MMO that Cryptic Studios developed was the disastrous Magic: Legends (based on the popular Magic: The Gathering CCG), which officially closed only a month into Open Beta. This last effort may have been the main factor that led to the Embracer Group’s acquisition of its assets.

With the merger of PWE, the current and future games titles under its umbrella will be placed under Gearbox, as Gearbox Entertainment’s Randy Pitchford welcome statement reads:

It’s an honor for us to welcome this talented group of individuals into the Gearbox Entertainment family. Gearbox will invest into the future of Cryptic as an independent, dynamic studio that is passionate about MMOs. That commitment is paired with an exciting new partnership that will emerge as the talented Perfect World publishing team and their promising line up of future games will become supported and bolstered by the capability and strength of the Gearbox Publishing team.

Despite the hiccup PWE and Cryptic experienced with the failed Magic: Legends, the current MMO slate continues to be profitable and is set to launch new titles from 2022 through 2024.

Dark Horse Comics

But perhaps the more significant acquisition by the Embracer Group is that of Dark Horse Media. The Milwaukee-based entertainment company is one of the longest-running and successful comic book publishers that isn’t one of the "Big Two" (i.e. DC Comics and Marvel Comics).

With the acquisition of Dark Horse Comics, the Embracer Group now owns the following comic book properties: Comics’ Greatest World (including characters such as Barb Wire, Division 13, Ghost, Hero Zero, Motorhead, Titan, and X), The Mask, and Time Cop. It also has licensed properties including Star Wars, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Alien, Predator, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Stranger Things, and The Witcher.

This also gives the Embracer Group access to the existing working relationship Dark Horse has established with creator-owned content. Among them are Hellboy, Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, Grendel, Sin City, and The Umbrella Academy. Under Dark Horse’s production company, these have had cross-media success through TV shows and movies. Dark Horse Media also has existing business relationships with major studios such as Amazon, MGM Universal, Netflix, Sony, and Warner Bros.

Acquiring Dark Horse Media opens up multiple comic book IPs for the Embracer Group, including Hellboy. (Image: Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Releasing)

Unlike the case with PWE and Cryptic falling under Gearbox, Dark Horse Media will be its own distinct operating division, including the physical and digital retail platform Things From Another World. As stated by Dark Horse CEO and founder Mike Richardson:

I can’t express the excitement I feel as Dark Horse moves into this new chapter in our history. The synergies that exist with the Embracer network of companies  promises exciting new opportunities not only for Dark Horse, but also for the creators and companies we work with. I’ve had a number of compelling conversations with Embracer CEO Lars Wingefors and I’m very impressed with him and what he and his team have built. I have to say, the future for our company has never looked brighter.

Why are these acquisitions significant?

The Embracer Group has been setting up to be a major player in the entertainment industry, as a whole. While it has been quietly acquiring game companies over the past years, the mergers with Dark Horse Media and PWE opens up a wide range of opportunities in the multimedia spectrum.

The Embracer Group now has strong and long-established MMO titles to further develop and market under the PWE banner. Meanwhile, the Dark Horse Media arm can lead to the company being a significant player in the very lucrative superhero genre which has proven successful in various media. While Marvel/Disney has been the most dominating force so far, the Dark Horse properties can offer diversity and cater to different tastes, as it has already proven with the success of The Umbrella Academy on Netflix and Resident Alien on Syfy.

Combined with the other potential crossover businesses with tabletop and digital products, the Embracer Group is now in a position to become as big as Epic Games, Electronic Arts, Tencent or even Sony and Nintendo. Given that Activision Blizzard has now been acquired by Microsoft Xbox, we could all be looking at a major shift of players in the gaming and entertainment industries.

The Embracer Group’s merger with Perfect World Entertainment and Dark Horse Media finalizes this February, 2022.

Geoff Borgonia
Geoffrey "Borgy" Borgonia is a veteran writer, artist, journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur based in the Philippines. When not contributing to some of the top pop culture sites on the planet, he spends the rest of his time running his business, practicing martial arts, working on and developing books, comics, and games. In his man-cave, his only luxury is sleep. Borgy on Linkedin.
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