Given the current wave of consolidation in the video game industry, all eyes have been on Electronic Arts for several months now. And, given the rumors of a near merger deal, the whispers are growing.
EA, for years, was the gaming world’s largest independent publisher, and it has a library of intellectual properties and legacy licensing brands that any company would envy. But given the eye-popping price tags of Take-Two’s just-completed Zynga deal ($12.7 billion) and Microsoft’s pending acquisition of Activision-Blizzard ($69 billion), that limits the market of potential suitors.
Puck News, on Friday, reported EA recently came close to a merger deal with Comcast, which would have seen CEO Andrew Wilson running a combined EA and NBCUniversal. While the talks progressed for quite a while, they ultimately fell apart over disagreements about price and structure. EA has also reportedly had talks with Disney, Apple, and Amazon.
EA, as you might expect, isn’t commenting on any of the rumors. And a spokesperson did not reply to questions about the larger industry consolidation trend.
But the whispers draw EA as a company that has read the environment and sees the wisdom in partnering with a larger company. And, given its track record and offerings, it seemingly puts a premium on itself.
The economy hasn’t done it any favors, though. The threat of a recession is a much bigger factor today than when Take-Two and Microsoft went shopping, which could bring about some hesitancy if EA is demanding a huge premium. Companies are guarding their cash as their stocks fall, and they brace for reduced consumer spending over a sustained period.
If EA manages to find a partner, who makes the most sense? It’s a more limited list than you’d expect.
Disney has dipped its toes into the video game waters several times—and it has always dried them off fairly quickly. There are some arguments to be made for an acquisition, though. The combination of EA Sports and ESPN makes plenty of sense. EA’s PopCap division is a natural fit. And having an in-house team to focus on Star Wars games has a certain logic to it.
It’s questionable, though, if Disney would have the stomach for titles like Battlefield, Mass Effect, and Dead Space. And Disney CEO Bob Chapek is plenty busy these days with growing Disney+ subscriber numbers and managing the fallout of the company’s problems in Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis has targeted the company after it spoke out against the so-called Don’t Say Gay legislation.
Amazon has shown an increased interest in the gaming world lately, with the launch of Lost Ark. Its Twitch division makes it an even bigger player in the industry. It’s also a cash-rich company. But given the premium EA is likely seeking, that might price the company out of Amazon’s range. The most the retailer has ever shelled out for an acquisition was 2017’s takeover of Whole Foods, which cost it $13.7 billion. (Last year’s takeover of MGM carried an $8.5 billion price tag—and that company fit more naturally with Prime Video, which has a much larger established user base.)
EA would be a nice-to-have for Amazon, but it’s hardly a must-have, so this pairing seems unlikely.
Apple focuses on hardware more than software. And it already makes plenty from EA (and every other app developer in the video game space) via royalty payments from in-app purchases and downloads. Buying EA would load the company with a division that’s foreign to its way of doing business.
This is a combination that doesn’t make much sense.
Sony has its hands full already with the Bungie merger. And while the companies have been long-time partners and are familiar with each other, EA’s dependence on a cross-platform business model would be hard for Sony to swallow. Having a small number of Bungie games available on Xbox is one thing; having a catalog as major as EA’s is another entirely. There’s also the matter of culture shock. EA and Sony run their businesses in very different fashions, which makes it hard to see them working as a single company.
The idea of, arguably, the two most sought-after independent publishers merging into a single super-publisher is an intriguing one. The combined IP catalog would be a powerhouse. And the two have discussed a team-up in the past (though Ubisoft soundly rejected it in 2004). The finances would be tricky, though, as EA would likely be the acquiring company, costing it money rather than bringing it in, which shareholders might balk at. And the combined entity would have to illustrate to investors that it can stand on equal ground as a combined Microsoft/Activision. That could be challenging.
Embracer has been on a tear lately. It recently bought the rights to Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, Thief, and more from Square Enix. It owns several major game studios, including Gearbox and Deep Silver. So, it certainly would be a possible partner. The logistics behind acquiring EA, though, are imposing. The company has numerous divisions scattered across the world, and the redundancies would take months or even years to sort out. That’s unlikely to appeal to Embracer’s management.
Nope. No way. If regulators are giving this much scrutiny to the Activision takeover, there’s no way the Xbox parent company could convince them to greenlight an EA takeover as well.
While this potential merger doesn’t seem to be moving forward at the moment, it really does make the most sense for EA. It has a level of prestige that the company can tout, it fills a hole in Comcast’s media library, and it opens the door to improved communications between Comcast and the console makers, which could improve its streaming numbers.
The deal, assuming the reports were accurate, could be dead right now, but as the industries around Comcast and EA continue to evolve (and assuming egos don’t get in the way), it’s not unthinkable that the two could find some way to work out their differences.