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Saudi wealth fund buys stakes in Korea game makers

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Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund Public Investment Fund (PIF) is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the country’s deputy prime minister. AFP

Saudi wealth fund buys stakes in Korea game makers

Saudi Arabia is pouring money into South Korean game makers NCSoft and Nexon, doubling down on its bet in the gaming industry.

Public Investment Fund (PIF), the Middle Eastern country’s sovereign wealth fund, acquired an additional 563,566 shares of NCSoft for about 290 billion won ($240 million) through six transactions between February 8-16, according to a regulatory filing submitted to the Financial Supervisory Service on March 10.

With the latest investment, PIF has become NCSoft’s second-largest shareholder with a 9.26 per cent stake, only behind the company’s founder and CEO Kim Taek-jin with an 11.9 per cent stake.

Since PIF’s first purchase of NCSoft’s shares in January, the Saudi fund has injected over one trillion won into the gaming firm behind the popular Lineage series.

PIF said it intended to simply invest, indicating it was not interested in being involved in management.

“We and all of our specially related persons will exercise rights only to the extent granted under laws, irrespective of the number of securities held,” PIF said in a letter to the Financial Services Commission and Korea Exchange.

The sovereign wealth fund also bought an additional 1.07 per cent stake in NCSoft’s crosstown rival Nexon, a Seoul-founded and Tokyo-listed game maker best known for the multiplayer online role-playing game MapleStory, between February 15 and March 1, according to a filing from Japan’s financial regulator. The investment was worth about 250 billion won.

PIF now holds a 7.09 per cent stake in Nexon, becoming its fourth-largest shareholder. The Saudi fund has so far poured over two trillion won into Nexon since January.

Aside from Korean game makers, PIF has invested in other major global game developers such as Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive, SNK and Capcom.

Industry watchers say the PIF’s aggressive investments reflect the Middle Eastern country’s burgeoning interests in the gaming industry and its growth potential.

“I think [PIF’s investment] shows that it’s taking high value in the game makers. It could provide a momentum for the companies in regard to developing new titles,” said a source from a gaming company who requested anonymity.

Separately, the PIF, who launched a gaming company of its own named Savvy Gaming Group in January, said the new entity seeks to be the leading gaming and e-sports group domestically and internationally, and will work to further develop an integrated ecosystem for the sector.

According to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, PIF is the world’s sixth-largest sovereign wealth fund with total assets worth $580 billion. The fund is chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is also the country’s deputy prime minister.

THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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