Scopely Acquires PierPlay as Video Game Market Surges Amid COVID-19 Lockdown
Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.
The deal culminates a close partnership that began in 2016 when Scopely turned to PierPlay to help develop a Scrabble game to compete with with Zynga's popular Words with Friends, an off-brand word game that Hasbro has been trying to shut down since it launched in 2009.
Scrabble GO launched in 150 countries last month, becoming the biggest word game launch ever, though it still trails Word with Friends on Apple's app store.
"Our goal is always to have the best team in the world build a game, where it's internal or external," Tim O'Brien, Scopely's chief revenue officer, told dot.LA. "We knew these guys were a great team. We were always planning on acquiring the studio."
O'Brien says the deal was underway long before the coronavirus, but a pandemic that has everyone stuck at home and only able to connect with friends virtually is ideal for the addictive Scrabble GO and Scopely's larger portfolio, which has seen revenue increase 10% since before the virus.
"The timing couldn't have been better for us to launch," said O'Brien. "People are downloading more games and playing games longer. For a game like Scrabble GO that's highly social and highly competitive, it's the perfect game right now for people to play."
One concern is that Scopely makes a substantial amount of money from advertising, which is threatened as struggling companies reduce their marketing spend. But O'Brien says rates have already recovered after a brief dip last month.
Before the pandemic sent workers home, many of PierPlay's 25 employees were already working at Scopely's headquarters on a new game that has yet to be announced. PierPlay co-founder and Chief Executive Lorenzo Nuvoletta will continue to manage the game studio.
"The success we've seen with Scrabble GO has been amazing and we look forward to tackling more exciting projects in the development slate," Nuvoletta said in a statement. Scopely says more than 2.5 million people are playing Scrabble GO daily, with the average session lasting over 100 minutes per day.
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Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake
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