Tencent acquired a minority stake in ‘Life is Strange’ developer Dontnod

French game studio Dontnod has sold a minority stake to Chinese conglomerate Tencent.

Chinese technology conglomerate Tencent has acquired a stake in Dontnod, according to a report in Kotaku. The French studio is famous for releasing games with compelling storylines, like Life is Strange and Tell Me Why.

Westerners wouldn’t be blamed for being unfamiliar with Tencent. The company owns Riot Games, the developer behind League of Legends, but its own in-house titles largely haven’t taken off in North America or Europe.

Besides its investments in gaming, Tencent is also the owner of WeChat, a messaging “super app” used by pretty much all Chinese citizens and the global Chinese diaspora. Alongside Baidu, Alibaba, and Xiaomi, Tencent is one of China’s Big Tech equivalents of Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon in the U.S.

INDEX FUND FOR GAMING — Tencent’s strategy in gaming at this point can best be described as “if you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em.” Besides Riot Games, the company owns 40 percent of Epic Games, as well as small stakes in Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, and several other studios — it even owns a stake in chat app Discord. In China, Tencent created a joint-partnership with Nintendo (a common requirement) through which it sells the Switch there, and subsequently it was allowed to make its own Pokémon game, Pokémon Unite.

In a sense, Tencent is less of a company that develops games itself and more of a holding company for the gaming industry. If you believe in the strength of video games amid this massive pandemic surge, investing in Tencent is an easy way to buy into the segment. It’s an index fund of sorts, reflecting the performance of the broader industry.

IT’S ABOUT MONEY — Tencent mostly acquires minority stakes in studios and isn’t known for exerting influence over the creative direction of games. It’s running the same playbook as large tech companies in America: using its massive cash hoard, it buys up stakes in small companies to get a piece of their future success.

There was one scuffle in 2019, however, when an esports player was banned from Blizzard’s Hearthstone after showing support for Hong Kong protests during a live event. Blizzard later lessened the punishment but said it didn’t prohibit political discussions during tournaments. Tencent may claim neutrality, but it’s still beholden to the whims of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Dontnod is known for the strong LGBTQ representation in its work, and a minority stake being owned by Tencent is unlikely to change that. Tencent’s investment is about making money, and part of Dontnod’s success is the subject matter it chooses to tackle. There’s no financial upside to messing with a winning formula.

Another large company, Microsoft, has been scooping up independent developers of late itself and has indicated it will likely acquire more. Those moves seem intended to help pad its Game Pass subscription service and don’t imply a desire to change or influence developers’ creative focus. In fact, it may help indie developers as it puts them on firmer financial footings.

Google’s Stadia may not be making headlines like it used to, but the cloud streaming platform is still chugging along. Some might say it’s “alive and well.” In the face of steep competition from more traditional consoles and other streaming services, Google has added a new feature that might actually convert some free users to paid ones: A 30-minute trial of Stadia Pro exclusives.

Stadia’s latest exclusive, a multiplayer construction game called Hello Engineer, is the first to offer the 30-minute trial option, 9to5Google reports. The game is free to play with a $9.99/month Stadia Pro membership, and non-Pro players can buy it for $20.

Stadia has struggled to find footing in the gaming industry from the moment it launched. Giving players the option to try a game — even if just for half an hour — could be just the push Stadia needs to actually get gamers interested in the platform.

FULL ACCESS — Jumping into the Hello Engineer trial is as easy as logging into Stadia and navigating to the game’s dedicated page. The trial option appears right under the buttons to buy the game or claim it for free with a Pro subscription, as YouTuber Gem shows here.

This isn’t some limited version of the game with random boundaries around what you can or cannot try; the trial affords players access to the entirety of Hello Engineer. A 30-minute timer begins counting down in the sidebar as soon as the game is launched. Players’ progress is saved, so they can jump right back in if they decide to buy the full game later.

Hello Engineer is the only game offering a free trial right now, but Google did confirm to The Verge that the option will be coming to other games in the next few weeks.

HEY, IT’S WORTH A SHOT — Stadia has not been doing well. Some might say it’s bound to end up in the Google Graveyard sooner rather than later.

Stadia has already gone through quite a few identity crises since launching in 2020. Google had big dreams of its own in-house studio creating exclusive original titles — a surefire way to bring in at least a few gamers. But then Google shuttered both of its development studios in January of this year before they’d even had a chance to release a single title.

Stadia is today a shell of the cloud streaming empire Google planned for. With services like Nvidia’s GeForce Now and Microsoft’s xCloud offering much larger libraries for players to choose from, Stadia finds itself in limbo.

Are 30-minute trials going to save Stadia? Almost certainly not. They might bring in some extra sales, though, and every little bit counts when you’re barely staying afloat.