Chinese Internet giant Tencent, which already dominates online gaming in China, is now moving into Europe. The company has acquired a majority stake in Swiss mobile games company Miniclip, VentureBeat reported on Wednesday (Feb. 18).
Tencent didn’t disclose how much it paid or how much of Miniclip it now owns. Along with Miniclip, Tencent is also a majority owner in U.S. online game company Riot Games, which operates the wildly popular multiplayer game for PCs League of Legends, and a minority shareholder in U.S.-based Epic Games and videogame company Activision Blizzard.
But unlike Tencent’s other Western gaming investments, Miniclip is solidly planted in the mobile world. Its most popular game, 8 Ball Pool, has been downloaded more than 100 million times, according to the company, and is a top-grossing game on both iOS and Android mobile devices. Overall, Miniclip has 70 million active players of 45 games in 195 countries on six continents. Its games have been downloaded more than 500 million times since it was founded in 2001.
The mobile focus may be what appealed to Tencent, whose online empire is largely built on its WeChat services for Chinese smartphone users. The fact that Miniclip’s games also involve in-app purchases of money to bet in multiplayer games such as pool lines up nicely with Tencent’s hopes of gaining ground in online payments against its archrival, Alibaba, whose Alipay payments system dominates that area of Chinese online life.
While Tencent hasn’t been successful with direct competition against Alipay, both games and chat have become a critical way to establish itself in payments on its own terms. For example, Tencent has blocked Alipay from distributing online versions of the traditional Red Envelopes containing New Year’s gifts of money to WeChat users. That puts those users in the position of either going outside the overwhelmingly popular WeChat to make New Year’s gifts, or to do it using Tencent’s own system.