A for China’s gaming market hasn’t held back newcomers. Bytedance, the world’s behind a collection of rising new media apps including TikTok and Jinri Toutiao, is making a further push into video games after it took control of a mobile game developer through a roundabout deal. According to a , Shanghai Mokun has become wholly owned by Beijing Zhaoxi Guangnian, a second-tier subsidiary of Bytedance. Mokun is a mobile game developer previously owned by a publicly listed games publisher that earmarked in revenue last year, which makes the Shanghai-based company about one-sixth the size of Activision Blizzard. Zhang Lidong, a veteran journalist-turned senior vice president at Bytedance, has taken the helm as Mokun’s legal representative. The price of the deal is undisclosed. A spokesperson from Bytedance declines to comment on the transaction. TechCrunch has reached out to 37 IE and will update the story if we hear back. This isn’t the first time Bytedance has shown interest in the lucrative gaming market. Last month, Chinese version Douyin released its first in-app “mini-game” and Toutiao had already rolled out on its personalized news distribution platform in September. These stripped-down forms of apps within a super app have been a sought-after way for Chinese tech giants to lock users in rather than sending them to download a stand-alone app. Bytedance’s foray into mini-games comes as a likely move to take on Tencent’s messenger, which had amassed on its own army of mini-games by January. On the other hand, Tencent is getting nervous about ByteDance’s rise and made after trying its hand at several TikTok-like apps. Though best-known for WeChat, Tencent has been generating the bulk of its income from video games for years and is the world’s largest games publisher by revenues, according to market researcher . Tencent’s asset of more than 1 billion MAUs on WeChat and about 800 million MAUs on QQ, its legacy messenger from the PC era, allows the giant to conveniently convert social media users into gamers. Users can, for instance, easily log in and invite friends to play games via their WeChat or QQ accounts. By comparison, stream short-form videos on Douyin each month. Many of them may have already seen in-stream ads for games on the video app, which has become a popular marketing channel for small game developers, according to several media-buying agencies TechCrunch previously spoke to. Worldwide, TikTok has collected an estimated . This considerable global reach, which Tencent lacks, may eventually give Bytedance an edge in games distribution if the company decides to launch the effort overseas.
A “Plants vs. Zombies” figure is seen in the new offices of Electronic Arts and PopCap in downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) When Ken Moss started at the video game company a little more than four years ago, he was the only EA employee working out of PopCap Games in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. The gaming giant had , known for hit games “Plants vs. Zombies,” “Peggle,” and “Bejeweled,” for up to $1.3 billion in 2011. He recalls having a “random” office at the time, surrounded by the hub of “creativity and awesomeness” that is . Moss, EA’s chief technology officer, showed off the company’s new Seattle offices on Friday, on the fifth floor of 800 Fifth Ave. at the southern edge of downtown. Not only are EA and PopCap sharing a space in what’s billed as a “central technology” hub, but perhaps as a subconscious nod to the man in charge of it all, there is literally moss on the walls in one common area. Ken Moss, chief technology officer at EA, laughs at the company’s Seattle office where moss — or something that looks like moss — has been used to decorate one of the walls. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) With about 100 EA employees and another 100 who are specific to PopCap, the office is looking to grow, and executives expect to reach a headcount of about 300 in the next year or so. Aside from the creative minds working on the next “Plants vs. Zombies” — or something, they wouldn’t say what — the office is home to teams dealing with cybersecurity, tech ops, the cloud, and developer/player experience. EA has more than 10,0000 employees worldwide, with headquarters in Redwood Shores, Calif., and offices in cities such as Vancouver, B.C., Austin, Texas, and elsewhere globally. EA’s Seattle presence is focused on attracting top tech talent against the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and others. Moss, a Microsoft veteran and former eBay executive, thinks EA has an advantage in that quest. “There are 2.6 billion gamers in the world. It’s a third of the planet,” Moss said. “Being able to to think about how we make hundreds of millions or billions of people on this planet a little bit happier is what we get to do every day. You’ll see this throughout the office. Certainly you’ll see it in me. It’s a very unique proposition that I don’t know that [other companies are] thinking about. And at the same time, I get to think about the most cutting-edge tech that is anywhere in the industry and it’s truly amazing tech.” The main lobby at EA’s Seattle office at 800 Fifth Ave. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) An artist space at PopCap inside the EA office in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Rattling off such tech disciplines as cybersecurity, the cloud, artificial intelligence, physics, streaming and more, Moss can’t help but smile knowing that at EA and in Seattle they’re all being utilized in the service of gaming and happiness. “That’s just something I think is incredibly fun,” he said. The fun is sprinkled throughout the office. There are plants and plush zombies everywhere. Screens on walls flash through popular EA titles, such as “FIFA 19,” and desktops are covered with the toys of the trade. And there are games of all kinds, from billiards and foosball to console games, board games and full-size whack-a-mole-style PopCap arcade games. The personality of PopCap is definitely being utilized to give the space — which could otherwise house any random tech operation — some charm. A game room at EA in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) A board game is left unattended not far from where EA is solving its technical gaming problems. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Moss has assembled a team in Seattle that is dealing with leading technical challenges as the world of gaming evolves. Among them is Matt Tomlinson, who is EA’s chief information security officer. Tomlinson spent 22 years at Microsoft, including a role as head of security for the tech giant’s Azure cloud business. Tomlinson’s global team deals with enterprise security, online security, and the games and products that are part of platform security. “Security is a pretty hot space right now … so it’s a really difficult place to recruit into,” Tomlinson said. “I’d say we’ve done rather well. We compete against Microsoft, Google, Amazon, just here in Seattle. I’ve got folks on the team that I’ve pulled from the FBI for doing things like investigations. We even have somebody, not based here, whose last job was protecting the International Space Station.” “We’ve got a great mission here,” Tomlinson added. “Protecting hundreds of millions of players globally is kind of cool.” (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) For all it is doing in tech, one of the most important things EA has to deal with as a company, Moss said, is the interaction between tech and studios. “And it’s not easy,” he said. “It requires a lot of work and a lot of communication.” The hope is that it will get easier with all personnel on one floor of the new space, rather than the three or four floors they were split between at the old PopCap building. Matt Nutt, head of PopCap and general manager for EA’s casual gaming business, said of three PopCap teams in the offices, one is working on new content and features for “Plants vs. Zombies 2,” one is working on forward-looking far-out concepts, and a third is working on the studio’s next game — which no one was ready to talk about. Matt Nutt, head of PopCap studios. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) PopCap was founded in Seattle in 2000 by Brian Fiete, John Vechey and Jason Kapalka, all of whom have since left the company to work on new projects and ventures. The way games are developed and played has changed dramatically since the company was founded. “It’s nice to be able to focus on the art and then partner with Ken’s organization so that we don’t have to worry about being masters of things like back-end services and digital platform and all the technology that we want to make games more social to give people a reason for playing games together,” Nutt said. Nutt said PopCap has weathered a lot of change as a studio. In May 2017, it by an unspecified number, and Nutt said in a memo to staff at the time the studio was “returning to our roots — smaller, leaner, pushing hard to build new things.” With about 100 employees at PopCap now, Nutt said Friday that numbers are back to where they were and the studio is again hiring. He credited the studio’s survival in part to its acquisition by EA. Key to its continued viability will be its ability to find success in free-to-play mobile gaming, he said. PopCap Games and its parent Electronic Arts have come a ways from Belltown, with new offices further south in downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) “There’s 3 billion smart devices worldwide. It’s a massive market for us,” Nutt said. “Our business used to look like putting games in boxes. In fact, the place that we just moved from, the first floor, we used to pack and ship ourselves. But, you know, success used to look like several hundred thousand boxes mostly to a Western audience. We now make games that reach hundreds of millions of players worldwide.”