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Why Embracer is acquiring ‘Tomb Raider’ and other video games

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Like so many on-screen action heroes, she was elbowed aside when newer stars appeared and started grabbing more viewers with bigger weapons, better special effects and more elaborate adventures.

That’s when Lars Wingefors spied an opportunity and swooped in.

Earlier this year, the little-known Swedish billionaire bought the rights to British archaeologist Lara Croft and the vehicle that turned her into a household name. After debuting 26 years ago, “Tomb Raider” went on to become one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time, spawning lucrative spinoffs and movies starring Angelina Jolie and Alicia Vikander, before faltering as bigger games and mobile apps appeared and gaming moved away from its core teenage male audience to young girls, college students and families.

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Mirage Game Studios staffers work on an upcoming game called “Space for Sale.” Mirage, based in Karlstad, Sweden, is one of 132 game studios owned by Embracer.

(Jenny Ingemarsson / For The Times)

Wingefors’ company, Embracer, purchased “Tomb Raider” from San Mateo-based Crystal Dynamics, along with the rights to dozens of other game titles and development studios belonging to its parent company in May for $300 million — spare change in the $220-billion worldwide gaming industry. The goal? To buy relatively cheap, remake, relaunch and profit big.

A screenshot shows a computer-generated woman in mid-jump in a cavern-like setting

Lara Croft in the 2006 game “Tomb Raider: Legend.”

(Associated Press)

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In a matter of years, Embracer has snapped up hundreds of game companies, publishers and intellectual property rights from Los Angeles to Mumbai, allowing Wingefors, its co-founder and chief executive, to quietly build Europe’s biggest gaming group. Today, Embracer is a $5.7-billion publicly traded company headquartered here in Karlstad, Sweden — Wingefors’ sleepy hometown of 65,000 people, about 160 miles west of Stockholm — and owns more video game studios than any other corporation in the world.

A growing number of them are in California, where modern gaming was born in the Bay Area with Atari and “Pong” in the 1970s before Japan took over the gaming console world with Nintendo, Sega and PlayStation. In the last two decades, the power centers of gaming have become more international, and some of the biggest game makers are once again on the U.S. West Coast.

They include Xbox maker Microsoft in Redmond, Wash., and Activision Blizzard, the creators of the current bestselling game series “Call of Duty,” in Santa Monica. In February, Super Nintendo World, an immersive theme park based on the Mario Bros. franchise, will open at Universal Studios Hollywood.

For Wingefors and the programmers across the world who dream of having the next hit game, the Golden State is a prime destination.

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A bearded man in blue jacket and white dress shirt smiles with escalators in the background

Embracer co-founder and CEO Lars Wingefors.

(Jenny Ingemarsson / For The Times)

“A lot of what is happening in the world originates in California. Gaming is not an exception to this,” says Wingefors, 45. “We’re in this space now that we call transmedia — games that are relevant to Hollywood, movies that can become games. That’s where we want to be and how important this state is.

“We want a lot of games and to make them the best,” Wingefors adds. “So we make acquisitions.”

He buys games that are either little-known or past their prime but have dedicated followings, such as “Tomb Raider,” “Legacy of Kain,” “Duke Nukem” and a handful of “SpongeBob SquarePants” titles, which haven’t seen new releases for years. This month, Amazon Games announced a deal to publish the next “Tomb Raider.”

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Embracer-owned studios are also upgrading properties such as “Goat Simulator,” a PC and console game whose concept is exactly as it sounds — simulating the life of a goat, albeit one in the city with the task of creating as much havoc and destruction as possible.

A man in a dark shirt sitting at a desk with two computer screens; one says Space for Sale, the other, Mirage Game Studios

Simon Rojder is a programmer who is the founder of Mirage Game Studios.

(Jenny Ingemarsson / For The Times)

In the last year, Wingefors has set his sights beyond games, purchasing the rights to the “Lord of the Rings” franchise from the Bay Area group that manages derivatives of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s literary works, acquiring a French company that’s among the world’s largest board and card game makers and buying the Oregon-based publisher of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Hellboy” and “Sin City” comics.

“They’re no Microsoft or Sony. But it seems like they are just trying to get their hands on everything,” says John Hardie, a longtime game collector and co-founder of the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, Texas.

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Or as the tech-oriented website the Verge put it: “Embracer Group, the company forging one IP portfolio to rule them all.”

The strategy has sparked both criticism and confusion in the gaming world. Some gamers accuse Embracer of sacrificing artistry, while others find the company’s approach scattershot and incoherent. An Embracer developer defends the company’s approach, saying it supports game-makers.

“If you look at them from afar, you might wonder what the company is doing,” says Simon Rojder, a programmer who is the founder of Mirage, a game studio in Karlstad that Embracer absorbed in 2016. “What he [Wingefors] does is find people who know what they are doing and then leaves them alone.

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“This company is called the big dragon monster of gaming because they soak up everything. But they give you space to do your work. We feel quite independent, even if on paper we are not.”

A man with brown hair and brown plaid shirt sits at a table with circuit boards

Jukka Kovalainen, a technical engineer at the Embracer Games Archive, works on soldering a power supply for an old game system.

(Jenny Ingemarsson / For The Times)

Today, Embracer oversees 237 games being developed across 132 studios on every continent except Africa and Antarctica. More than 15,000 employees work for Embracer or a company under its umbrella.

In California, Embracer has a foothold in San Francisco, where it owns a studio that developed the free game “Star Trek Online.” Irvine is home to a recently acquired karaoke company, Singtrix, while SpringboardVR, a company focused on arcade development, is in Los Angeles. In Agoura Hills, Embracer runs global marketing for Vertigo Games, a Dutch games studio and virtual reality group. It also has a distribution contract with Exploding Kittens, an L.A. game studio named after the card game, which shot up in popularity after launching on Kickstarter seven years ago.

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Embracer’s rapid expansion comes as tech, gaming and moviemaking collide in a content race to grab the attention and dollars of any consumer they can. Fueled in part by a boom during pandemic-era lockdowns, the gaming industry’s price tag now rivals those of Hollywood and music.

“People used to treat gaming as something teen boys did alone in their rooms and nobody else really cared about, and that was accurate for a very long time,” Hardie says. “But the reality today is nowhere close to that, so every company out there is trying to get a piece of the action.”

Until Embracer’s sudden rise, Europe played only a bit role in the global world of gaming, which routinely pits American game-makers against those in Asia — namely China and Japan, home to Tencent and Sony, respectively. Wingefors is scrambling to carve out room for Sweden, a nation of only 10.5 million people that nonetheless has produced hit games and gaming personalities. If you’ve heard of “Minecraft” or “Candy Crush Saga,” you’ve encountered games created by Swedes.

A view from above of one woman and three men, some smiling, seated around a table looking at a board game

Staffers at the Mirage Game Studios office play a strategy board game during a break from work.

(Jenny Ingemarsson / For The Times)

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“Hopefully, one day, this city of Karlstad can be kind of a gaming city,” says Wingefors, who, with his crisp suits, slicked-back brown hair and penchant for talking about synergies, intellectual property and return on investment, sounds more like a financier than a gamer.

That’s because that’s what he is.

Raised by divorced parents outside this woodsy city, which is home to several major paper companies, he hawked mail-order comics as a teenager to make spending money. He built up a collection of 50,000 comics before selling them in order to start flipping used video games, mainly old Nintendo cartridges, and dropped out of high school to run a business that he called Nordic Games. It was a seven-shop retail chain in Sweden in the late 1990s, which he sold for more than $7 million.

This story is part of our Global California project

Our correspondents are traveling the globe, sharing stories that examine the complex relationship between the West Coast and the rest of the world.

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In the early 2000s, he launched Game Outlet Europe, which bought excess gaming cartridges and CDs and resold them internationally, and financed the development of “We Sing,” a karaoke game for Nintendo Wii. It was a hit, topping Christmas gaming charts in 2009. Within years, Wingefors was investing in international gaming studios, hoping to repeat the win with other games through a company that became Embracer.

For Wingefors, who owns a 21% stake in Embracer, it’s business, rather than a passion for games, that drives him.

“I grew up playing ‘Commodore 64.’ I liked games like any other young person growing up in Sweden. But for me it’s been more about the people, the industry, the business that gets me excited,” he says.

The thirst for a good deal and profits has brought controversy.

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Over the summer, Embracer accepted a $1-billion investment from the Saudi Arabian government, a move that critics decried because of the oil-rich kingdom’s dismal record on human rights and free speech. Asked about the 8.1% stake of Embracer that the Arab nation owns through its investment arm, Wingefors says only that he understands there are “different views” on the matter and that his corporation will strive for “inclusion, humanity, freedom and openness.”

A view from above of two people playing a video game in a room

Archivists Natalia Kovalainen, left, and Mikel Rylander, right, play the Neo Geo AES game “King of Fighters ‘95” in the game room at the Embracer Games Archive.

(Jenny Ingemarsson / For The Times)

In another move that has puzzled observers, Wingefors has hired a team to collect every video game ever made for every platform throughout history. The Embracer Games Archive, announced in May, houses 60,000 games in a 16,000-square-foot industrial warehouse on the outskirts of Karlstad. So far, it has spent $2 million amassing its collection.

Four archivists unload pallets of plastic-sealed games purchased in bulk from auctions and log them into a growing database. David Bostrom, a Swedish YouTuber famous for streaming videos of himself playing from his retro game room in the city of Orebro, runs the operation.

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On any given day, his team could be unpacking the Japanese-language catalog for the Famicom — the precursor to the Nintendo system that has made Mario and Luigi as famous as Mickey Mouse for generations since the 1980s — or dusting off old copies of “Final Fantasy,” the 3D role-playing game that sold millions of CDs in the 1990s for PlayStation systems.

A person reaches into a box lined with bubble wrap that contains video games, next to a person holding some games

Workers at the Embracer Games Archive unpack a box of newly delivered games.

(Jenny Ingemarsson / For The Times)

“We are trying to create a kind of history or heritage museum,” says Bostrom. “Embracer has so many games and studios but far from everything out there, so we want to give a picture of the complete story of gaming.”

Archives and museums are usually open to researchers or the public. For now, Embracer’s is private.

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Some have criticized the effort as simply another way for Embracer to collect intellectual property. If he can’t outright own the rights to games, critics say, Wingefors can at least own the last remaining copies of them.

Not surprisingly, Wingefors sees it differently.

“Legacy is part of the DNA of gaming companies, of gaming altogether, because this industry is about stories,” he says. “So whether we are bringing a title back to the market or growing an archive, it is our duty to be part of that legacy.”

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This AirPods feature Let Grandpa Hear Me Again

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As he approached ninety, the ABBA world shrank. He spent his days reading and watching TV, listening to audio through a pair of oversized wireless headphones over his ears with the volume turned up to the max. He still wore his hearing aids, but as the condition of his ears worsened, the devices became less effective. Simple conversations were now superhuman efforts that ended in screaming at matches and frustration.

“Do you want dinner?”

“do you feel sleepy?”

“Can I have some tea?”

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Phone calls were impossible—Abba had to put his phone on speakerphone, press it directly to his ear, and tell the person on the other end to shout as loudly as he could. In the end, “talking” to ABBA on the phone meant making a video call to him and smiling and waving at him.

When I visited him in the fall of 2022, I was wearing a pair of AirPods, and he pointed to my ear with a puzzled expression on his face.

“headphones!” Screamed. “I use it to listen to music!”

And then, I wondered if I could use it for something more substantial.

In 2018, Apple made Live listen, an iOS feature that allows iPhones and iPads to transmit audio from their microphones directly to compatible hearing aids, works with regular AirPods. I never had a reason to use the feature myself, but now I’m curious. Can Live Listen help me have a conversation with my grandfather after all these years?

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I took my AirPods out of my ear and put them into his body. I turned on Live Listen on my iPhone, held it close to my mouth, and spoke to it.

“Hi, can you hear me?”

Abba’s face smiled, and he nodded excitedly. “I can hear you! I can hear you!”

AirPods are not my favorite Apple product. I think it’s overpriced, and it doesn’t look great for what you pay. But it’s also true that no other wireless earbuds work seamlessly with iPhones, which is why they’re the default wireless earbuds for most people, myself included.

They are also an environmental hazard. Vice named AirPods “fossils of future capitalism”, destined for landfills once their tiny batteries, encased in hard plastic, wear out after two years. And I resent the fact that Apple got rid of headphone jacks that work so well and made people pay for something they used to get in the box for free.

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But with Live Listen, the AirPods helped me reconnect with my grandfather in a way no other device could. I’m willing to step over my fears for that.

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The outgoing Twitter employees are preparing a legal campaign against the world’s richest man

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For months, as the will-they-won’t-they dramatize between Elon Musk and Twitter persistedHelen-Sage Lee stuck to her belief that the social media company was a workplace worth fighting for.

“We all believed in the product so much that most of us decided to stay to see it,” Lee, who worked on the platform’s account safety team, said of the purchase and job insecurity it presented to employees. “And I felt comfortable doing that because of the separation HR and Law promised in May, and again in October.”

However, this assertion was misplaced, Lee now contends. With the help of Calabasas-based attorney Lisa Bloom, Lee sued in arbitration against Musk — the world’s richest man by some counts — for failing to follow through on the financial obligations that Twitter’s newest CEO now holds.

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It’s one of the many legal actions brewing in the wake of the billionaire’s chaotic and massive tech acquisition, Amid sectionwidespread shrinkageleaving many outgoing Twitter employees scrambling for money and employment and feeling shut out.

On November 3, just days later Buy it closed, Musk successfully quelled rumors of mass layoffs with a company-wide email saying job cuts were about to happen. That night, Lee watched anxiously as co-workers flooded the workplace online on Twitter with emoji greetings and blue hearts.

Then it was my turn to go. Her laptop shut down at 9 p.m., she said, and her company access was revoked: “This was when I felt really lonely.”

However, perhaps the strongest blow of all came a day later, when, on November 4, the company sent more details on what the layoffs would look like.

“We received information that the severance package we were expected to receive next week would be significantly less than what we were initially promised prior to the acquisition,” Lee told a press conference Monday morning hosted by Blum, her attorney. “The severance package was a constant in a turbulent time that we depended on, and many of us are willing to take legal action.”

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She added, “I’m here today because I want to keep Twitter accountable.”

musk claimed Repeatedly Those who have been laid off will receive severance pay for three months. But the terms of his deal buy Twitter obligate him To offer a severance package “no less favorable” than that promised by her former leadership, which is the basis for the arbitration claim that Lee and Bloom are now filing.

The pre-acquisition package offered at least two months of severance pay plus prorated performance bonuses, extended visa support, money for continued healthcare and cash value of shares that will vest within three months, according to laid-off employees as well as company documents reviewed by The Times. Times.

Internal emails indicate that those laid off are now stuck in a bind of “inactive” work, in which they remain nominally employed — and constantly paid — for a few months, but are not actually employed by the company. There was confusion among these employees as to whether the salary they were currently receiving was their severance pay or their normal pay. (It is not uncommon for companies to offer the equivalent of two months of severance pay in order to bypass the mandatory 60-day waiting period required amid widespread layoffs under the Federal WARN Act.)

Twitter employees love it [Lee] They were told in writing by human resources or legal that after the acquisition they would receive the same severance benefits that Twitter employees had before the acquisition,” Bloom said. “That’s an enforceable promise” — a promise Musk has since broken, she added.

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They get paid until January 4th. [but] explained Bloom, who set her sights on the technology infractions in the past. “The previously pledged chapter also entitles them to their pro rata bonuses and the vesting of their shares for up to three months after their last day. … This is what they are denied.”

Departing employees say the company has been unusually slow in providing information about how the payment process will work, and confusion reigns over what final package the company will give people. Employees on work visas or those who were on parental leave when they were laid off have more questions.

Two other laid-off employees, Amir Chefat and Adrian Trejo Nunez, also spoke at the Bloom conference. Both are pursuing their own arbitration claims against Musk. (Most Twitter employees waived their right to file a class action lawsuit when the company joined them, Bloom said, requiring individual arbitration claims to pursue.)

“The way Elon Musk implemented the layoffs was really inhumane,” said Schivat, who was the lead product for Twitter’s developer platform.

“I applied to help myself and my former users” — or Twitter employees — “to receive our compensation that was specified in the agreement, which has since changed,” added Nunez, who was a senior software engineer.

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Bloom said she has other clients, too, and is actively urging more laid-off Twitter employees to join her.

“My law firm represents a large group of workers and contractors on Twitter, and we will continue to file these cases, one by one, bombarding Twitter with allegations,” she said. “We’re hitting Twitter and Elon with every applicable claim, from promissory note, to breach of contract, to breach of their implied agreement, to violation of the WARN law, to civil rights violations.”

Bloom isn’t the only one moving against Musk.

On Thursday, attorney Akiva Cohen I sent a message to a tech mogul threatening a legal campaign on behalf of his group of laid-off Twitter employees.

“If you have not confirmed unequivocally by Wednesday, December 7th, that you intend to provide our customers with the full severance Twitter promised them, we will initiate an arbitration campaign on their behalf,” Cohen wrote.

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As with Bloom’s clients, Cohen said he will pursue each complaint one by one, and added that Twitter will have to pay arbitration fees in accordance with California law.

“You will not only lose in terms of merits,” said the lawyer, “but even if you gain victory in some way it will be Pyrrhic.” “Twitter will pay significantly more attorneys’ fees and arbitration costs than it can ‘save’ in severance pay.”

In laying out his legal case, Cohen cited the same contract terms that Bloom relied on, noting that Musk was required to match severance packages prior to the acquisition, including employee bonuses and shares acquired. He also said some of his customers have reported that Twitter doesn’t provide them with 401k deductions and company matches, among other corporate benefits.

“I’m sure I don’t need to warn you that this is a bad idea,” Cohen said.

The attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how many clients he works with or whether Musk provided any response to the letter.

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Twitter, which no longer has an official communications team, could not be reached for comment.

Twitter’s mass layoffs have been coming for a long time.

Musk ended his control of Twitter on Oct. 28 after months of trying to undo a $44 billion takeover he initiated in April. But as early as June, he was referring to it Possibly layoffs prove necessary To lower Twitter’s costs and make the company profitable.

Even before the purchase is completed, it is he told investors In one report he planned to lay off 75% of the company (although he later denied this figure).

At the beginning of November, Musk was laid off nearly 50% from the company, with a promise of a three-month severance for those left.

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After the layoffs, Musk was almost immediately fired Lawsuit by former employees who allegedly violated federal and state labor laws.

With waves of managers and employees resigning or being fired for speaking out against Musk’s new regime, he issued an ultimatum: Commitment to the new “hardcore” Twitter 2.0 where employees are expected to work long hours, or leave with a three-month layoff. But after receiving thousands of employees Take the exitleft many wondering if the company would live up to its promises.

The rising tide of legal cases against Musk — at least with respect to many of his outgoing employees — suggests that the answer to that question has been a resounding no.

Times staff writer Jamie Ding contributed to this report.



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Facebook almost sold its tech portal to Amazon Alexa devices

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In November, Meta announced that it was discontinuing Portal, its standalone video chat machine. The decision came as Meta The first mass layoffs Amid falling stock prices and worries about its ambitions in Metaverse.

Over the years, BuzzFeed News’ coverage of Meta and Facebook has been unwavering strict and sometimes hostile. our reviews The portal also spoke the truth: this was a really great product. we lovable He. She. I lovable He. She. Rest in peace, Portal – you were a good little rig.

The portal was born in a cruel world. released in fall 2018, Cambridge Analytica The bogus scandal — about Facebook’s botched user data handling and (in hindsight) exaggerated claims about its impact on the 2016 election — was still fresh in the public’s mind. It was also still fresh in the minds of the tech press who would review the devices. For many, the idea of ​​letting the always-on camera-powered Facebook device into your home was akin to sending your Pornhub history directly to the Kremlin.

Despite this, the portal has been selling well, Meta’s chief technology officer Andrew Bosworth told BuzzFeed News in an interview. (Meta declined to divulge exact sales figures, but Bosworth estimated the number of units sold in “the millions”) More importantly, Bosworth added, “This was a product that the people who bought it loved.” And it appealed to a different demographic than most devices: It sold a lot more with women and people over 40.

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Ultimately, the decision to pull the plug came about because executives didn’t see a path to Gateway becoming a huge company (rather than just a good business), and with changing priorities at Meta, it didn’t work out. “We’re very sad about it,” Bosworth said. “You know the saying, ‘There is no priority unless it hurts’? It hurts.” (Not a complete loss though: Existing gateway devices will continue to function and receive support.)

Bosworth said that “the whole smart home category has been undermining expectations for a while now.” He added, “I think if you go back to where we expected the smart home as an industry to be when Portal entered the market versus where it is today, it wasn’t as successful as we expected it to be.”

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