Zynga buys NaturalMotion for £320m

Leading British mobile game developer acquired by Facebook gaming giant

US software developer Zynga has announced the acquisition of British gaming app developer NaturalMotion, in a major deal reportedly worth $527m (£320m).

Founded in 2001 by Torsten Reil, 41, and others, Oxford-based NaturalMotion has become known for a string of mobile game hits, most notably CSR Racing and Clumsy Ninja – Clumsy Ninja has been rated 78,000 times in the US and UK App stores, with the vast majority of them positive.

The success of these games has seen the company expand to 260 staff, across offices in Oxford, London, Brighton and San Francisco.

Zynga’s purchase was confirmed in the publication of its fourth-quarter results this week, which also revealed plans to cut 15% of its workforce as the gaming giant attempts to cut its losses following a turbulent few years.

The San Francisco-based company, known for Facebook social game hits Farmville, Mafia Wars and Words With Friends, aims to enter the mobile gaming market with the acquisition, which will see it take over NaturalMotion’s successful IPs.

It has had well-publicised struggles following a disappointing flotation in November 2011 which has seen the company lose around 25% of its value, and this latest purchase represents a pivot towards mobile gaming in an effort to turn its fortunes around.

Chief executive Don Mattrick said in a statement that the acquisition also gives Zynga access to NaturalMotion’s own Euphoria technology, which helps create realistic animation for digital characters in movies and games.

The deal represents the second major acquisition of a British tech company by a larger US firm just this week, after Google bought UK ‘artificial intelligence’ start-up Deep Mind Technologies for a reported £242m.

Co-founder Torsten Reil will stay on as part of the deal, reporting directly to Mattrick, and new games will continue to be released under the NaturalMotion name.

Early investor Balderton Capital achieved a successful exit following the deal, and called the sale a ‘great credit to British talent’.

Don Mattrick, chief executive of Zynga, said in a statement: “We believe that bringing Zynga and NaturalMotion together is the right step at the right time.

“Their creative portfolio aligns perfectly with our content strategy as Zynga will now have five top brands and capabilities in the Farm, Casino, Words, Racing and People categories.”

Co-founder and CEO of NaturalMotion Torsten Reil added: “NaturalMotion set out to make games that wow millions of people, by being obsessed with quality, disrupting and creating genres, and using almost magical technology.

“When we started talking to Don and his team, it quickly became clear that they shared this vision. Don’s background in AAA games and Zynga’s expertise in social game play and large-scale game operations will be invaluable to helping us grow our existing CSR and Clumsy Ninja franchises and maximize the breakout potential of our upcoming titles.

We’ve reached our first milestones – creating #1 top-grossing and top-free titles – on our own. We can’t wait to see what we can achieve together with Zynga.”

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