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21st Century Fox’s FoxNext Acquires Mobile Game Studio Group Developing ‘Avatar’ Title

FoxNext, the recently formed gaming, virtual reality and theme parks division of 21st Century Fox, is sinking its teeth into the $40 billion mobile games market.

FoxNext has acquired mobile-game developer Aftershock, the entity spun off from Kabam after South Korean gaming company Netmarble Games acquired Kabam’s Vancouver studio and other assets last December in a deal reportedly worth up to $800 million.

Aftershock — which has studios in L.A. and San Francisco — currently has three titles in development. The only one that’s been publicly announced is a massively multiplayer mobile strategy game for James Cameron’s “Avatar” franchise, in partnership with Lightstorm Entertainment and 20th Century Fox.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Approximately 80 former Kabam employees will join FoxNext Games with the Aftershock acquisition. 21st Century Fox announced the formation of FoxNext in January. The division is tasked with developing next-generation entertainment experiences in collaboration with 20th Century Fox and Fox Networks Group.

Salil Mehta, the entertainment industry veteran tapped as president of FoxNext, said the Aftershock deal made sense for a variety of reasons. For starters, Fox had already developed a close working relationship with the company on “Avatar,” after having done due diligence on game developers.

“When they came on the block, we jumped at the opportunity,” he said. The team behind Aftershock “is well known for its creativity and innovative storytelling skills.” And, Mehta noted, there’s an additional benefit: The game group’s Culver City, Calif., office is just down the street from Fox Studios.

With Aftershock, FoxNext plans to develop new titles based on Fox’s portfolio of TV and film franchises, as well as original mobile gaming properties. “Fox has some of the best Hollywood [intellectual property] but we are certainly not limited to that,” Mehta said.

Aftershock — which marks FoxNext’s first acquisition — will be led by Aaron Loeb, who joins as president of studios for FoxNext Games, reporting to Mehta. Prior to Kabam, Loeb was head of EA’s mobile games division where he worked with Fox on “The Simpsons: Tapped Out,” one of the highest-grossing mobile games to date. Other Aftershock executives coming aboard include COO Yoko Nakao, VP and GM Amir Rahimi, and head of marketing Jordan Edelstein.

Fox is buying Aftershock as the video-games industry continues to grow at a healthy clip, with mobile games in particular surging. In 2016, mobile games generated revenue of $40.6 billion worldwide, up 18% over the year prior, with the segment accounting for half of the entire global digital games market, according to research by SuperData Research and Unity Technologies.

Kent Wakeford, who has served as COO of Aftershock and Kabam, said the deal with FoxNext is a “natural fit” for the development studio. “Fox provides a fantastic home for our group of talented storytellers,” he said.

Fox has built up a stable of popular games in the console, PC and mobile spaces, created with third-party developers and publishing partners. Titles in the FoxNext Games lineup include “Animation Throwdown: The Quest for Cards,” “The Simpsons Tapped Out,” “Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff,” “Futurama: Game of Drones,” “Ice Age Adventures,” “Sugar Smash: Book of Life” and “Alien: Isolation.”

Mehta said FoxNext’s approach with Aftershock is “No. 1, allow the studio to maintain its unique and distinctive personality and culture. We are not looking to stamp them with some sort of Fox imprint in any way.” Second, he said, “as long as we stay focused on storytelling, we are optimistic we will bring great experiences to market.”

In addition to the games arm, FoxNext comprises FoxNext VR Studio, which includes the “Alien: Covenant In Utero” virtual-reality project; and FoxNext Destinations, which is developing 20th Century Fox World theme park in Malaysia.

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