ByteDance Seeks to Sell Moonton for $5 Billion

ByteDance is seeking to sell its subsidiary game studio, Moonton, for a price not less than $5 billion, and has hired Goldman Sachs as a financial advisor to assist in finding and contacting potential buyers.

Two independent sources have revealed to Chinese media outlet Xuebao that Savvy Games Group (SGG), a subsidiary of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund PIF, is one of the potential buyers in this transaction. Currently, both parties have engaged in at least one round of discussions, but they have not yet reached a consensus on the transaction price.

ByteDance hopes to achieve a price that is higher than the $4 billion it paid when acquiring Moonton Technology two years ago. However, SGG believes that ByteDance’s price is too high given Moonton’s current performance.

Moonton was founded in 2014 in Shanghai. Its flagship product, “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang,” is the most popular MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game in the Southeast Asian market.

In 2021, ByteDance acquired Moonton Technology for $4 billion, and the two parties signed a four-year earn-out agreement. The agreement stipulated that a portion of the acquisition funds would be paid out in installments after Moonton Technology achieved certain performance targets. During this period, ByteDance was not allowed to excessively interfere with Moonton’s decision-making, and the founding team retained a high degree of autonomy.

Currently, it is not possible to accurately determine the situation of Moonton’s earn-out. ByteDance has declined to comment on this matter.

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An informed source cited by Xuebao said that last year, Moonton failed to meet the performance targets set in their earn-out agreement. Two other insiders indicated that while the targets were relatively lenient, Moonton only barely achieved them. Over the past two years, the annual profit of Moonton has remained around $200 million, with no significant change in profitability.

An investor specializing in the gaming sector commented that “Bytedance was willing to acquire Moonton at a price exceeding 20 times its earnings ratio because of high expectations for business synergy and future growth potential between the two companies. However, Moonton’s current performance is far from Bytedance’s expectations.”

In the past two years, “Mobile Legends: Bang Bang” has maintained its dominant position in the Southeast Asian market. However, it has encountered difficulties in expanding into new markets. In regions like Europe and America, it often ranks below the top 100 on the iOS bestseller list. The domestic version in China only received its license in April this year and has not yet been launched.

The underwhelming performance of Moonton can be attributed, at least in part, to the failure in achieving the expected business synergy with Bytedance. A person close to Moonton’s CEO, Yuan Jing, told Xuebao that the earn-out agreement signed during the acquisition granted Moonton a degree of independent decision-making. However, this also hindered their ability to leverage Bytedance’s resources. For example, the internal settlement price Bytedance offered Moonton for game user acquisition did not have a significant advantage over market rates. In the past two years, the rising costs of user acquisition have also increased Moonton’s operational expenses.

As Bytedance shifted its business focus towards e-commerce and other areas, and with the emergence of major players in short drama productions and mini-games, Bytedance’s underperforming self-developed game business has inevitably become marginalized within the company.

Two industry insiders specializing in game mergers and acquisitions revealed that even if Tencent were to participate in the bidding, it’s unlikely they would pay a high premium for Moonton. “Tencent does not need another MOBA game to complement its product lineup.”