You might not be familiar with Swedish billionaire Lars Wingefors by name, but if you’re even passingly familiar with video games, you are definitely familiar with some of his company’s recent acquisitions. Embracer Group, the conglomerate established by Wingefors (and in which he owns a 21 percent stake), has acquired hundreds of game companies and the rights to titles like “Tomb Raider,” “Duke Nukem,” and even licensed games including multiple “SpongeBob SquarePants” titles, with the eventual goal of churning out shiny new remakes of beloved favorites at big profit margins. And it’s this video game empire, and the man building it, that was the recent subject of a Los Angeles Times profile.
Wingefors is a successful financier who got his start in business as a young person selling old comic books and video games outside Karlstad in Sweden. He dropped out of high school to concentrate on his first business, Nordic Games, which eventually grew to multiple retail locations in Sweden before he eventually sold the business for a reported $7 million. After that, Wingefors founded another video game resell business called Game Outlet Europe. He also helped to finance the hit Nintendo Wii karaoke game “We Sing,” which brought him deeper into the business side of the video game world. And despite his seeming passion for video games, he told the LA Times that it’s that business side of the field that he’s really interested in:
“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.”
In a way, Wingefors and Embracer’s thirst for snapping up the rights to older, past-their-prime titles in the hopes of developing new and lucrative remakes based on them is just the next level of his first business, selling used Nintendo cartridges and other games to eager gamers by mail. The business strategy seems to be to cast a very wide net and get control of as many titles as possible. As Winefors himself put it: “We want a lot of games and to make them the best. So we make acquisitions.” Right now, the company is reported to be overseeing the development of almost 240 different games at 132 studios all across the world.
He’s also kept his hand in the comic book business as well, purchasing, through Embracer, Dark Horse, the publisher of comics based on properties like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Sin City.”
The company’s prodigious acquisitions aren’t the biggest controversy it’s seen recently. This summer, a $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia was criticized due to the country’s well publicized human rights violations. Now, the Saudi government owns a stake of a little over eight percent in the company.
Another less controversial but still “puzzling” project of Embracer’s is the establishment of the Embracer Games Archive in Karlstad. The lofty ambition of this archive is to eventually have a copy of every video game ever made, a goal that the company has already invested some $2 million in, with a library that currently has copies of more than 60,000 games. The EGA is run by gaming YouTuber David Bostrom, who described to the LA Times like this:
“We are trying to create a kind of history or heritage museum…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.”
But some critics mentioned in the profile think the archive, which isn’t open to the public like archives or museums typically are, is just a way for Embracer to gain control of more obscure games: “If he can’t outright own the rights to games, critics say, Wingefors can at least own the last remaining copies of them.”
But he says that the Embracer Games Archive is important for another reason:
“Legacy is part of the DNA of gaming companies, of gaming altogether, because this industry is about stories. 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.”
Embracer Group reportedly counts more video game publishers and companies under its umbrella than any other corporation. That includes console games, PC games, mobile games, and even the tabletop gaming company Asmodee, acquired by Embracer back in December of 2021. The point being, if you play games, there’s a good chance you’ve played one recently that Embracer has some piece of – and if Lars Wingefors’ strategy works out, you’ll be playing many more in the future.