The crown prince of Saudi Arabia's flagship charity has bought a third of Japanese game company SNK - and it's shooting for more.
The 813m riyals (£162m) investment from a subsidiary of the Mohammed bin Salman Charitable Foundation "Misk" charity amounts to 33.3 per cent of SNK's shares, and values the company at around £490m. In a note to press, Misk said the deal stipulates it will buy another 17.7 per cent of SNK's shares, raiding its ownership to 51 per cent. That'll give it a majority shareholding.
The Misk foundation has been central to Mohammed bin Salman's drive to extend his brand overseas, and this investment is another move in that direction. But it is sure to attract criticism. The assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was attributed to Salman by the CIA, and Saudi Arabia has a notoriously poor human rights record, with homosexuality still criminalised with punishments ranging from floggings to the death penalty.
Misk, which markets itself as a non-profit organisation aimed at empowering the kingdom's youth but has been accused of being little more than a vehicle to burnish the reputation of the crown prince, is itself mired in controversy. In November 2019 the US Justice Department linked one of its executives to the recruitment of spies inside Twitter. Saudi Arabia is said to be reviewing Misk's activities.
Back in September 2019, The Guardian reported the New York Public Library cancelled a workshop for 300 people after criticism from human rights groups after it emerged the event was partly funded by Misk. In November 2018, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pulled its funding, and in July 2019 the Harvard University Extension School cancelled an agreement to reserve some of its summer school places for Misk-sponsored students.
This isn't the first time Saudi Arabia has got involved with video games, either. In July 2020, League of Legends developer Riot ended a controversial sponsorship deal with Saudi Arabia city project Neom for the League of Legends European Championship in response to significant criticism from fans.
The SNK of today is not the SNK of yesteryear, but in recent years it has released some quality titles, including fighting game Samurai Shodown and SNK's handheld classics on Nintendo Switch. It's currently working on new Metal Slug games.
SNK has yet to comment on the deal.