Hatch, Rovio’s ‘Netflix for gaming’, picks up NTT Docomo as a strategic investor

Rovio’s efforts to diversify beyond its Angry Birds franchise is getting a little investment boost today. The company announced that Japan’s NTT Docomo is taking a stake in Hatch, a Rovio subsidiary that describes itself as the “Netflix of gaming”, providing subscribers with a rotating mix of freemium games from a mix of publishers, with the option of paying a single monthly fee for a wider mix.

Docomo and Rovio are not discussing the size or value of the stake, but a spokesperson for Rovio told TechCrunch that prior to this deal, Hatch was 80 percent owned by Rovio and 20 percent by Hatch personnel. He didn’t specify who had sold shares to Docomo in this latest transaction.

The deal will cover not just investment to expand the Hatch platform and number of games on offer — currently the selection numbers over 100 — but to bring Hatch specifically to the Japanese market.

This will include, starting next week (February 13), a soft launch of Hatch on Android devices in the country, as well as prominent placement of Hatch on Docomo’s Android TV service, sweetening the deal with three-month free trials of the Premium tier.

The Android TV offering is a key OTT play for Docomo. Known primarily as one of the country’s biggest mobile carriers (and, historically, a trail blazer in mobile services, setting the pace for how much was building in the world of mobile content globally in the earliest days of mobile phones), like other network service providers, Docomo has been hit hard by the huge wave of services that bypass carriers and strike billing deals directly with consumers.

Hatch will be one more feather in Docomo’s cap to try to lure more people to its service, which can be subscribed to and paid for by way of Docomo’s ‘d Account’, an iTunes-style platform that people can use regardless of which network carrier they contract with.

Like Netflix, Amazon and other OTT video streaming plays, the concept behind Hatch is to offer a mix of games from various publishers, as well as developing its own selection of games in house that it hopes will be popular enough to help differentiate the service from the rest of the field.

That is critical, because Hatch and Rovio are not the only ones vying for the title of “Netflix for gaming.” Other formidable hopefuls include AmazonMicrosoft, Apple, Google, and perhaps maybe even Netflix itself.

The current selection of games on Hatch include Monument Valley, Space Invaders Infinity Gene and Hitman GO, with a new game called Arkanoid Rising — “a bold new reimagining of the arcade classic produced in association with Japanese gaming legends TAITO” — coming in the spring, which will be “the first Hatch Original exclusive to the platform.”

Down the line, there will also be collaborations to develop eSports events and more titles, Rovio said.

The move is a natural one for Hatch, given gaming culture and how strong it is in Japan.

“Japan is the world’s third largest games market and where the video games industry as we know it was born. In this extremely competitive market we couldn’t be happier to work with a partner like Docomo to help take our vision of cloud gaming mainstream,” says Juhani Honkala, Hatch founder and CEO, in a statement. “Docomo’s leading contributions to 5G technology and infrastructure and commitment to amazing new 5G-enabled services make the company an ideal strategic partner in Japan, and we look forward to a long and fruitful collaboration.”

“We are excited to work together with Hatch, a great example of the new type of consumer services, which can bring out its potential towards the 5G era,” added Takanori Ashikawa, Director, Consumer Business Department of Docomo, in a separate statement. “Hatch’s vision for cloud gaming changes the way people play and discover games, and our shared goal to enrich the everyday lives of our customers makes Hatch an excellent strategic partner for the long term.”

Since its lacklustre public debut in September 2017, Rovio has been facing a lot of growth challenges,   in part because of strong competition in the gaming industry and the company’s over-reliance on a nearly ten-year-old franchise amid a bigger industry shift to new tastes in games — marked by the rise of streamed, multiplayer titles like Fortnite.

But while overall profits have continued to decline at the company, sales of some titles have actually grown, with Angry Birds 2 — now almost three years old — surprisingly seeing a surge of growth in 2018.

In that context, a different focus by way of Hatch, with a little financial help from NTT, could be the bet that helps catapult Rovio to a new level of the gaming playing field.

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