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Catan, Exploding Kittens maker called “one of the absolute most important businesses” by Embracer CEO

Sale of video game publisher Gearbox brings a close to the holding company’s sweeping layoffs, for now.

Image credit: Hand Please

The board game publisher behind Catan, Ticket to Ride and Exploding Kittens in the industry received some high praise from its corporate owner during an unrelated webcast. Embracer Group CEO Lars Wingefors categorised Asmodee as a jewel in its quickly dwindling crown of entertainment holdings.

The struggling Embracer Group met with investors on March 28th to announce the sale of Borderlands video game publisher Gearbox to Take-Two Interactive to the tune of $460 million. This deal follows closely behind the offloading of Saber Interactive last month for $247 million.

Wingefors has called an official end to the Swedish holding company’s restructuring phase, a frantic plan to reduce $1.4 billion in debt that spurred mass layoffs, studio closures and liquidation amongst Embracer’s many properties. While the company is not alone in suffering under wider economic impact, the sheer volume of Embracer’s portfolio meant its name popped up in layoff headlines seemingly every other day.

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Despite all this, tabletop-focused Asmodee was spared the brunt of the headsman's axe, only losing a reported 82 members from its roughly 2,500-person staff. Asmodee “got Embraced” in 2021 and was added to a strange side collection of non-video game studios that included Dark Horse Comics and Middle-earth Enterprises. When Embracer’s 2023 financial woes came home to roost, it seemed likely that the company would divest its odd ducks first.

Instead, in Wingefors words to investors, “Asmodee is one of the absolute most important businesses we have in the group, and I’m keen to support them.” He specifically applauded Star Wars: Unlimited’s recent successful launch of its competitive trading card game, which has apparently sold faster than any other Fantasy Flight Games title in the studio’s history. It also tore through the backstock of booster boxes quicker than anticipated, forcing the Arkham Horror publisher to implement waves of releases between now and the TCG’s second set later this year.

When answering an unrelated question, Wingefors said that Embracer is now “so much more than a PC and console business” thanks to its diversification into mobile games, tabletop, and licensing a la Hasbro. Embracer and its CEO bet big on the studio holdings model working out in the long run, and by February 2024 nearly 1,400 employees had paid the price for his bad bet.

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