W. Eric Martin
On Jan. 21, 2015, I published an article titled "Asmodee Has (Apparently) Acquired Ystari Games and Pearl Games", with the article pointing out (courtesy of a head's up from Swiss blog Gus and Co) that Asmodee had (apparently) done that thing I just said earlier in this sentence.
Given Asmodee's recent activity along these lines — buying Days of Wonder in July 2014 (with an August 2014 announcement), then acquiring Fantasy Flight Games in November 2014 — along with the statement from a Marabunta press release that "Space Cowboys, Days of Wonder, Ystari, Pearl Games and Fantasy Flight Games [are] in the [Asmodee] family" and that those publishing brands are "the core Asmodee studios", that conclusion would not be surprising — but it turns out that "acquisition" is not the right word based on responses to my questions from Cyril Demaegd at Ystari Games and Sébastien Dujardin at Pearl Games. (I've yet to hear back from Asmodee.)
Demaegd notes that Ystari is "part of the Asmodee family", but not in the way that Days of Wonder or FFG is, that is, not owned by Asmodee. "You will probably be surprised, but I think it goes back to 2007. (Sorry, I can't recall the exact date.) To be honest, I'll call it a kind of 'sponsorship' from Marc Nunes", with Nunes being one of the three founders of Asmodee along with Philippe Mouret and Croc; those three started Space Cowboys in 2013, and Demaegd also works with Space Cowboys.
Says Demaegd, "[Nunes] likes what we do and offered to help, so Asmodee invested in Ystari, asking me just one thing: 'Just do what you do usually. Keep producing good games. We won't interfere in any way.' After all those years, I think we can assume that he was telling the truth."
Demaegd continues, "In fact, this financial help really was a good thing for us. Being a 'one man company' is complicated when things gets bigger (and it happened quite quickly for Ystari)." Those who were gaming in 2005 when Caylus dominated the gaming scene will know what he means. "At some point you reach the limit and either you find some help or you quit. I choose the former and I'm glad I did! Now things are easier. For example I hired Thomas [Cauët], who helps me a lot. Now I can concentrate on what I like: games and game design. It's really important for me to try 'new things' each time and to release heavily tested games. I can choose to develop 'risky' games, like Witness (which is a good thing because I honestly think one part of our job is to propose new concepts and not just trendy ones) because Ystari is more financially secured than it was seven years ago."
As for Pearl Games, that publisher's connection with Asmodee came far more recently — October 2014 — but the arrangement between them mirrors that of Ystari's. Says Pearl's Sébastien Dujardin, "I am still responsible for publications and game development. I keep my entire editorial independence, and nothing changes in my operation. (I'm working alone in my office in Belgium.) Or rather, I now have a lot more tools to work more efficiently. Thus I can offer a French version of La Granja, and I study the possibilities to re-edit Troyes and Ladies of Troyes, for example. Upcoming releases will be The Bloody Inn and an extension for Deus, as planned."
If nothing else, these statements from Demaegd and Dujardin should remind you of what was stated following the Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight acquisitions, as with this statement from Mark Kaufmann at Days of Wonder: "We'll still be doing games that fit with our mission, and will be branded that way." And this from FFG CEO Christian T. Petersen: "None of FFG's product plans are affected by the merger, and we anticipate that none of our licensing partnerships will be affected... The merger will allow FFG's design and development staff to continue work on games that are true to FFG's unique vision for hobby games. In fact, it will allow us to dedicate more resources and focus on the 'large and ambitious' games that are the core of our DNA. Other companies in the Asmodee Group will explore games aimed at the mass [market] and other game categories (such as abstract games), allowing FFG to concentrate on what we do best."
In the comments on the Jan. 21 post, someone from the Spanish game blog Jugamos Tod@s pointed to a November 2014 "Investor Day" report (PDF) from Eurazeo, owner of Asmodee since January 2014, that spelled out the current state of Asmodee in fine detail. One thing repeated over and over in this report is that for all of the studios within Asmodee "[r]epeated success lies in the full independency granted to these studios, to keep innovating" because "[e]ach studio has its own DNA".
That Investor Day report has lots of interesting information — Asmodee made a partnership deal with Italian distributor Asterion Press in November 2014; Asmodee had €201 million in sales in the twelve months ahead of September 2014; the U.S. market grew from 5% to 18% of Asmodee's sales in less than one year; the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures line moved 1.39 million units in 2013 — but rather than quote the entire thing, I highly suggest that you read it yourself. To make that process easier, I've uploaded all of the pages as images: