One of SNK’s most senior developers has addressed concern from some fans over the company’s majority sale to Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and insisted it will not affect the content it puts into its games.
PIF, which is a sovereign wealth fund chaired by crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, has invested in numerous game developers in recent years.
That includes this year’s purchase of a 5.01% stake in Nintendo (which Nintendo subsequently claimed it first learned about from news reports), 5% stakes in Capcom and Nexon, and billions invested in stock for Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Embracer and Take-Two.
Acclaimed Japanese fighting game studio SNK is unique in that it was nearly totally acquired by the prince’s fund earlier this year, including the ownership of the Fatal Fury, Metal Slug and King of Fighters IPs.
Saudi Arabia officials have said the investments will help modernize the kingdom, but they have come with negative fallout due to the country’s highly criticised human rights abuses.
Notably, the crown prince has been accused by US Intelligence of ordering the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The country is also engaged in a controversial war in Yemen, and has historically cracked down on female activists and homosexuality.
The head of Saudi Arabia’s gaming investment arm has dismissed such concerns as “older impressions” of the country.
Regardless, its 96% investment in SNK has led to concern from many fans who do not want to support companies owned by the government, and those worried that future SNK games could see content restricted – particularly related to LGBT issues and women.
“For us, we’re just focussing on making games. We’re not a political company or anything like that, so it doesn’t affect us in any way,” Yasuyuki Oda, the producer and designer behind SNK’s biggest series, insisted when asked by VGC about concern around SNK’s ownership.
“It has no – no – effect on our creative output. We have full freedom on what we want to create,” he added when asked specifically if the company could add an LGBT character to its games, as Guilty Gear Strive recently has.
“Yeah, I would say honestly, the results speak for themselves,” Oda added via a translator. “Like, if it were an actual problem, then characters like Shermie probably wouldn’t be in the game.”
Shermie is a female character in The King of Fighters series, who occasionally blows kisses before matches towards her rivals.
“One thing we would say is that our ownership are generally fans of the IP, and they have been forever, so it’s up to us what we want to do as far as creating content goes.”
SNK’s management did not provide additional comment for this story when approached to do so.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is reportedly central to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s goal of making the Saudi economy less reliant on proceeds from oil. However, it has been accused of attempting to change its reputation via the acquisition of popular brands.
In an interview with Axios in March, the CEO of PIF’s Savvy Gaming Group distanced the company from the government and argued that it had improved opportunities for women.