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Nexon acquires High School Story developer Pixelberry Studios

Tokyo-based gaming giant Nexon is expected to announce tonight that it is acquiring Pixelberry Studios, an acclaimed game studio that created the social-mobile game High School Story, GamesBeat has learned. It’s a happy outcome for a studio that says it specializes in making “games with heart” that help people.

We do not know the exact purchase price, and whether it will be announced.

Oliver Miao started the company with cofounder Winston She. They also cofounded Centerscore, a mobile game studio that they sold to Vivendi in 2006. They moved over to EA Mobile, where they worked with Keith Emnett on making the hit game Surviving High School. But EA decided to cancel their next game. Miao, She, and Emnett formed Pixelberry, in 2012. They launched High School Story in the summer of 2013.

The developer took on real issues for teens such as cyberbullying. That was a personal endeavor for Miao, who spoke at our GamesBeat conference in 2013 and talked about how he experienced bullying in junior high school. An eighth grader would take out his aggression on Miao. Whenever the teacher left the class, he would pick up Miao and dangle him over a trash can. He never told his parents about that as he thought it would just make things worse. But he realizes in hindsight that he could have taken some action, and that is what “Hope’s Story” episode in High School Story conveyed.

The company teamed up with charitable anti-bullying group Cybersmile Foundation and made donations to the charity, based on in-game purchases by fans.

The company went on to create games like Hollywood U on mobile and Choices: Stories You Play. Nexon has risen in PC gaming as a publisher of titles such as Maple Story and Dungeon Fighter, which are both huge in Asia. Under CEO Owen Mahoney, Nexon has been expanding into the West. It published titles such as Cliff Bleszinki’s Lawbreakers, and it acquired DomiNations maker Big Huge Games.

[Update: Nexon confirmed the acquisition on Thursday night (10 pm Pacific time) and did not disclose a purchase price. It’s not a bad consolation prize, as Nexon was reportedly outbid by Electronic Arts in the $455 million acquisition of Titanfall maker Respawn Entertainment].

In a statement, Nexon CEO Owen Mahoney said, “The games industry and mobile app stores are flooded with the same types of games. Pixelberry Studios has created compelling interactive storytelling apps that serve the massive, yet hard-to-reach and underserved, audience of women. We are looking forward to building the future of mobile fiction together with Pixelberry’s diverse and talented team to create engaging experiences that can be enjoyed for years, even decades.”

And Miao said in a statement, “Pixelberry is at the intersection of storytelling and games, bringing interactive fiction to a whole new audience that would never have considered themselves gamers before. Nexon is the perfect choice for our unified vision for creating and leading a new category of mobile fiction for readers around the world.”

The PC Gaming channel is presented by Intel®‘s Game Dev program.

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