Reads Like A Cheap Spy Thriller

So, things have gotten a bit clearer, when it comes to the ownership and stability of Standing Stone Games (developers of “Lord of the Rings Online” and “Dungeons & Dragons Online”). For the last five years or so, LOTRO and DDO have been being developed by Standing Stone Games, after the MMORPG portion of Turbine was cleaved off into the company now known as SSG. And their stable of games were then being published by Daybreak Games, formerly known as Sony Online Entertainment, the folks behind “Everquest”, “Planetside”, and other such properties.

But the question remained… Who actually owned Standing Stone Games?

Per SSG, Daybreak was only publishing their games, but the folks at SSG remained mum as to the ownership of the company itself. I suppose what they were saying was technically true, after what we learned recently, but it was still rather ‘slippery’ of them, in my opinion.

Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, SSG and Daybreak. Their relationship – whatever that might have been – continued for the last five years or so, and along that time, I suspect most fans of the MMORPGs being developed by SSG would concur that the quality of said games has diminished a lot. Infrequent updates, often with very little to offer, with a much greater emphasis on developing items for the in-game microtransaction shop. For LOTRO in particular, this came to a head recently, when SSG released Update 28 – a long-promised free update to the game – as a paid “Mini-Expansion” instead.

An expansion they charge between $20 and $100 for, depending on the version you choose to purchase. Remember, this was originally planned as a free update to the game.

That all said, this relationship caused quite a bit of concern, when you consider the murky relationship Daybreak had with Columbus Nova, and CN’s even murkier relationship with Russian Oligarchs and potential interference in the 2016 US Presidential election. In short, in the first announcement that Sony Online Entertainment had been purchased away from Sony itself, the company that allegedly made that purchase was listed as Columbus Nova, who then renamed SOE as Daybreak. But later, when there were questions regarding CN’s connection to said shady Russian billionaires and potential international money laundering through the company which owned CN, Daybreak claimed to have no connection to Columbus Nova at all.

Which might explain why Standing Stone Games has been reticent to state who actually owns them, when you get right down to it. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Recently, it was discovered in a corporate report to their investors, that Enad Global 7 has purchased Daybreak, for a cool $300 million. The Swedish conglomerate EG7 has been buying a lot of gaming companies of late, with Daybreak being the most recent, and likely the largest such acquisition. This was met with a flurry of press releases from the companies under Daybreak’s direct control, or for whom they may only have served as a publisher, seemingly very excited to be joining the EG7 family.

This included Standing Stone Games. Speaking of that investor’s report from EG7, it happened to mention that Daybreak was indeed the owner of SSG, dating back to at least 2016, actually. Again, that makes it rather understandable why SSG refused to state who actually owned them. Corporate culture, and all that.

Now then, why is this important?

Well, it seems rather interesting that games under the Daybreak umbrella were for the last few years all focused on microtransactions, and other means of extracting maximum profits from their playerbases, with the minimum cost in development, and now… All we’re hearing about from these companies is all of the expansive plans EG7 has for them.

It is almost as though Daybreak’s stable were simply being used to draw as much money as possible out of their players… as if there were someone nefarious pulling the strings, maybe?

This reads like a cheap spy novel. Let’s run this down, shall we?

Columbus Nova purchases Sony Online Entertainment, and renames it Daybreak, which then makes some restructuring over the next year or so, dropping some games (“Everquest Next”, for example), and acquiring other studios, or just “publishing” their games for them. Columbus Nova is a subsidiary of Renova Group (something widely reported but later denied by CN… funny how that works), with Renova being owned by shady Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

Yes, the same Vekselberg who had many of his assets frozen by the US Government, as part of a Justice Department probe into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. This well could have led to some or all of Daybreak’s assets being seized, but luckily for players of Daybreak’s many games, that apparently didn’t happen.

Why? Because everyone claimed they weren’t connected to Renova Group via Columbus Nova, including Columbus Nova. What’s a little perjury and lying to federal investigators, anyway?

Look, I’m glad that Standing Stone Games is now under the control of EG7. Things were bad for LOTRO players in the Daybreak years, but now maybe things will be perhaps a bit better? They claim to be planning many improvements to the game, including a potential console version of the game (yes, I’d play it on the Switch), and that’s all great. At least things are a lot more open and seemingly above-board, which is great.

But this looks a bit like a Russian billionaire selling off assets for whatever he can get, before the Biden administration comes into office next month. Because you can bet your bottom dollar that the Justice Department under President Biden will certainly be looking into foreign interference in our elections, be they in 2016, the mid-term in 2018, or our most recent one in 2020. I suspect that certain individuals connected with the Trump campaign, especially certain Russian oligarchs, might just have wanted to get what they could out of Daybreak, before the hammer comes down.

Because that hammer is coming, make no mistake.

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