13 Richest People in the Gaming Industry
We look into a devil’s dozen who made a fortune out of video games and how they did it, what impact they had on the gaming industry, and what they do with all this cashload
In 2019, the gaming industry is bigger than ever, and video games are the most profitable form of entertainment. It’s fair to say that gaming is the future. Today, we take a look at the wealthiest of moguls in the industry to find out just how they have accumulated astonishing amounts of money and what do they do with it. Some invest, some give it to charity. Some like to talk about philanthropy, and some donate quietly. For you, gaming is a hobby, but for these people, it’s business first and foremost.
Disclaimer: not all data may be accurate since not everyone discloses their net worth and things change fast in our hectic world.
1. Bill Gates — $101B, Microsoft
Bill Gates is not the name that comes to mind when we discuss gaming, but he certainly left his mark on the industry. While he ‘’is not a huge gamer’’, Bill Gates still is one of the founding fathers of Xbox. Without him, there would be no Halo, no great console rivalry, and the world of online gaming would be completely different.
Of course, Bill is number one – in fact, he’s the second richest person in the world overall after Jeff Bezos ($110B). Even without his supervision, Xbox continues to evolve by merging with Windows and acquiring new gaming studios. Bill Gates is no longer the head of Microsoft, but without him, PC and console gaming would not be the same.
Bill is a devout philanthropist. He donated $35.8 billion worth of Microsoft stock to the Gates Foundation, which is the world's largest private charitable foundation. He’s given $1,525,380,950 to United Negro College Fund, Inc and $957,000,000 to GAVI Alliance, engaged in developing vaccines.
2. William Ding — $14.7B, NetEase
William Ding has made billions thanks to NetEase, which he founded in 1997. There he helped create MMORPGs like Fantasy Westward Journey. His company also operates localized versions of Minecraft, World of Warcraft, Diablo III, Overwatch, and Hearthstone – one of the biggest titles in the world. Now NetEase is working on its first multiplayer VR game with an open world setting.
Ding was China’s first gaming billionaire, and in 2003 he was the richest Chinese overall. Now NetEase is one of the largest producers of MMORPGs and mobile games. It works closely with Mojang (Microsoft) and Blizzard and faces fierce competition from Tencent.
In 2005, Ding donated $1.2 million to China's Red Cross Society in order to help the tsunami victims in China.
3. Zhang Zhidong — $14.1B, Tencent
Zhang Zhidong (or Tony Zhang), one of the co-founders of Tencent Holdings, has made his name thanks to the company’s messaging apps, mobile games, and payment services. Now Tencent is the country’s “largest Internet community” with tons of services developed specifically for the Chinese market. Wechat app alone boasts more than 1 billion users. While Tencent is not strictly a gaming company, its video game publishing division Tencent Games is probably the biggest in the world. In 2017, Honor of Kings was the world's most popular mobile game. Tencent Games also owns massively popular League of Legends and partly owns such giants as Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.
Zhang first came into prominence in 1999, after the release of OICQ, ICQ’s alternative for China. Since then, he helped make Tencent one of the biggest tech companies on the planet. According to Forbes, Zhang is China’s 14th richest person.
Since 2007, Tencent Charity Foundation has donated about $6 million to support educational causes.
4. Tim Sweeney — $7.18B, Epic Games
Who controls Fortnite, controls the world. Or something like that. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney is certainly loaded, with a net worth well over $7 billion ($7.18B to be exact). He’s #217 on this year’s Bloomberg list of world’s richest people. That means that he’s officially wealthier than Rupert Murdoch and Gabe Newell.
It’s not Fortnite that made him rich though. Epic Games has long been a prosperous company with tons of successful projects. It was founded in 1991 (as Potomac Computer Systems) back when Sweeney was studying mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland. The company then was renamed Epic MegaGames and, in the end, just Epic Games. It’s the sole owner of Unreal Engine, one of the most popular game engines out there.
Tim Sweeney is a known philanthropist who spends millions on conservation projects. For instance, he donated $15 million to protect 7,000 acres in his home state of North Carolina.
5. Kim Jung-ju — $5.46B, Nexon Corporation
Kim Jung-ju is a well-known South Korean businessman, famous for his company Nexon, founded in 1994. It was he who launched the world’s first MMORPG Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds, which allowed the company to grow (2018 was a record year for revenue and income) exponentially; now it’s the largest gaming company in South Korea. With Kim as the CEO, the studio released a bunch of popular titles such as MapleStory, KartRider, and Mabinogi. Now Kim controls 47 percent of Nexon. He’s not as ‘’clean’’ as Sweeney, though: his name has long been associated with bribery charges; in 2017, he received a suspended two-year prison sentence.
Kim also enjoys philanthropy, especially technology, health and education of the youth. In 2016, he invested more than $18 million into Korea’s first pediatric rehabilitation hospital.
Random fact: He’s the pioneer of the freemium gaming business model.
6. Gabe Newell — $4.85B, Valve
Gabe Newell is one of the biggest gaming superstars. He’s the famous co-founder of Valve, known for both fantastic games, including Half-Life, Portal, and Counter-Strike, and Steam, the largest video game digital distribution platform for PC.
In 1983, after Gabe dropped out of Harvard University, he started working at Microsoft, where he helped to perfect the early version of Windows. In 1996, he founded Valve along with another programmer Mike Harrington. The debut game from the company, Half-Life, became a cult and commercial success – the studio has sold over 9.3 million copies since 1998.
Gabe Newell is a popular, albeit a bit controversial (remember when he called PlayStation 3 ‘’a waste of time’’?) figure in the gaming world. He’s not really known for philanthropy, although he is one of the co-founders of Foundry10, an educational company which explores non-traditional learning.
7. Kwon Hyuk-Bin — $4.1B, Smilegate
Smilegate is one of the biggest South Korean game developers and publishers, and it owes everything to its founder, Kwon Hyuk-Bin. Created in 2002, the company gained nationwide fame after the release of CrossFire, one of the most popular first-person shooters in the world.
Kwon’s first foray into the market was unsuccessful: his education startup 4Csof collapsed soon after its creation. After that Kwon declined Samsung’s offer – he wasn’t interested in a job, he wanted to develop video games. Thanks to Smilegate’s partnership with Tencent, CrossFire has generated over $6.8 billion in revenue.
Kwon is a known philanthropist: he spent over $5 million building schools in Vietnam and China and donated more than $2 million to Sogang University, his alma mater.
8. Kim Taek-jin — $1.7B, NCSoft
Kim Taek-jin is the founder and the CEO of NCSoft, #2 online gaming company in South Korea. Before striking on his own, Kim oversaw the development of the first online internet service in Korea. He founded NCSoft in 1997, and in 1998 released their first game – the massively popular Lineage. In 2004, it was followed by Lineage II and City of Heroes.
In 2012, Kim sold almost all his shares. He himself is a massive baseball fan, and the owner of NC Dions, which he founded in 2011.
9. Markus "Notch" Persson — $1.6B, Mojang
Sometimes all it takes to become a billionaire is one successful game. In this case, it’s one of the biggest titles ever made – Minecraft. It was developed by Markus Persson aka Notch, along with Carl Manneh and Jakob Porser. Previous to that, Markus was mostly known for Wurm Online.
After Minecraft had gained cult status, the Swede has decided to sell it along with his studio Mojang for $2.5 billion. That decision skyrocketed him into becoming one of the wealthiest people in gaming. In 2014, he paid for a $70 million home in Beverly Hills. Persson himself said that he mostly spends money on computer stuff and traveling. In 2014, he said that being rich is ‘’weird as f**k’’ and promised to donate a sizable amount of his money to charity.
Notch is a controversial figure, mostly for his political opinions, some of which have been labeled “tone-deaf” by critics.
10. Shi Yuzhu — $1.5B, Giant Interactive
Shi Yuzhu is not the name you hear often, at least in the West. In China, though, he’s one of the most influential persons, famous in the profitable world of online gaming. He is chairman of Giant Interactive Group, which focuses on MMO games, most notably ZT Online.
A graduate of Zhejiang University, Shi starting making money in the 1980s, while working with computer software. Since then he’s tried various roles, and now he serves as the CEO of Minsheng Bank. Shi’s far more eccentric than many of his peers: his vast knowledge, taken from comics and books, allowed him to become one of the most tech-savvy persons in the country. In China, he’s a well-known figure, with more than 6.5 million followers on Sina Weibo (Chinese social network).
11. Igor and Dmitry Bukhman — $1.4B each, Playrix Holding Ltd.
A few years ago, nobody has heard about Russian brothers Igor and Dmitry Bukhman, but now each of them is worth about $1.4 billion. All thanks to their insanely successful Playrix Holding Ltd, which serves as a conveyor belt for many of the most popular mobile games around. Playrix publishes casual mobile titles like Fishdom and Gardenscapes, and it’s one of the biggest in mobile publishing. It’s possible that soon it’ll be able to challenge Activision.
It all started in Vologda in 2001. Two brothers didn’t know anything about business, they just wanted to code games. They started not with Half-Life, but with smaller projects that often copied the classics, like Xonix or Tetris. When Facebook and smartphones appeared, the brothers took the opportunity to go global. Now they employ more than 1100 people around the world.
12. Mark Pincus — $1.2B, Zynga
Mark Pincus is known for many things. In 1995, he founded his first startup, Freeloader, Inc. In 1997, he created Support.com. Pincus has 2 Ivy League degrees – no mean feat. A serial entrepreneur, he has always known how to multiply his fortune: he was a founding investor in a number of successful companies like Facebook, Snapchat, Xiaomi, and Twitter. In 2007, he created Zynga Inc., the studio that developed games for social media. Responsible for such universal hits as Words With Friends, Mafia Wars and FarmVille, it went public with a $1 billion IPO in 2011.
Pincus is known for his and his companies’ altruistic work: Zynga has donated more than $20 million to charity.
13. Kagemasa Kōzuki — $1.1B, Konami
Konami, founded in 1969 by Kagemasa Kōzuki as a jukebox rental and repair business, is now one of the biggest entertainment and gaming conglomerates in the world. Starting small with a couple of breakthrough hits like Frogger and Super Cobra, it’s grown into a massive company, known for Castlevania series, Silent Hill, Contra, Dance Dance Revolution and so on. Nowadays it mostly focuses on its gaming machines in casinos. Kōzuki, now 78 years old, continues to run it. In 2019 he was 35th richest person in Japan.
The gaming industry is massive, and each year it produces new millionaires and billionaires. Some multiply their profit; some spend little time in the top 500. It’s almost impossible to remember everyone since everything changes so rapidly. Just in 2016, the world was welcoming its new tycoon, Victor Kislyi, the CEO of Wargaming. Back then, he had a net worth of $1 billion, but in 2019 there’s not much info about the first ever Belarusian billionaire. The same can be said about many others. The market can be turbulent, and things are changing fast.
Did we miss anyone? Be sure to let us know in the comments.