Tencent was founded by Ma Huateng, Zhang Zhidong, Xu Chenye, Chen Yidan and Zeng Liqing in November 1998 as Tencent Inc. Incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Initial funding was provided to it by venture capitalists. In February 1999, Tencent's messenger product OICQ released. Shortly after, Tencent had its name changed to QQ; this was said to be due to a lawsuit threat from ICQ and its owner AOL. The company remained unprofitable for the first three years. South African media company Naspers purchased a 46.5% share of Tencent in 2001. (As of 2018, it owns 31.2%. ) Tencent Holding Ltd was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on 16 June 2004, and it was added as a Hang Seng Index Constituent Stock in 2008. The company originally derived income solely from advertising and premium users of QQ, who pay monthly fees to receive added extras. But by 2005, charging for use of QQ mobile, its cellular value-added service, and licensing its penguin character, which could be found on snack food and clothing, had also become income generators. By 2008, Tencent was seeing profit growth from the sale of virtual goods. While Tencent's services have included online gaming since 2004, around 2007–2008 it rapidly increased its offerings by licensing games. While at least two, CrossFire and Dungeon Fighter Online, were originally produced by South Korean game developers, Tencent now makes its own games. On 21 January 2011, Tencent launched Weixin (微信), a social media app. Now branded as WeChat, the app is one of the world's most powerful social media apps, due to its wide range of functions and platforms, as well as having over 1 billion monthly active users.
Launched in February 1999, Tencent QQ is Tencent's first and most notable product, QQ is one of the most popular instant messaging platforms in its home market. As of 31 December 2010, there were 647.6 million active Tencent QQ IM user accounts, making Tencent QQ the world's largest online community at the time. The number of QQ accounts connected simultaneously has, at times, exceeded 100 million. While the IM service is free, as of 2006 a fee was being charged for mobile messaging. Tencent would later add QQ show to the platform. An avatar-based social platform like Cyworld, QQ Show facilitates purchasing virtual goods to outfit avatars, which can also be used with QQ Instant messenger. Tencent also created QQ International, which is an English version of QQ that allows communication with mainland accounts, QQi is available for Windows and macOS. In 2005, Tencent launched Qzone, a social networking/blogging service integrated within QQ. Qzone has become one of the largest social networking service in China, with a user base of 645 million in 2014.
Tencent Games (Chinese: 腾讯游戏; pinyin: Téngxùn Yóuxì) is the video game publishing division of Tencent Interactive Entertainment, itself a division of Tencent. Tencent Games was founded in 2003 to focus on online games. Tencent released its first game QQ Tang (QQ堂) in 2004, which is based on its social media platform QQ. This was soon followed by QQ variant games such as Dungeon Fighter Online, a side-scrolling online beat 'em up game; QQ Fantasy, a 2D online game that incorporates elements from Chinese mythology; Xunxian, a 3D, online RPG; QQ Sanguo, an online casual role playing game set during the Three Kingdoms period; QQ Huaxia, an online RPG; QQ Dancer, an online musical dancing game that offers QQ IM interactivity; QQ Nanaimo, an online game set on a desert island where players maintain houses and pets; QQ Speed, a casual online racing game; QQ R2Beat, an online in-line skating game; QQ Tang, an "advanced casual game" with gameplay derived from Chinese literature; QQ PET, and a QQ IM-based desktop virtual pet game. In 2015, Tencent released its multiplayer online battle arena game Honor of Kings (王者荣耀) exclusively for the Chinese market, and by 2017 was both the world's most popular and highest-grossing game of all time as well as the most downloaded app globally. Tencent also released an international version of Honor of Kings named Arena of Valor in 2017. For the occasion of the 19th National Party Congress, Tencent released a mobile game titled "Clap for Xi Jinping: An Awesome Speech”, in which players have 19 seconds to generate as many claps as possible for Xi. In 2019, it was reported that Tencent teamed up with the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China and the People's Daily to develop "patriotic games."
On September 2005, Tencent launched PaiPai.com (Chinese: 拍拍; pinyin: pāi pāi), a C2C auction site. In addition to PaiPai.com, Tencent launched TenPay, an online payment system similar to PayPal, which can supports B2B, B2C, and C2C payments.
In March 2006, Tencent launched its search engine Soso.com (搜搜; to search). On 1 October 2012, it was the 33rd most visited website in the world, 11th most visited in China, as well as the 8th most visited website in South Korea, according to Alexa Internet. It was also a Chinese partner of Google, using AdWords. In September 2013, Tencent discontinued Soso.com after it invested in Sogou and replaced Soso.com with Sogou Search as its main search engine.
In 2007, Tencent invested over RMB100 million in the establishment of the Tencent Research Institute, which became China's first research center dedicated to core Internet technologies. The campuses are located in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.
In 2008, Tencent released a media player, available for free download, under the name QQ Player. Tencent also launched Tencent Traveler, a web browser based on Trident. It became the third most-visited browser in China in 2008.
On 18 February 2011, Tencent acquired a majority equity interest (92.78%) in Riot Games, developer of League of Legends, for about US$230 million. Tencent had already held 22.34% of the equity interest out of a previous investment in 2008. On 16 December 2015, Riot Games sold its remaining equity to Tencent Holdings. Tencent acquired a minority stake in Epic Games, developer of franchises like Fortnite, Unreal, Gears of War and Infinity Blade, in June 2012. Tencent in 2013 increased its stake in Kingsoft Network Technology, a subsidiary of Kingsoft Corporation, to 18%. Tencent previously had a 15.68% stake in the company and raised the stake through a US$46.98 million investment. Tencent took part in Activision Blizzard splitting from Vivendi as a passive investor in 2013 and now owns less than 4.9% of the shares as of 2017. On 17 September 2013, it was announced that Tencent had invested $448 million for a minority share in Chinese search engine Sogou.com, the subsidiary of Sohu, Inc.
In April 2009, Tencent launched iTQQ,a "smart interactive television service" in a joint effort with TCL.
On 10 April 2010, Tencent launched Tencent Weibo, a microblogging service. On June 2011, Tencent launched Tencent Video, a video streaming website.
In 2011, Tencent started hosting massively multiplayer online games such as Call of Duty Online, consisting of previous Call of Duty titles with added content, as well as the game League of Legends, which now it fully owns. Tencent also partly own battle royale games such as Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Battlestate Games, and fully own Ring of Elysium.
On 21 March 2012, Tencent launched Tencent Comic, and would later become China's largest online animation platform.
In 2014, Tencent established exclusive in-China distribution agreements with several large music producers, including Sony, Warner Music Group and YG Entertainment and in 2017 it signed a deal with Universal Music Group to stream its music in China. It also entered a partnership with Alibaba Group on music-streaming rights sharing, the deal aims to protect licensed streaming services offering copyrighted content of the music industry, encouraging more high-quality and original music, as well as developing China’s fast-growing streaming market. Alibaba will gain the rights to stream music from international labels, which already have exclusive deals with Tencent, in return for offering reciprocal rights to its catalogue of Chinese and Japanese music.
On 15 January 2014, Tencent said it will invest HKD 1.5 billion (US$193.45 million) in logistics and warehouse firm China South City Holdings Ltd to develop its e-commerce and logistics business. On 27 February 2014, Tencent purchased a 20-percent stake in restaurant ratings and group buying website Dianping for $400 million. On 10 March 2014, Tencent bought a 15 percent stake in Chinese e-commerce website JD.com Inc. by paying cash and handing over its e-commerce businesses Paipai, QQ Wanggou and a stake in Yixun to JD.com to build a stronger competitor to Alibaba Group. On 22 May 2014, JD.com got listed on NASDAQ and Tencent expanded its stake in the company to 17.43% on a fully diluted basis by investing an additional US$1,325 million. On 27 March 2014, it was announced that Tencent had agreed to pay about $500 million for a 28 percent stake in South Korea's CJ Games. On 27 June 2014, Tencent announced that it had agreed to buy a 19.9 percent stake in Chinese e-commerce website 58.com (WUBA) Inc. for $736 million. On 17 April 2015, Tencent announced it has bought an additional $400 million worth of shares, rising its stake in the company to about 25%. On 16 October 2014, via its wholly held subsidiary Hongze Lake Investment Ltd, Tencent announced that it had bought a 7% stake in lottery technology firm China LotSynergy Holdings Ltd for HKD 445.5 million (US$57.4 million). On 23 October 2014, Tencent pitched in $145 million for a 10 percent stake in Koudai Gouwu, a Chinese mobile shopping portal. In November 2014, the company announced a deal with HBO which would give it exclusive rights for distribution in China. On 9 December 2014, Chinese taxi-hailing app Didi Dache announced that it had raised more than $700 million in a funding round led by Tencent and Singaporean state investment firm Temasek Holdings.
In response to the dominance of the Chinese e-commerce market by Tencent competitor Alibaba Group, Tencent took great effort in its e-commerce platforms. On 10 March 2014, Tencent bought a 15 percent stake in Chinese e-commerce website JD.com Inc. by paying cash and handing over its e-commerce businesses Paipai.com, QQ Wanggou, and a stake in Yixun to JD.com, as well as purchasing a stake in e-commerce website 58 Tongcheng. In accordance to this agreement, JD.com would receive exclusive access to Tencent's WeChat and MobileQQ platforms. On May 2014, JD became the first Chinese e-commerce company to be listed on the NASDAQ exchange, under its ticker 'JD'.
In 2015, Tencent launched Tencent Pictures (Chinese: 腾讯影业), a film distributor and a production company that creates and distributes films based on books, comic books, animated series and video games. In the same year, Tencent launched Tencent Penguin Pictures (Chinese: 腾讯企鹅影视) a production unit focusing on online dramas and minor investments in feature films. It is under the Online Media Business Unit at Tencent and works closely with Tencent Video.
In 2015, security testing firms AV-Comparatives, AV-TEST and Virus Bulletin jointly decided to remove Tencent from their software whitelists. The Tencent products supplied for testing were found to contain optimisations that made the software appear less exploitable when benchmarked but actually provided greater scope for delivering exploits. Additionally, software settings were detrimental to end-users protection if used. Qihoo was later also accused of cheating, while Tencent was accused of actively gaming the anti-malware tests.
On January 2015, Tencent launched WeBank (China), China's first online-only bank. On 30 January 2015, Tencent announced that it had signed a US$700 million deal with the National Basketball Association to stream American basketball games in China. Later that year, Chinese automaker BYD became the chief corporate sponsor for Tencent's NBA broadcasts. In October 2019 Tencent began sending out refunds to customers after cancelling the broadcast of NBA games in response Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's social media comments in support of protests in Hong Kong. On 21 June 2016 Tencent announced a deal to acquire 84.3% of Supercell, developer of Clash of Clans, with US$8.6 billion. In July 2016, Tencent acquired a majority stake in China Music Corporation. In 2016, Tencent, together with Foxconn and luxury-car dealer Harmony New Energy Auto founded Future Mobility, a car startup that aims to sell all-electric fully autonomous premium cars in 2020. On 28 March 2017, Tesla, Inc. announced Tencent had purchased a 5% stake in Tesla for US$1.78 billion, the automotive control systems of which it subsequently successfully performed penetration-testing until 2019 In a "direct challenge to Chinese search engine Baidu," in May 2017 Tencent entered news feed and search functions for its WeChat app, which the Financial Times reported was used by 770 million people at the time.
On 31 December 2015, JD announced that they will stop supporting services on Paipai.com after being unable to deal with issues involving fake goods, and had integrated the Paipai.com team within its other e-commerce platforms. In a 3-month transitional period, Paipai.com would be fully shut down by 1 April 2016. JD relaunched PaiPai.com as PaiPai Second Hand (拍拍二手) to compete alongside with 58 Tongcheng's Zhuanzhuan.com (转转), both partially owned by Tencent, against Alibaba's Xianyu in the second-hand e-commerce market.
Starting in 2016, Tencent developed a video gaming console dubbed TGP (Tencent Gaming Platform) Box. The TGP BOX is called the Blade. It is an Intel- powered console running Windows 10 and a TGP Box mode. So far, the TGP console has imported many Tencent games, such as League of Legends, FIFA Online 3, NBA 2K, Monster Hunter, Need for Speed, and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Tencent hopes to bring third-party developed games. On 22 November 2017, Tencent formally entered into a strategic co-operation with PUBG corporation and obtain exclusive rights to operate Playerunknown's Battlegrounds in China.
QQ Haiwai is Tencent's first venture into international real estate listings and information and is the result of a partnership with Chinese international real estate website Juwai.com. Haiwai was announced at Tencent's annual regional summit in Beijing on 21 December 2016.
In 2017, Tencent launched its own credit score system called Tencent Credit, with a process similar to that of Sesame Credit, operated by its competitor, the Alibaba Group, through its subsidiary Ant Financial.
Tencent was reported in 2017 to be working with China's Central Bank to develop a central payments clearing platform for online payments.
In April 2017, Tencent unveiled its own flagship gaming platform, WeGame which will host games, content, and services from all over the world and will provide gaming info, purchases, downloads, live streaming and community services, creating an open ecosystem for gaming. WeGame is an upgraded version of TGP (Tencent Games Platform) that already has more than 200 million active users (compared to Steam's 125 million) and over 4.5 billion downloads, and is widely considered as a direct competitor to Steam. It will be dedicated to both global developers and players, and will assist developers who require help with translation. The gaming platform will support both Chinese and global users through a single storefront and is due to go online on 1 September 2017, Tencent has stated that the platform will focus on PC and standalone games and will no longer host web or mobile games, and will provide support to small and indie companies. Aside from mainstream games, the company has promised to also launch titles which include Stardew Valley, Rocket League, Portal Knights, Minecraft, Cities: Skylines, with 170 games promised by the end of 2017. There are expectations that WeGame will grow huge and successful globally with its new focus on Western users, combined with the massive buying power of today's Asian consumers.
In late April 2017, Tencent announced it was preparing to launch its virtual reality headset that year.
In May 2017, Tencent surpassed Wells Fargo to enter the world's top 10 most valuable companies. Tencent has also entered an agreement with the Wuhu City Council to build the world's first eSports town in the Chinese city of Wuhu, which comprises an eSports theme park, eSports university, cultural and creative park, animation industrial park, creative block, tech entrepreneurial community and Tencent Cloud's data center. The site will be used for the education and accommodation of future eSports players, as well as hosting national eSports events and serving as a hub for Tencent's game development. Aside from Wuhu, another eSports theme park has been planned in Chengdu.
In June 2017, Tencent became the 8th most valuable company in BrandZ's Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands, signalling its growing influence globally as well as the rise of Chinese brands. Alibaba overtook Tencent as Asia's most valuable company as its stocks surged after the company hosted its 2017 Investor's day. The company has also developed its own voice assistant Xiaowei, and is in the midst of discussion to acquire Rovio Entertainment, the developer of Angry Birds. At the same period, Tencent introduced its mini-programs feature that allows smartphone users to access mobile apps across the globe on WeChat without downloading them. In July 2017, Tencent bought a 9% share in Frontier Developments, the creator of the Elite: Dangerous and Planet Coaster franchises; as well as developer for Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 & 3. In August 2017, after Tencent announced the second quarter 2016 financial report, the stock price rose by 6.2% in the Hong Kong stock market, and the market value reached US$429 billion. Tencent became the second Asian company after Alibaba Group to surpass US$400 billion market cap. Tencent has also created an alliance to its own AI self-driving program, similar to Baidu's Apollo Project, recruiting numerous industry players in the automotive industry. It is also collaborating with L'Oréal, the world's largest cosmetics company, to explore digital marketing under the Joint Business Partnership (JBP) agreement and unleash new marketing innovations.
In September 2017, Tencent has announced plans to introduce Chinese online comics to every market around the world, with the first being North America. It will be working with San Francisco-based digital publisher Tapas Media, a partnership that will see English-language releases of a number of popular online Chinese titles.
In November 2017, Tencent revealed that it had purchased a 12% stake in Snap Inc in the open market, with plans to help establish Snapchat as a gaming platform. Tencent remained the largest video game publisher in the world by revenue, and had a market capitalisation of around $475 billion. In the same month, Tencent announced the company's Q3 results that exceeded optimistic expectations with skyrocketing sales, net income and gaming revenue, while WeChat reached 980 million monthly active users. It will be earmarking billions of dollars to amass a catalogue of user-generated content, in competition with YouTube. The company also broke records by becoming the first Asian company to cross US$500 billion valuation, and surpassing Facebook to enter the top 5 list of the world's biggest firms.
In December 2017, Tencent's music arm, Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) and Spotify agreed to swap 10% stake and invested in each other's music businesses, forming an alliance in the music industry in which Martin Lau (president of Tencent) described it as a "strategic collaboration".
In January 2018, Tencent and The Lego Group, the world's largest toy company, are teaming up to jointly develop online games and potentially a social network aimed at children. It also launched its first unmanned shop in Shanghai, joining the likes of other major e-commerce companies including Alibaba, Amazon and JD.com, receiving over 30,000 visitors in the first two days of its opening. Tencent led a US$5.2 billion investment in Wanda Commercial, together with JD.com, Sunac and Suning Group, to acquire shares in the conglomerate. Wanda Commercial will be renamed as Wanda Commercial Management Group, with its new investors on the board, it represents one of the world's largest single strategic investments between internet companies and brick-and-mortar commercial giants. Tencent bought a 5% to 10% minority stake in Skydance Media.
On 23 January 2018, Tencent and Carrefour reached strategic co-operation agreement in China. Tencent said it was looking forward to working with Carrefour to further enrich the retail and service experience of its users and to strengthen Carrefour's services with Tencent's technological capabilities such as mobile payments, affiliate programs, customer acquisition and cloud services. Between Carrefour and RT-Mart, Ali chose RT-Mart. This is a great shock to Carrefour and Tencent. So it took only two months and the two parties reached a co-operation. Tencent's stock also rose 3.17% on the day to close at HKD474.6.
In March 2018, Tencent acquired a 5% stake in Ubisoft from Vivendi, and in May 2018 it acquired a majority stake in the New Zealand company Grinding Gear Games, the developers of the game Path of Exile. As of March 2018, Tencent is the largest video game company in the world. Tencent wholly or partially owns game companies; Riot Games (100%), Supercell (84.3%), Grinding Gear Games (80%), Epic Games (40%), Glu Mobile (14.46%), Bluehole (11.5%), Activision Blizzard (5%), Paradox Interactive (5%), Ubisoft (5%) and Miniclip (undisclosed majority stake),
Tencent's WeChat platform has been accused of blocking Douyin's videos. In April 2018, Douyin sued Tencent and accused it of spreading false and damaging information on its WeChat platform, demanding RMB 1 million in compensation and an apology. In June 2018, Tencent filed a lawsuit against Toutiao and Douyin in a Beijing court, alleging they had repeatedly defamed Tencent with negative news and damaged its reputation, seeking a nominal sum of RMB 1 in compensation and a public apology. In response, Toutiao filed a complaint the following day against Tencent for allegedly unfair competition and asking for RMB 90 million in economic losses.
In August 15, 2018, Tencent reported a profit decline in the second quarter of 2018, ending a growth streak of more than a decade, as investment gains slid and the government's scrutiny of the gaming business weighed on the company. Shares of internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. fell 3% in morning trade in Hong Kong after the rare drop in quarterly profit was reported, extending a slide that has wiped nearly $50 billion in market value from the company in that week. The sell-off dragged down many other Chinese internet stocks as well.
On September 6, 2018, Luckin Coffee signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Tencent.
On March 18, 2019, Tencent announced that its subsidiary, TiMi Studios, would develop Activision's Call of Duty: Mobile. The game was released worldwide on October 1, 2019. As of October 4, 2019, the game has surpassed 35 million downloads and over $2 million in revenue.
In October 2019, Tencent Music reached a streaming music distribution agreement with CD Baby and TuneCore to provide Independent Music Artists who distribute music through CD Baby and TuneCore access to the Chinese music market through Tencent's music streaming services QQMusic, KuGou, and Kuwo.