Things aren’t looking so good for Ubisoft. No, I’m not suggesting Ubisoft is in financial trouble or at risk of going out of business. No, I’m not suggesting Ubisoft is peddling a bunch of junk software. Ironically juxtaposed with my opener here, Ubisoft is actually doing quite well. Even with some of the issues such as lacking sales with Watch Dogs 2 or the technical issues troubling For Honor, Ubisoft has had a great couple of years. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is doing well with gamers and critics, and games like Rainbow Six: Siege and Ghost Recon: Wildlands continue to print money. Assassin’s Creed: Origins is looking like a big deal, and everyone’s paying close attention to Far Cry 5. Ubisoft is doing good things with video games right now. But something else is happening, more under the hood. More sinister.
For a few years now, Ubisoft has been the target of a gradual, but hostile corporate takeover by the enormous Vivendi corporation. The current owners, we’ll call them the Guillemot brothers, have managed to stave it off so far. But things are getting more down to the wire, more desperate for the family as they fight as much as they can to keep their company independent. This week, things got pretty wild as it came to light that the Guillemots purchased a ton of stock at great personal expense in order to keep the ratio of power in their favor.
The Guillemots just purchased over 2 million shares of Ubisoft, akin to about 1.75% of the overall value of the company. This puts the Guillemots at a bit over 15% of the share captial total at this point. As of June, Vivendi owns roughly 27% of Ubisoft share capital, and has 25% of the voting power within the company. The shares purchased by the Guillemots is estimated to have costed them around $135 million, just to get that extra almost two percent under their belt.
Vivendi has been at this for years, trying to gradually purchase share capital and voting rights to subtly take over the company, rather than outright make a purchase offer. This is known as a hostile takeover, in legal terms and happens when the offending party opts to go past the target’s owners and instead go after the shareholders in order to get what it wants. If Vivendi gets what it wants, it can ensure ownership of Unisoft simply gets voted to them.
The Guillemots don’t want that to happen and neither should we. Ubisoft makes some big, bloated AAA titles that we love to complain about, but look at the bigger picture. Because Ubisoft is still technically independent, despite being a behemoth AAA company, it can do the weird things it does in conjunction with the Assassin’s Creeds and Far Crys. Over the years, we’ve seen things like the UbiArt games, weird stuff like Just Dance, and even a pretty steady stream of original IPs. Even goofy stuff like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is likely made possible because of Ubisoft’s unique status.
Vivendi taking over would change things significantly. Vivendi is an enormous corporation that owns companies in various fields, even owning Activision/Blizzard for a while before that company got away. What happens when a faceless corporate presence runs everything? Well, there will be less risk and more focus on the bottom line. There would be more numbers at the end of titles, less creative freedom, and probably a lot more layoffs and crunch time.
It’s important to be aware of business happenings in the game industry. We need to be informed in order to be able to vote with our wallets and support the ridiculous volume of talent moving around. Things are bad enough for game developers without more huge corporations taking over. It’s hard to tell how this one is going to go down, but it will be downright tragic if we end up seeing the Vivendi logo in front of Ubisoft games.