Vivendi Invites Itself To Ubisoft’s 30 Years Of Independence

The French video game publisher celebrated its 30th anniversary this Monday at the Palais d’Iéna. The opportunity for Vivendi to remember it fondly, by announcing that it has risen again to its capital, up to 24% …

Standing proudly on the central staircase of the Palais d’Iéna, Yves Guillemot addresses the players, employees and journalists gathered to blow out Ubisoft’s 30th birthday. The CEO took advantage of the event to recall the beginnings of the company he created and developed with his four brothers, and to affirm his ambitions for the future. The opportunity also to display an internationally recognized know-how via an exhibition allowing to cross all the video game universes created by the publisher (Raving Rabbids, Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs). It was without counting on Vivendi, the media group in the hands of Vincent Bolloré, which since October 2015 has not hidden its ambitions in video games in general and vis-à-vis Ubisoft in particular. The latter actually announced on Monday after the close of the stock market, to have risen to 24.059% of the capital and 21.296% of the voting rights of Ubisoft. It was previously at 22.8% and 20.2% respectively against 13.22% and 19.16% for the Guillemot family. Vivendi loves symbols and hitting when you don’t expect it. He had already done the trick last February by announcing his takeover bid on Gameloft the day Ubisoft was flirting with investors in London …

How long ago were the days of its beginnings, when the Guillemot family first set out in a barn in the family house and then in a castle in Brittany. In three decades, the small family software company has become the world number three in the video game industry, with more than 10,000 employees in some 40 studios and subsidiaries on five continents. The group headed by Yves Guillemot now has a turnover of nearly 1.6 billion for the current year and is campaigning for its independence against the backdrop of a rampant takeover from Vivendi. But Richard-Maxime Beaudoux, analyst at Bryan-Garnier & Co, recalls in a note published on Friday: “as Vivendi does not currently have a seat on the Ubisoft board, it will have to make a takeover bid in the form of s’ he really wants to take control of the publisher ”. Vivendi’s little press release reminds us once again that its ambitions are intact, despite the backlash from the general meeting at the end of September and after recalling in mid-October that it was not planning to launch a hostile takeover bid. As Charles-Louis Planade, Research Director at Midcap Partners, points out, “this new share buyback illustrates the Vivendi group’s determination to integrate Ubisoft to make it the main element of its newly created video game division”.

Netflix, mobile, virtual reality …

In the meantime, Ubisoft is continuing the seduction operation to maintain its independence at all costs. “It is market disruptions that have enabled us to progress,” recalled Yves Guillemot, pointing to his new growth drivers: virtual reality, augmented reality and media such as cinema or television. This notably involves the release in December of the first feature film Assassin’s Creed, but also a possible television series that would complement the one made on Raving Rabbids. Yves Guillemot spoke of negotiations with Netflix on a series project.

The publisher also wants to accelerate on mobile, an area in which it is not yet very present. Mobile games currently represent less than 5% of its turnover through targeted acquisitions. The publisher bought Ketchapp in this sense last September.

“We regularly study all companies for sale in the environment,” said the CEO, who targets potential transactions of around 50 to 100 million euros. Ubisoft, which intends to develop in new booming segments such as e-sport, is also relying on potentially capital-intensive partnerships.

The message is clear. The publisher intends to continue its expansion. A sign of his good will after the efforts made by the government in tax matters, he plans to create in the next five years between 500 and 1,000 jobs in France where Yves Guillemot recalled that more than 2,000 employees were already working. An announcement that should please politicians.

The publisher obviously does not intend to let go of the guard against the threat Bolloré, and this at a time when the latter must face the sling of the journalists of iTélé. A boon for Ubisoft’s crisis communication, which can revel in its new misadventures, after those of Canal +. So many counter-examples in the service of the message of independence delivered to investors and politicians.