Ubisoft Pushes Plans to Ward Off Vivendi Buyout


Ubisoft is gearing up to face its biggest existential crisis since the developer’s founding 30 years ago.

On Sept. 29, Ubisoft will hold its annual general-shareholders meeting. This year, the meeting is decidedly more tense than usual. A new vote will decide the make-up of the board of directors, potentially opening the doors to a hostile takeover from Vivendi, a French multimedia conglomerate.

Vivendi took an exit from the video-game industry back in 2013 when they sold their 85 percent stake in Activision-Blizzard for $8 billion. But in June of this year, it stepped back into the games ring with a successful takeover of French mobile-games developer Gameloft, a studio founded by the Guillemot brothers (the same ones who started Ubisoft).

The duo has been adamant from day one about the importance of remaining independent. So much so that when the Vivendi buyout of Gameloft approached earlier this year, the Guillemots attempted to block it via a court order. They ultimately sold their shares when they were denied, and soon after, Michel Guillemot resigned as Gameloft’s CEO.

In the time since, the brothers have been taking steps to fend off unwelcomed advances on Ubisoft. In July, they proposed to increase board membership for the September meeting with Frederique Dame and Florence Naviner joining the eight current board members.

Earlier this month, the Guillemots bought up 4 million shares of Ubisoft, giving them 12.5 percent of Ubisoft and 15 percent of its voting stake.

The most earnest and heartfelt step has been through their hearts-and-mind campaign.

Ubisoft has launch two websites this year, WeLoveUbisoft.com and WeAre.Ubisoft.com, to highlight the community and achievements that the studio’s garnered over the history.

WeLoveUbisoft.com is a simple site with the ever-present words, “We love Ubisoft. We stand together. We are Ubisoft,” at center screen as visitors scroll down hundreds of images of smiling fans and employees.

WeAre.Ubisoft.com, a more investor-focused site, showcases the developer’s scale and success. From their 10,000 employee, 32-studio large company to The Division and its Day-1-sales success story, this site acknowledges everything an investor would be interested in.

On Wednesday, Ubisoft published a video titled “Why We Are Ubisoft” on their YouTube page. Featuring English and French speaking developers from some of their classic franchises, it contained stories about why Ubisoft’s independence allowed them to take risks and see the many successes they’ve had.

“Since we are Ubisoft, I have one question for you: What future will you make?” said Dan Hay, executive producer at Ubisoft Montreal at the end of the video.

While none of those explicitly state anything about Vivendi, they all contain the same defiant overtones, harkening back to Yves Guillemot’s E3 speech from this year.

“I love video games because the real innovation and magic comes when our teams and players are free to create. Free to innovate. Free to express themselves. Free to take risks and have fun,” Yves said. “That’s what got us here today, and that’s what will drive us for another 30 years and beyond.”

People can only imagine what the theme of their 30th anniversary press event in Paris next week will be like.

As of July, however, Vivendi controls just over 20 percent of the voting stake in Ubisoft. As per French law, if Vivendi were to gain 30 percent control, they have to make an attempt to buy major share in the company. Investors can reject the attempt, which is why the Guillemots are attempting to buy more shares and fill the board with independent members.

Even if Vivendi can gather up 30 percent, and at this rate they will, there’s a chance a hostile takeover can be stopped dead in its tracks.