In September, Ubisoft executives breathed a sigh of relief as Vivendi didn’t launch a hostile bid to control the French video game company’s board. But Vivendi has since increased its stake in the publisher of hits like Assassin’s Creed and Tom Clancy games from 23 percent to more than 24 percent.
That small change in Vivendi’s percentage ownership of publicly traded Ubisoft’s stock is ominous because it took place after the annual meeting on September 29. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot has vowed to fight the Vivendi attempt at control because he doesn’t think it’s good for Ubisoft’s creative freedom, its capability to produce high-quality games, and the well-being of the publisher’s 10,000 employees.
While Ubisoft is publicly traded, the company has been run by the founding Guillemot family for decades. Under French law, Vivendi has to make a bid to buy the entire company if it accumulates more than 30 percent of the stock. A year ago, Vivendi held just 10 percent of the company. Now Vivendi holds 21.3 percent of the voting rights.
In the September meeting, Vivendi did not offer its own slate of directors, as feared. Ubisoft successfully added two independent directors to the board and re-elected Yves and Gerard Guillemot. At that time, Yves Guillemot said, “We won’t relax until they sell their shares. The creeping control strategy implemented by Vivendi is dangerous. We think that there’s a great risk of shareholders losing value.”
Vivendi successfully took over Gameloft, a mobile game company that was also partly owned by the Guillemot brothers. During this fight, it is interesting that no obvious white knight has emerged to help the management team.
Meanwhile, Ubisoft has some important games coming up. Watch Dogs 2 launches on November 15, while the original snow sports game Steep debuts on December 2.