Last week, media company Vivendi purchased 6.6 percent of stock in Ubisoft, making a sizable minority stake in the publisher. You may remember Vivendi as the former parent company of Activision Blizzard. In 2013, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick decided to take the publisher independent by organizing an $8.2 billion buyout of Vivendi's majority share in the company. Alongside a similar purchase of stock in mobile developer Gameloft, this marks Vivendi's first interest in gaming companies outside of Activision.
Some are seeing Vivendi's stock purchase as the first step in a takeover of the company. In an internal Ubisoft email obtained by GamesIndustry.biz, CEO Yves Guillemot called the purchase by Vivendi "unsolicited and unwelcome".
"Our intention is and has always been to remain independent, a value which, for 30 years, has allowed us to innovate, take risks, create beloved franchises for players around the world, and which has helped the company grow into the leader it is today," Guillemot said in the memo.
"We're going to fight to preserve our independence. We should not let this situation - nor any future actions by Vivendi or others - distract us from our goals. Our best defence is to stay focused on what we have always done best - deliver the most original and memorable gaming experiences."
Currently, outside of Sony, most of our major game publishers are independent entities. Nintendo, EA, Activision Blizzard, and Ubisoft are all companies directly focused on gaming, not beholden to any other larger parent company. Microsoft and Sony are focused on different markets, including operating systems and consumer electronics, but operate gaming divisions within their organization. If Vivendi did happen to acquire a majority stake in Ubisoft, that would put the publisher under the same umbrella as Canal+, Universal Music, and Dailymotion.
Ubisoft currently is focused on AAA game development, including franchises like Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, Ghost Recon, Just Dance, and Rainbow Six. There's a lot there, but the company remains reasonably focused on its own properties. Activision under Vivendi tended to have a number of licensed titles and offshoot projects. When Activision Blizzard went independent, the publisher jettisoned a number of projects that were outside of its own personal brand: Brütal Legend, Ghostbusters: The Video Game, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, and Wet to name a few. The potential worry is a parent company like Vivendi could make Ubisoft move into similar waters.
The other worry is that Vivendi could mine Ubisoft for cash reserves to prop up other failing parts of its business. That was something that was on the table when the company owned Activision. For the first half of 2015 ended on June 30, 2015, Vivendi reported that revenue was up 2.4 percent year-over-year, while at the same time, income was down 3.1 percent.