Normally, talking about which board members a company might vote for in a meeting is coma-inducing, but today it’s a big deal. Ubisoft has a shareholder meeting today, and it could mark a turning point for the company.
For months now, French media conglomerate Vivendi has been slowly buying up shares of otherwise independent game publisher. Earlier this year, Vivendi pushed and successfully took control of Gameloft, a mobile-focused company that is, like Ubisoft, owned by the Guillemot family.
Like a significant other slowly moving stuff into Ubisoft’s apartment, Vivendi continues to insist that it’s not looking to move in – with the difference being that when Vivendi moves in, it gets to keep all the stuff while the brothers Guillemot move out. Vivendi insists that it is not looking to take control of Ubisoft, but rather sees a greater level of synergy between the two companies’ music, movie, television, and video game divisions. Vivendi owned a large stake in Activision Blizzard until 2013, when it sold its shares back to the publisher due, apparently, to a lack of synergy.
What’s happening this morning is a stockholder meeting including a vote for two new proposed members of the Ubisoft board of directors. Adding two Ubisoft-allied directors would help Ubisoft push back against Vivendi’s unwanted advances. Vivendi, meanwhile, has the ability as a shareholder to raise a vote at the meeting without warning to bring its own shareholders into the fold.
Vivendi holds about 23 percent of Ubisoft’s stock right now. As Polygon notes, the company can’t buy much more before French law obligates it to make a public offer on Ubisoft.
Ubisoft, meanwhile, has publicly and vocally opposed the takeover. CEO Yves Guillemot has used opportunities like the Ubisoft conference at E3 2016 to give impassioned speeches about Ubisoft’s long history as a creative studio. Guillemot told the Wall street Journal that Ubisoft won’t be able to rest comfortably until Vivendi sells shares.
Ubisoft has remained independent through its existence and, for its part, been the source of a number of unique games. We complain about the annualization of games like Assassin’s Creed, but a history of games like Prince of Persia and Beyond Good & Evil and more recent stuff like Child of Light and Grow Home show the company is willing to experiment. The company has also shied away from pumping out tons of remakes, finally relenting with an Assassin’s Creed collection focused on Ezio Auditore, the fan-favorite protagonist of Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations.
Even stuff like Far Cry: Blood Dragon, Far Cry Primal and The Crew have ended up being interesting experiments even if they don’t venture too far outside of the company’s usual fare.
The concern floating around among not only gamers but investors, analysts, and even Ubisoft’s executives is that a takeover from Vivendi has the potential to not only hamper more creative projects but to cause a mass exodus of talent to other studios. Much of Ubisoft’s development is located in Montreal, and there’s no shortage of other studios around there to pull in the studio’s experienced developers.
By the time the meeting ends, we may have a better idea of what Vivendi’s plans are, whether it’s a hostile takeover by stock buyout or a creeping acquisition by way of board members.