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Vivendi Ups Ubisoft Ownership Just Days After E3

With its takeover of Gameloft nearly complete, Vivendi is wasting no time pushing ahead with its creeping control of Ubisoft. A new stock purchase puts the former Activision owner in control of 20.1 percent of Ubi shares. 

Vivendi and its supervisory board chairman Vincent Bolloré have made their interest in an Ubisoft board seat known. With a general shareholders meeting in September, Ubisoft has a hard fight ahead.

There is a limit to how much Ubisoft stock Vivendi can buy, though. French law dictates that once a shareholder controls 30 percent of a company, they must tender an offer, something Vivendi has said it has no interest in doing. The company reiterated that it doesn't plan to make a move for at least the next six months, which will spill the fight until at least the September 2017 shareholders meeting.

However, not all is lost. Vivendi’s Gameloft takeover was possible in part because of that target’s localized presence in France. Ubisoft, however, is a multinational firm.

Vivendi apparently leaned heavily on its relationships in France, but won’t have the same sway with institutional investors, like Blackrock and Fidelity that aren’t as accessible to Bolloré. Additionally, Ubisoft has a strong employee group that owns stock and likely has no interest in seeing company CEO Yves Guillemot ousted.

Last week, Guillemot also told CNBC it would be interested in exploring a partnership. This is different than the White Knight scenario mentioned in our explainer, as it would be a meeting of equals rather than an acquisition of the Assassin’s Creed publisher.

A merger could come from the gaming world or another entertainment company, as Ubisoft has entered the movie and television business. The company could also take additional investment from an institutional investor.

We’ve reached out to Ubisoft about the latest stock buy. We’ll update should there be a new statement.

[Source: Bloomberg]

 

Our Take
It’s clear that there is reason for Ubisoft to be concerned, but the situation here is much different than the one that Gameloft faced. The two companies, while founded by the same family, have different profiles that give Ubisoft a fighting chance.

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Ubisoft Confirms Star Trek VR Game In The Works, Will Show Off At E3 Presser

Today Ubisoft made known its plans to boldly go into VR with Star Trek. Called Star Trek: Bridge Crew, the game is being developed by Red Storm Entertainment, known for its work on the Tom Clancy franchise.

The VR experience takes place in the Abrams' Star Trek universe and allows four players to board the starship Aegis and assume the role of captain, tactical, engineering, or helm officer. You must explore an uncharted sector of space called The Trench to find a suitable new home for the population of Vulcan. Fans will remember this planet was destroyed in the 2009 movie, Star Trek.

You use a VR headset along with hand controllers. The game replicates your head and hand motions, allowing you to scan for foreign objects, activate the warp drive, and display relevant imagery on the ship's viewscreen. You also must work with your team during combat and exploration, making decisions on how you want to approach situations and what the best course of action is. Red Storm creative director David Votypka teased to ABC News, "Is it more important to save the Vulcan scientists or rescue everyone on the planet? It might be too difficult to do both. It's just like the show. There's not any one right answer."

Ubisoft tweeted on its official account that it will show off Star Trek: Bridge Crew at its E3 press conference on Monday, which you can watch right with us at 1 p.m. Pacific / 4 p.m. Eastern.

Bridge Crew launches on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR this fall, so at least it won't be too long until you board the Aegis and live out your own Star Trek fantasy. 

 

[Source: Ubisoft, ABC News]

Our Take
I already like the sound of having some choice in how you approach situations and working as a team. It might be hard to get a group of four together, but we'll have to wait for Ubisoft's upcoming press conference for more details. Until then, this looks like one of the more promising VR projects that's been announced. Star Trek fans should be excited.  

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After 18 years, Ubisoft Casablanca is closing up shop

Of all the Ubisoft studios, in all the towns, in all the world, Ubisoft Casablanca will be shut down on June 13th – a few months after its 18th birthday. …


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Ubisoft Starts Issuing The Division Permabans For First-Time Cheaters

Apparently, a two-week ban for cheating hasn’t been enough to dissuade some Division players. Ubisoft is stepping up its efforts, and has announced that it will start handing out permanent bans on first offense.

Last month, the publisher “took action” against 30,000 accounts, dishing out approximately 3,800 permanent bans. Additional waves of bans are coming, and Ubisoft will announce when they’ve happened.

The company says that it is seeing improvement in the game as cheaters are removed from the population. “We are committed to constantly improve your experience in the game, and this begins with ensuring a positive and fair environment free of noxious players willingly violating the rules,” the company says. “We will take all steps necessary to track down cheaters and make sure they cannot spoil your enjoyment of the game.”

[Source: Ubisoft]

 

Our Take
As the video game industry transitions from a product model to one that is more akin to service, customer support needs to change. Publishers will always have to fight against those willing to cheat, but as developers get more used to how players interact with live games, perhaps we’ll see better up-front enforcement. Zero tolerance works, provided there aren’t false positives that impact rule-abiding players.

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Ubisoft Closes Casablanca Studio

Ubisoft has announced that it is closing its studio in Casablanca, Morocco. The company informed employees earlier last week, with operations ceasing on June 13.

Those affected have been offered transfers to one of Ubisoft’s 29 other studios or other assistance if they will be leaving the company. The Casablanca studio was in operation worked on Valiant Hearts, Child of Light, Rayman Fiesta Run, Rayman Legends, and a number of handheld games, including Rabbids 3D on 3DS and Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands on DS.

Ubisoft says it closed the studio to “increase efficiency and effectiveness of its cross-collaboration studio model.” The publisher is also under threat of hostile takeover from Vivendi, which recently seized control of Gameloft, which was founded by Ubisoft’s Guillemot family.

 

Our Take
With Casablanca having worked primarily on handheld games, it put the studio at risk. The Vita is nearly dead and Ubisoft doesn’t have a huge investment on 3DS. There are five other locations working exclusively on mobile games.

Closing a studio like this might not have been necessary without the Vivendi threat, but chances are that wasn’t the only reason. Our thoughts are with those impacted by the closure.

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Ubisoft Is Gearing Up For Its Watch Dogs 2 Reveal On June 8

 Ubisoft is teasing a big reveal for Watch Dogs 2 happening on Wednesday, June 8.

As we found out from Ubisoft's earnings report earlier this year, a new Watch Dogs entry has been confirmed. Now that we're just a week away from E3, we'll be finding out more of what's in store for the upcoming title. You'll be able to watch the video stream of the reveal from here at Game Informer, beginning on Wednesday at 9 a.m. PST.

For more on Watch Dogs, you can read our review of the first game here.

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Vivendi’s Hostile Takeover Of Gameloft And Ubisoft Explained

Over the past seven months, Vivendi has been rekindling its on again/off again relationship with the video game industry. Rather than build a publishing business, Vivendi has opted to buy its way back in. With no one selling, the company has resorted to less overt methods to get back in the game.

Vivendi’s current targets are a pair of company’s founded by the Guillemot family. Gameloft, a mobile company, is now under Vivendi control after shareholders backed a takeover bid. That leaves Ubisoft in the crosshairs.

What is a hostile takeover?

When we talk about buyouts like Oculus selling to Facebook or Mojang being acquired by Microsoft, these are mutually agreed-upon deals. The seller willingly enters into the deal, with founders often profiting from the transaction.

A hostile takeover is a more insidious approach that isn’t congenial or welcome. Vivendi has been buying up shares of the two companies since October 2015. 

It’s made a few smaller transactions before making a final, successful push for Gameloft. Vivendi also now holds 15.66 percent of Ubisoft voting shares and nearly 18 percent of Ubisoft capital.

Vivendi claims it doesn’t want to take over Ubisoft, but it certainly wants representation on the board. Ubisoft’s next annual meeting is likely in September, at which time some board seats will be up for vote.

Who is Vivendi, anyway?

Based in Paris, France, Vivendi is a multimedia conglomerate that has its fingers in music (Universal Music Group), television and film (Canal+), Telecommunications (Telecom Italia), and online video hosting (Dailymotion). Vivendi first entered the gaming world in 1998 after acquiring Havas, which in turn had only shortly before acquired CUC Software. CUC Software owned Sierra, Blizzard, and Berkeley Systems (You Don’t Know Jack).

In 2000, Vivendi acquired Seagram, owner of Universal Studios. The result was a merger of all of the video game studios the company picked up in the deals. One division born out of that was Vivendi Universal Games, which had a roster of powerhouse franchises, including Diablo, Warcraft, Starcraft, Half-Life, Tribes, Crash Bandicoot, and Spyro the Dragon. 

The Vivendi name faded into the background in 2007, when the company merged with Activision. Out of that merger came Activision Blizzard, which still operates as such. 

When we last covered Vivendi, before these hostile takeover actions began, it was back in 2013-14. At the time, it owned Activision, which had amassed an enormous nest egg of offshore and domestic funds. 

Vivendi was in dire need of cash though, and it was eyeing Activision’s holdings for a quick fix to its problem. It was prepared to issue a special dividend that would bleed Activision for much of its reserved funds. The action would have meant Activision calling in cash from overseas and likely paying enormous taxes to domesticate money, all just to keep its parent afloat.

Activision opted to go a different route. In 2013, it pulled together $ 8 billion from cash reserves and private investment to part ways with Vivendi and buy its independence.

In 2014, Vivendi sold off another $ 850 million of Activision stock. The once poor company was now flush.

It took about two years for the video game itch to come back. This time, the company decided to target companies at home, in France. We don’t know why Vivendi chairman Vincent Bolloré has his eye on the Guillemot family, but the intentions are clear.

Has Ubisoft said anything about the takeover attempt?

Ubisoft hasn't been silent about Vivendi's "creeping control." In fact, the publisher was quick to label the stock purchase "unsolicited and unwelcome," while remaining adamant that it is dedicated to remaining independent.

After Vivendi increased its hold on Ubisoft to more than 15 percent of voting shares in April, the publisher issued a stern statement. At that time, the company accused Vivendi of announcing "conflicting intentions," stating that there are no details or plan on how Vivendi would improve Ubisoft or generate value for shareholders.

We've reached out to Ubisoft after the Gameloft takeover went through. We'll update should we receive a new statement from the publisher.

What’s going to happen to Ubisoft, and what can the company do to stop a takeover?

Right now we don't know for certain what's in store for Ubisoft. Based on Vivendi's actions against Gameloft and its creeping control (incremental growth of ownership via stock purchase), we can hazard a guess, though.

Vivendi has made it clear it expects representation on Ubisoft's board come the next annual shareholders meeting that is likely to take place in September. If successful, Vivendi will be able to start steering Ubisoft's decisions and whispering in the ear of other board members.

It would make Vivendi's life easier if Ubisoft were in a poor financial position or clearly mismanaged, but the company has had a solid run lately, even with diminished sales of Assassin's Creed Syndicate due to Unity's technical problems. However, Far Cry Primal, The Division, Just Dance, and other recent games have all performed well.

We spoke with Wedbush Securities managing director Michael Pachter about the situation. Pachter, who is one of the most prominent analysts covering the video game industry, believes Ubisoft has a fighting chance.

"It’s not inevitable," Pachter says. "If Vivendi senses that they aren’t going to succeed, they can sell their stock. If they make a move, it’s more likely that they make a friendly offer than a hostile one, as a hostile offer could result in the Guillemots leaving the company and taking the talent with them."

Still, Ubisoft is on the hunt for a "white knight" that will make a significant investment in the company while staying allied with the Guillemot family. This usually comes as a merger that significantly increases market capitalization and strength, and putting the firm out of reach for takeover.

We believe that Ubisoft is seeking both private support and government funding in Canada. If Ubisoft comes under Vivendi control, current executive leadership can't guarantee what will happen to the thousands of Canadian jobs in Toronto and Montreal.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Ubisoft Montreal in February. During that visit, Yves Guillemot discussed "the importance of Ubisoft's presence in Canada." Ubisoft is angling for support, and making it clear that the company's 3,000 Canadian jobs could be on the line.

There are some tactics that Ubisoft could use to stave off a hostile takeover. One such is the aforementioned "white knight." If someone steps forward, we likely won't hear about it unless the deal will outright thwart a Vivendi push.

"Activision will have trouble making an acquisition, as it is currently digesting King, but a combination would be good for them, as Ubisoft has plenty of great IP," Pachter says. "EA lost its last CEO over badly timed acquisitions, and I don’t see the current management making a bid. Take-Two makes a lot of sense, and a combination of the two companies would essentially be a merger of equals, so I think that is the most likely."

Ubisoft also has staggered board elections, with four-year terms. This means that unless Vivendi is prepared to make a tender offer (one that is made public), it has to fight battles each year for board seats.

The Guillemot family will also likely wage a political war against Vivendi, ensuring that major shareholders hold onto their stock and won't sell. Pointing out how Vivendi attempted to bleed Activision while touting its own successes in becoming a huge player in the game industry could keep investors loyal.   

If Vivendi takes over Ubisoft, what does it mean for consumers?

Right now, it's impossible to say. From the outside, it's hard to tell what's different about Activision Blizzard following its split from Vivendi.

The biggest risk for Vivendi is a talent exodus. Ubisoft without its enormous pool of creativity isn't the company that Bolloré wants. 

Taking over without driving away the people that make Ubisoft's games is a challenge. And, it's fair to say, that is what made Gameloft an easier mark to attack first.

What happens now?

Vivendi is likely to stay the course. We wouldn't be surprised if the company tries to increase its hold during the summer, but the next big test comes at the annual shareholders meeting.

There's little doubt Vivendi is trying to build support amongst existing shareholders. However, it's going to be hard to convince people that Guillemot's leadership isn't taking Ubisoft in the right direction.

Provided Ubisoft continues to land hits with Watch Dogs 2, For Honor, The Division DLC, and the Assassin's Creed movie, it will be a significant challenge for Vivendi to execute a takeover.

For now, Ubisoft continues to fight. And, according to Pachter, has a good shot at coming out of this with its independence intact. "I don’t think Vivendi will buy them, but if they do, the Guillemots would likely take the money and quit, and Vivendi might be left with a shell," Pachter says.

We'll continue to update as the story develops.

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Former Ubisoft Developers Announce Online Fighter Absolver With Devolver Digital

Publisher Devolver Digital has announced Absolver, an online strategic fighting game set to release in 2017.

The game will take place in the fictional Adal Empire with masked protagonists connecting with one another online and fighting each other. You can check out the trailer below to get a sense of how the combat will work.

Its developer, Sloclap, was formed in 2015 by former Ubisoft members who worked on games like Watch Dogs and the Ghost Recon series. Absolver is planned for release on PC and consoles next year, with more details about the game planned for reveal at E3.

(Please visit the site to view this media)

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Ubisoft Reveals Four Editions And Preorder Bonus For Ghost Recon Wildlands

Alongside a trailer showcasing the game in action, Ubisoft has released details about the various editions of Ghost Recon Wildlands that will be available for purchase.

They are:

  • The Standard Edition ($ 59.99)
  • The Deluxe Edition ($ 69.99)
  • The Gold Edition ($ 99.99)

There is also a collector's variant of those three editions that comes with a figurine (pictured above)  and collectible posters. The collector's edition of the Standard costs $ 119.99, Deluxe $ 129.99, and Gold going for $ 159.99.

According to Ubisoft, anyone who preorders the game will also receive a bonus mission set in Bolivia.

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Better productivity through game design: Ubisoft shares tips at GDC Europe

Come to GDC Europe and learn how Ubisoft applies game design principles to improve its production tools and processes on games like Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed. …


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