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It’s getting tense between Vivendi, Ubisoft, and Gameloft

A screenshot from Assassin's Creed Unity, by Ubisoft.A screenshot from Assassin's Creed Unity, by Ubisoft.
A screenshot from Assassin's Creed Unity, by Ubisoft.Courtesy: Ubisoft

Ubisoft and Gameloft, the French video game publishers, didn’t want Vivendi as an investor in the first place. But the two companies may be forced to work a lot closer with the French media conglomerate than they initially feared.

A week after announcing that it had bought a 6.6% stake in the companies, Vivendi (VIV) has substantially increased its investment in the two gaming companies. It upped its ownership position in Ubisoft, one of the video game industry’s biggest publishers, to 10.39% and its stake in mobile game publisher Gameloft to 10.2%—spending more than €278 in the process.

And it may not be done yet, despite Ubisoft’s public declarations that Vivendi’s involvement was unsolicited and, as described in an internal email, “unwelcome.”

Vivendi does not appear concerned. The former majority owner of Activision-Blizzard (ATVI), which sold its 85% stake in the company in July 2013 for more than $8 billion, said in a statement that it may continue to increase its stake in both companies—and could eventually seek a seat on the board of directors.

“These investments are part of a strategic vision of operational convergence between Vivendi’s content and platforms … and Ubisoft and Gameloft,” the company said in a statement.

Ubisoft (UBI) has a rich stable of successful franchises, including the Assassin’s Creed series, Tom Clancy-licensed titles, Just Dance, and the Rabbids games.

Gameloft, founded by Ubisoft co-founder Michael Guillemot, publishes mobile games with a focus on popular licenses, including CSI and Ice Age.

Analysts have speculated that Vivendi is looking to expand the reach of its substantial content catalog, which includes popular movie and television series South Park (which is in the process of making its second game already with Ubisoft), Family Guy, and 24.

“The opportunity to exploit intellectual property into different segments and broaden them in terms of audience and format or device may have been enticing enough for Vivendi to re-enter the business,” says John Taylor, managing director of Arcadia Investment Corp. “This may [also] be Vivendi’s ploy to gain some standing as a preferred potential partner down the road should these strategies start to converge a little bit.”

Corporate clashes are neither new to the video game industry not to Vivendi. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick butted heads with Vivendi executives several times when Vivendi owned a controlling stake in Activision. Kotick was almost fired when he demanded that he lead the group buying out Vivendi’s stake in the company.

Ubisoft has made it clear that it has no plans to change how it operates, regardless of its new investors. “We reiterate our intention to remain independent,” the company said in a statement, “an approach that, since the company’s founding 30 years ago, enabled it to become the third-largest video game developer in the world.”

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