Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard. Zynga bought by Take-Two Interactive. Sony buys Bungie. Embracer Group buys, well, everything. Ubisoft executives were questioned by shareholders today as part of a wave in mass-games industry consolidation. They spoke about whether they are interested in major acquisitions, or being bought. Ubisoft's leadership seems to be disinterested at the moment, at least publically.
The publisher clearly knew that shareholders were interested in this issue, and attempted to avoid the discussion with its earnings report by a lengthy manifesto extolling organic growth. You can read the entire thing on page 3. But, in summary, Ubisoft wants shareholders think it is successful at slow growth over time and not a company spending a lot of money buying up companies. It points out the evidence it has built over the years by doing just that: its IP library, Far Cry and Tom Clancy games, as well as various proprietary technologies, and ironically, its company culture.
Ubisoft was able to do most of these acquisitions without the need to purchase other large companies. However, investors are asking about Ubisoft's ability to do so on a smaller scale. Ubisoft acquired Brawlhalla creator Blue Mammoth, mobile publisher Green Panda Games and Kolibri Games in recent years.
This is not the main topic. The publisher points out that Ubisoft has been very profitable and valuable on its own, a significant victory after the long-running fight between Ubisoft Vivendi. Its discussion about organic growth can be read to suggest that the publisher is not comfortable making large acquisitions on its own anytime soon. Ubisoft won't likely try to buy Take-Two or another game tomorrow.
However, investors had questions about Ubisoft's success and value. Do you think this is a good time to sell Ubisoft?
CEO Yves Guillemot replied with a cautious declaration of independence
“Ubisoft is able to remain independent…our IPs can be sought after by major global players in entertainment or tech,” he stated. “Having said this, if an offer were made to us, the board will review it in our collective interest.”
Two things are worth noting here. The first is that it is a very common statement for executives to answer this question. Acquisition discussions, particularly in the case of companies like these, are ongoing and often end in failure. Due to legal prohibitions, financial speculation is restricted. We do not hear about them once the deal goes through. When asked by a company executive if they think their company will be acquired, the answer is “Maybe, maybe, but not”. This allows them to both avoid making definitive statements and to avoid telling lies.
It is notable, however, that Ubisoft responded more gently than Guillemot could, given Ubisoft’s history with Vivendi acquisitions and fighting against them. It is remarkable that Ubisoft was so determined to resist a possible takeover four years ago. Even a small crack from the CEO at the acquisition door is worth noting.
Every Ubisoft Game under Development
What does it all signify? It is difficult to tell exactly what it means given the industry's propensity to secrecy. One conclusion is that Ubisoft won't be bought anytime soon, even though it is more open to the idea now than it was four-years ago. It doesn't really require it. Guillemot reminds shareholders that Ubisoft has no problem getting its games onto any of the three consoles it chooses, and is selling a lot of copies once it's done. It can freely form partnerships with Microsoft for things such as Game Pass, and its games have enough demand that there is no danger of any platform holders closing down.
Despite the history of delays (where IS Roller Champions?)Ubisoft is performing well for itself, thank you very. Xbox, Sony and Nintendo can all keep their hands off for now.
Rebekah is a news journalist for IGN. You can find Rebekah Valentine on Twitter @duckvalentine.