Ubisoft is currently fighting off a hostile takeover from Vivendi, the conglomerate that used to own a major stake in Activision and Blizzard. In October last year Vivendi spent $183.6 million buying up shares in Ubisoft and Gameloft, another company set up by Ubisoft's founders.
While the shares only amounted to around 6% in both companies, Vivendi has been increasing its stake steadily ever since. Within days of the initial purchase it spent a further $60 million and upped its ownership in both companies to 10%. In a press release announcing its share purchases, Vivendi said "These investments are part of a strategic vision of operational convergence between Vivendi’s content and platforms on one hand and the Ubisoft and Gameloft productions in video games on the other."
In emails published by GamesIndustry.biz, Ubisoft's president Yves Guillemot described the moves as "unsolicited and unwelcome", saying they're "going to fight to preserve our independence".
Vivendi has been consistently buying up stock in Gameloft since October, even going so far as offering more than 50% more than the shares are worth to tempt current shareholders into selling. It now owns more than 30% of Gameloft which, under French law, has forced a mandatory takeover bid. This means that Vivendi now has to make an offer to buy a controlling stake in the company—current shareholders don't have to sell, but given Vivendi's clear intentions and the premium price the company is offering, it may result in a lot of people selling their stake in Gameloft to Vivendi.
A report in Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper reveals that Yves Guillemot has been meeting with a dozen potential Candian investors who could shore up Ubisoft's defense against Vivendi. If Guillemot can bring on larger investors who could buy up shares and are less likely to sell, even if Vivendi were offering a lot of money for the shares, then Ubisoft's independent future is more secure.
While Ubisoft was founded in France, the publisher employs more than 3,000 people in Canada and has played a huge part in establishing the Canadian development scene. To give a sense of its importance, just yesterday Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau toured Ubisoft's Montreal studios:
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) February 25, 2016
The big event, according to The Globe and Mail, is September's annual shareholders meeting. If Vivendi has enough control by then then it has the right to a place on the board of directors, or at least to force changes on its membership. That would give Vivendi a great deal of influence to make further changes. If Ubisoft wants to fend off those changes then it will need to build a coalition of supporters that holds more than 50% of the publisher's shares.
It all feels a bit Game of Thrones. But with stocks spreadsheets.