Microsoft buying Activision Blizzard. Take-Two Interactive buying Zynga. Sony buying Bungie. Embracer Group buying, well, everything. Amid a wave of mass games industry consolidation, it’s no surprise that shareholders grilled Ubisoft executives today during the publisher’s third-quarter earnings call about its own interest in making major acquisitions of its own, or being acquired. But Ubisoft’s leadership is, at least publicly, maintaining an air of disinterest for now.
It’s clear that the publisher knew the issue would be on the mind of shareholders, as it tried to preempt the discussion in its own earnings report with a page-long manifesto of sorts extolling the virtues of organic growth. You can read the whole thing here on page 3, but in summary, Ubisoft wants shareholders to see it as successful at slow growth over time, as opposed to a company that spends lots of money buying up other companies. As evidence, it points at what it’s built over the years doing exactly that: its library of IPs like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Tom Clancy games, and more alongside various proprietary technologies and, rather ironically, its company culture and organizational structure.
Notably, most of this was accomplished without much need for Ubisoft to acquire other huge companies, though it’s certainly done that too, if on a much smaller scale than investors are asking about. In recent years Ubisoft has picked up mobile publisher Green Panda Games, Brawlhalla developer Blue Mammoth, anti-cheat developer GameBlocks, mobile developer Kolibri Games, server company i3D.net, and several more.
But that’s not really what’s being talked about here. As the publisher points out, Ubisoft has become both very valuable and very successful on its own steam, a notable triumph after the long-running battle between Ubisoft and Vivendi not that long ago. Its discussion of organic growth can be interpreted to mean that the publisher is comfortable not doing much in the way of massive acquisitions of its own anytime soon, so we’re not likely to see Ubisoft try to pick up Take-Two or something tomorrow.
But of course, all that discussion of how valuable and successful Ubisoft prompted questions of a different sort from investors on the call. As one pointed out about 12 minutes in, if Ubisoft’s assets are so highly valued right now, is this not a prime moment to sell the company to someone else?
CEO Yves Guillemot responded with a somewhat cautious declaration of independence:
“Ubisoft can remain independent…our IPs are sought after by the biggest global players in entertainment and tech,” he said. “Having said that, if there were an offer to buy us, the board of directors would of course review it in the interest of all stakeholders.”
There are two things of note here. The first is that this is a fairly standard statement for any executive to make when asked this question. Acquisition discussions, especially for companies like this, happen constantly, and more often than not they go nowhere. But we never hear about them until the deal actually goes through due to a number of legal prohibitions to keep financial speculation from running wild, among other reasons. Pretty much any company executive, then, when asked if their company might be acquired at some point, has to walk a tightrope of “Maybe, also maybe not” to avoid both making definitive statements but also outright lies.
But it is somewhat notable that this is a gentler response than Guillemot could have given, especially given Ubisoft’s history with Vivendi and fighting off acquisitions. Given how hard Ubisoft pushed back against a potential takeover only four years ago, even a gentle crack in the acquisition door from the company CEO is worth remarking on.
What does it all mean? Given the industry’s propensity for secrecy, it’s hard to say exactly. But one reading of all this is that Ubisoft isn’t in line to be acquired any time soon, even if it’s more open to the idea than it was four years ago. It also doesn’t really need it. As Guillemot points out to shareholders, Ubisoft is having no problems getting its games on any of the three consoles it wants to put them on, and selling piles of copies of them once it’s there. It can make partnerships with Microsoft for things like Game Pass freely, and its games are in demand enough there’s no risk of any of the three platform holders closing the door.
Ongoing history of delays aside (where IS Roller Champions?), Ubisoft is doing fine on its own, thank you very much. For now at least, Xbox, Sony, and Nintendo can keep their hands off.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.