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Ubisoft on Vivendi Takeover Threat, Reinventing Assassin's Creed, Bringing Back Beyond Good & Evil

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Co-founder and CEO Yves Guillemot opens up about the importance of staying independent.

You may have noticed that Ubisoft has been doing a lot of navel gazing recently. In part, this is because the French developer and publisher is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. But it's also because it is battling an unwanted takeover attempt from media conglomerate Vivendi.

In 2015, Vivendi purchased stakes in Gameloft and Ubisoft--both companies that were founded by Michel and Yves Guillemot, among others. Then, in June 2016, it wholly acquired mobile game publisher Gameloft and has since increased its stake in Ubisoft, sparking fears internally that it could attempt to assume full control.

At a recent event held in Paris, Ubisoft invited press to offer feedback on the company and learn about its creative process. The through line, however, was its need to maintain independence, a rhetoric that is a key part of its defence strategy.

During the event, we spoke to Yves Guillemot about the Vivendi takeover attempt, and why remaining independent is critical to the success of the company, as well as its ability to innovate in the video game space.

GameSpot: For many people on the outside, the Vivendi takeover attempt is essentially two giant companies fighting over control. There may not be that understanding that the results could profoundly impact the developers that make the games they play. For those people, what does the potential takeover mean and why should they be concerned about it?

Yves Guillemot: Creativity, agility, and risk-taking is intrinsic to our industry. If you are independent, you know the level you can go to, but if you're part of a conglomerate that doesn't understand what your industry is, how fast it's moving, or the decisions you have to make at speed, they can limit your possibilities. Then, automatically, you don't create new experiences that are coming out of nowhere. Sometimes when you take risks, it doesn't work and you have to cancel a project because you thought the business was going in one direction, but it didn't. When the management allows that, you aren't blamed for not succeeding, your management says, "Ok, we learned this and that, and we can use that on this new opportunity." When you're in an organisation that's less risk-taking, you don't do that. And then when you don't take risks, you don't get rewards.

Yes, companies merging is normally not a problem, but in our industry, which is changing a lot of time, it's actually risky.

One of those agile moves you made was with Rainbow Six Patriots, which was essentially shown and then scrapped. But it gave birth to Rainbow Six Siege. You're saying in a situation where you're under a company like Vivendi, that kind of course correction move may not be possible?

Exactly. It's also things like going for VR when everyone says you shouldn't. It's supporting the Wii when the whole industry says not to. There's times where you have to make your mind up on something and that process is fragile. If someone says you shouldn't, that can change your own mind. There's situations where you have to go with, "I have a feeling we could succeed if we go there," instead of, "I'm sure we'll succeed." You're never 100 percent sure so it's very important to be able to take those risks so you can explore those possibilities and new worlds.

Yves Guillemot co-founded Ubisoft in 1986, along with four other members of the Guillemot family
Yves Guillemot co-founded Ubisoft in 1986, along with four other members of the Guillemot family

People may look at companies like Bethesda and say they're doing what they want, exploring opportunities, and creating worlds under ZeniMax. What is it about Ubisoft that prevents it from having similar freedom and output under Vivendi?

Yes but ZeniMax is very much about video games. When I met with those guys, and I don't know them very well, but I felt that most of what they do is video games. It's not a big conglomerate like a Disney or others, it's almost an independent company.

It's interesting you mentioned Disney. It's also a company that had a big presence in games, but has divested itself of all video game development businesses internally. So I guess that's indicative of a worst case scenario of Ubisoft under Vivendi.

Exactly. Disney spent $2.4 billion to get into video games. For $1.2 billion they purchased studios and they lost in operation $1.2 billion. Then they said, "Ok, no more." That's just because of business changes. It's very difficult to actually make the right decisions at the right time. Only a few specialists can do that, when you're not managed by specialist, even if they're brilliant, they're not going to help you. They're going to look at what you do and how successful you are, but when you don't have that success, it's difficult.

Three or four years ago we were investing huge amounts to create games for the future, but our [financial] performance was not that good. We were investing in The Division, Watch Dogs 2, and all the games that launched in the last two years. We knew the industry would come back with new machines and that it was very important to invest at that time. But all the market was saying, "You are dead. It's all free-to-play on PC now so your business is over." We believed in our industry, we knew what our customers wanted, and we changed to surprise them. We knew that if we did a good job, they'd come back. That wasn't the trend though, the industry was saying that was the old way to do things. We had to be free enough to take those risks and bring those games.

During your presentation earlier, you said you won't be CEO of Ubisoft if Vivendi takes over as if it was a matter of fact. As someone that built this company from the ground up, that must be difficult to comes to terms with and think about.

[The takeover] threatens the construction and pillars of Ubisoft. The way we manage it is totally different from the way those guys manage companies. They are more used to deciding and having people execute. Whereas in our industry, you get info from people and then help them to decide. The biggest concern would be to see what took 30 years to create can't continue. We know what makes Ubisoft successful is the capacity that people in the company have to take decisions and risks. Seeing that somebody could come and not understand the industry--even without bad intentions--could destroy that capacity [to make decisions and take risks], that creation that is happening year after year. There are things we do well and things we do bad, but at the end of the day we try to entertain and give the best experiences we can. That, we think, is possible because of the systems we created.

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Your risk-taking is exemplified by ZombiU, which was a core game on a brand new Nintendo console. You said earlier that NX is exciting, you clearly connect with Nintendo on a more personal level. What is it about them that engenders this kind of faith?

What we see is, players are more open when new hardware is coming. So we have the chance to come with something we have never done before, because we know that if we are the first there, people will try our game and maybe we'll be able to get into that new genre. As our people wanted to do a game like ZombiU, they were happy they could just use the Wii U to do it. For us, a machine is a tool of expression, but when everything become stable it's less open to innovation. We always want innovation.

However, if you try something a little new and it's not perfect, you come back quickly to what you know and works. As a gamer, if you change to new hardware, you have no references, so you're looking at what people are saying are [the best games] and then trying them.

But if you have an [established] machine and there's all the experiences you know on there already, you know you're going to miss some of those to try something new, so you're less inclined. For us, we know opportunities to try something new are a lot more rewarding when it's a new machine.

So far you've announced Just Dance for NX. Can we expect Ubisoft to explore new ideas in the same way you did with ZombiU on the NX too?

We are working on some projects; you will see something at some point soon.

You're making a number of standalone VR games, instead of purely spin-offs of existing franchises. Is that indicative of a confidence in VR, exploratory, or an attempt to drive adoption?

It's a combination. We feel that it's very interesting to explore those possibilities. We see that you can see new emotions and deeper immersion. If we are able to create the right experiences, as an industry, it can take off and be a fantastic new journey for all of us. That's why we try. It's so much fun when you make it work, so there's a good chance people will pick it up. After that you have limitations such as price and space that may delay adoption. But what we see is that there is a big energy with these devices. Sony is coming in, Facebook is putting lots of money behind it, so we feel the business can be created. If it's not this one that makes it, the experience will still exist, so we'll know how to [do it] in the future. For the first version of VR, we can go to level one, then move up to level two, three, then four on using the capacity of the technology. We see a huge future in being immersed in those worlds. So it's a combination of the two: a big belief and new ways to create experiences.

This is the first year in a long time where we don't have an Assassin's Creed. Why was now the right time to take it out of rotation?

What we saw in the development of the next [Assassin's Creed] was that we had an opportunity to take it to another level. So we said we'll take all the time it takes to make the experience fantastic. It was feasible because we have other games. There's a huge potential in this game to revolutionise the IP, so we said, "Let's make sure we change our model so we have more time and that we can bring back a greater experience."

When you say, "Let's give it the time it needs," does that mean you haven't set a time for it to make its return? Most people are expecting it'll be back next year, is that the case or will it be back when it's ready?

It will be back when it's ready. That's when we feel we have something there.

Creativity, agility, and risk-taking is intrinsic to our industry ... When you're in an organisation that's less risk-taking, you don't do that. And then when you don't take risks, you don't get rewards.

And that isn't necessarily 2017.

Yeah. It will be when it's ready.

Assassin's Creed 2 pretty much established the template that most open-world Ubisoft games use. So when you say "revolutionising" the IP, does that mean a real reinvention of that formula or the same one with a few new ideas?

It's difficult to say right now. You'll actually make up your mind on that when you see it.

Michel Ancel is here today. My first thought was, "What is he doing here?" because he's still an Ubi employee but only seems to be working on Wild, a game developed by his independent studio.

He's doing two things. He has one game that he is doing as an independent and he's also working on a game with Ubisoft.

An unannounced game?

Yes. An unannounced game.

You're trying to create positive sentiment for Ubisoft right now and surely the best way to get gamers on side is to talk about games fans have been eager to hear about, like Beyond Good & Evil 2 or perhaps a new Prince of Persia…

It's not only the desires that are important, it's can our team come up with something that will be a revolution. You don't just want Beyond Good & Evil 2, you want a fantastic Beyond Good & Evil 2. You don't want us to bring it back as something that isn't perfect. That's a challenge we're facing; we have to come back with something crazy and something that will be great.

When will we see the next Splinter Cell?

It's difficult to say. I don't know yet. [laughs]

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com
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    Tamz

    Tamoor Hussain

    I am your OG and I will be respected as such
    Assassin's Creed II

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    Avatar image for nashathedog
    nashathedog

    I'd like to see a Beyond Good and Evil remake or game in it's universe, Definitely one I'll buy.

    Avatar image for di0
    Di0

    Ubi is making all the right moves atm. I like that they don't oversaturate with AC games every year. Appears they're going with the Rockstar model of alternating releases. Best of luck to them. Always enjoyed their games. Just kill Uplay please.

    Avatar image for demonsemen
    DemonSemen

    Ubisoft sucks balls.

    Avatar image for G4mBi7
    G4mBi7

    I don't see the big deal, it's a smart move for Vivendi. They owned Blizzard for years and finally sold their shares at a profit. People acting like this is the end of the world, it's not. Ubi is a publically traded company. Most developer houses are owned by media conglomerates.

    Avatar image for Raphy_Turtle
    Raphy_Turtle

    @G4mBi7:That is actually very inaccurate or misleading at best. The vast majority of AAA and console/PC game developers are owned by publicly traded interactive entertainment companies (video game companies). Those who are divisions of multinationals (Nintendo, Microsoft Studios, Sony IE) have parent companies deeply invested in the industry's long term health, seeing as they are 1st party studios who's platforms define the industry (consoles, the PC's OS, even handhelds).

    The only two conglomerates who actually own publishing and developing outlets are Sony (who entered the market in 1994 by launching the Playstation) and Time Warner; whose WB Games division owns developers like Monolith and Rocksteady to make games on entities who's rights they own like Lord of the Rings, Batman and other DC products. They also deal with a variety of independent developers like CD Projekt.

    The main difference between these two conglomerates and Vivendi is in how they operate. Sony and WB are willing to take chances and give talented developers leeway on creative process. Vivendi never created a game studio, they merely acquired them knowing nothing about the industry. Worst and most important of all is that they are short term profit oriented. They don't care about the industry, they just want to diversify their investments. They'll use Ubisoft to pump out as many games with the labels ''Assassin's Creed, Tom Clancy, Watchdogs and Far Cry'' in as little time as possible, fill them with more microtransactions than Free-to-Plays and once the brands get burnt out and nobody buys them, Vivendi will sell their positions with their profits and leave Ubisoft to burn. Maybe they'll then buy the rights to their franchises for a penny on the dollar and make them mobile games...

    If you think that's far fetched, look at Konami...

    Avatar image for Gamer_4_Fun
    Gamer_4_Fun

    Does he still think 1% of PC Gamers buy legit games?

    Avatar image for hippystank
    Hippystank

    Stop making AC games!!!!!!

    Avatar image for Liliroots
    Liliroots

    i dont really know business. but i know games and their latest game - the division didnt last long. i spent from the beginning of this year to its release date of early march to convince my 4 friends to buy it. 1 month later we werent playing it anymore. what went wrong ubisoft?! GRIND! a whole lot of grind

    Avatar image for Daelusca
    Daelusca

    @Liliroots: From a business standpoint, it appears to have been a very good seller for Ubi, so, there's that...I'm sure they aren't thrilled you and your 4 friends aren't playing it anymore, but I am also sure they appreciated your purchase...thanks :)

    Avatar image for Raphy_Turtle
    Raphy_Turtle

    I know some morons still think it's cool to hate on Ubisoft, but if you think their games have too many microtransactions, pre-order bonuses and that some of the franchises get too repetitive and/or similar to one another; You're in for one heck of a reality check if Vivendi takes over. Vivendi just wants to diversify their portfolio and maximize profit with surefire projects.

    What that means is Vivendi would all but guarantee every major franchise in Ubisoft becomes a Call of Duty and instead of them surprising us with an intriguing new franchise every year or so (or by bringing back an old one) they'll follow in Konami's footsteps by making cheap mobile games while using their big name/popularity to artificially increase downloads (profits).

    Oh ya Vivendi taking over is so much better than Ubisoft as is. Because Konami's new direction is proving really popular with us gamers isn't it?...

    Avatar image for G4mBi7
    G4mBi7

    @Raphy_Turtle: I'm fine with that. I'm at the point where i want to see Ubisoft crash and burn. They ruined too many franchises for me and are past the point of redemption.

    Avatar image for croxus
    Croxus

    After Konami dropped Kojima and keep cloning PES, after Capcom turned Resi Evil into a co op shooter,and SF into a cartoony festival, forgot Onimusha and Dino crisis, Ubisoft was my fav gaming company and Gameloft in mobiles, i never understood the hate for them, there is a decline in quality in recent years and as i grow up and apreciate mature games only, only WB is left.

    Smth must be done to Ubisoft and vivendi could be the answer...

    Avatar image for Velric
    Velric

    Gee, it's almost like if you don't break your company up into shares that you get to keep the whole thing to yourself! WOW!

    Avatar image for uncle5555
    uncle5555

    @Velric:

    While that is a good thought, it's also self-deluding if you as a large corporation want to expand and how do you expand, with capital ($$$) and by getting outside investors. None of the big three are privately held companies each is publicly traded.

    So in theory if money wasn't an object then yes, they could have remained private and out of Vivendi's hands, but since this is the "real world" that isn't the case of how to run a business of that size. Ok, good now, you've learned something today. ;-)

    Avatar image for Velric
    Velric

    @uncle5555: Well damn, I guess the past 5 years of being a business owner hasn't taught me anything. But it's true, I'm no where near the scale of these businesses, but I've learned that expansion and growth is rather easy if you're not concerned with maximum payouts for your shareholders and a giant bonus for yourself at the end of the year.

    You see, the best method for growth and expansion is to reinvest in your business using the profits you've accrued throughout the year. Yah, it means you don't get to take home as large of a paycheck as you might have hoped, so you'll have to wait an extra year for the new yacht, but when you put that money back in you'll immediately see the impact.

    Glad I could teach you something today, good buddy. ;-)

    Avatar image for nbf4548
    nbf4548

    I'm just imagining some Vivendi suit who's never played a video game in his life trying to diversify his portfolio with this Ubisoft hostile takeover, and seeing how he can increase market share by mobile-proven microtransaction strategies. Makes me want to vomit! Think about the following sentence: "Mr. Guillemot, a conglomerate wants to steal your company from you." It's just crazy, and I don't claim to understand it.

    Avatar image for bbq_R0ADK1LL
    bbq_R0ADK1LL

    Ubisoft is already too big a corporation. Getting absorbed into an even bigger one can't be good for games.

    If Guillemot thinks Ubisoft is a risk taker, he's deluded. They find a system that people like & then cram it into every single game. I'd like to see more diversity from Ubi published games so that it doesn't feel like I'm playing the same thing over & over again.

    Avatar image for Daelusca
    Daelusca

    @bbq_R0ADK1LL: Not sure I can name many devs out there that have introduced multiple new IPs recently, so, risktaker...check.

    Avatar image for Hornet85
    Hornet85

    I may not be the biggest fan of Ubisoft, but I don't want to see them being taken over by other companies. I don't want to see the video games industry consolidating into a handful of large companies only.

    Avatar image for Thanatos2k
    Thanatos2k

    @Hornet85: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh too late by about 10 years there, buddy.

    Avatar image for errpac
    errpac

    @Hornet85: and for all the shit ubi gets even from me such as hating uplay, dealing with Nat needing to be open with their games, issues with lack of polish on the games they launch (I started playing siege since the beginning they have brought out a lot of good stuff. R6 Vegas series, far cry, siege, assassin creed etc.

    Avatar image for anodyn3
    Anodyn3

    I like how the interviewer planted that "perhaps a new Prince of Persia" seed right at the end. Hopefully it will take & sprout into reality

    Avatar image for swantn5
    swantn5

    rainbow six siege is a admonition to the franchise patriots had my attention but was canned to work on siege im glad i didnt buy it hell ive passed on the last 5 "major" ubisoft titles just because they didnt seem worth the money

    Avatar image for Velric
    Velric

    @swantn5: Way to miss out! Siege will be played for YEARS. It's a F'n awesome game.

    Avatar image for errpac
    errpac

    @swantn5: siege is doing great even without your support and it's a very well received game by its fans. I believe it's been on the top 10 steam sold game just last month though it's been out almost a yr. There's a strong fan base that's supporting it now. I too played previous r6 games and they are not all the same. Raven shield is not like Vegas and are only similar by the r6 name. Though it's not the same it can still be a good game. Now if you don't like pvp I can understand that this game isn't for you, but it is for a lot of other people.

    Avatar image for swantn5
    swantn5

    @errpac: i agree its not for me doesnt mean im going to tell people what games they should or shouldnt buy i do hope that people who bought the product enjoyed it

    Avatar image for dlaney34
    DLaney34

    The part where he called Ubisoft, "independant"

    LUL.

    Avatar image for joshdilisi
    JOSHDILISI

    @dlaney34: independent: adjective

    not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself.

    Avatar image for Thanatos2k
    Thanatos2k

    @joshdilisi: Ubisoft is a publicly traded company. They are NOT independent by any definition of the word.

    Avatar image for nl_skipper
    NL_Skipper

    Ubisoft may be one of those big giants that takes a lot of flak (like EA or Capcom) but when it comes down to it, they're huge because they make a lot of really good games! I haven't been as big a fan of them in the last 5 years or so but overall they've helped create some games I've had a lot of fun with... I don't really get all this clamoring from people hoping for a Vivendi take-over... it's not gonna do the quality of the games any favors, and it'll probably just leave a lot of good IP's in limbo.

    Avatar image for Shunten
    Shunten

    Thanks for this interview. The whole Vivendi vs Ubisoft struggle is fascinating.

    Avatar image for Hvac0120
    Hvac0120

    Thank you GameSpot for doing your own work this time!

    EA is very aware of the industry, but historically they have been terrible at supporting companies they have consumed.

    Vivendi has its hands in the industry, but as a consumer it's hard to tell how it's all ran from the top down. Ubisoft makes some decent arguments regarding decision making as part of the concern.

    Ubisoft leadership is obviously going to be upset about a hostile takeover like this. It's a problem with being a publicly traded company. There's that risk your baby will be taken from you.

    I like what Ubisoft has done. I want more differentiation between the formula of their games, but it sounds like they are working on that. But Ubi games definitely bring a great bit of variety to the industry.

    Avatar image for Thanatos2k
    Thanatos2k

    Ubisoft keeps claiming they're bringing back Beyond Good and Evil, but have absolutely nothing to show for it. It's been years. Put up or shut up.

    Avatar image for errpac
    errpac

    @Thanatos2k: I don't know man I'm pretty happy with r6 siege and I know I'm not the only one. I think ubi is pretty happy with how it's being received either and do not feel like they've done nothing.

    Avatar image for Thanatos2k
    Thanatos2k

    @errpac: What the hell does r6 seige have to do with Beyond Good and Evil?

    Avatar image for hyksiu
    hyksiu

    I want the next games soon.

    Avatar image for icelandichossi
    IcelandicHossi

    Who knows what will happen but didn't Activision Blizzard reach the top of the video game industry sales when it was entirely owned by Vivendi??? you can hate Vivendi but under them we got amazing games from Activision and Blizzard and after they had a buyout those two companies are still making great games. Who really knows what will happen and only time will tell.

    Avatar image for playstationzone
    PlaystationZone

    Really much hate Ubisoft they shouldn't be taken over by company don't know how make great games.

    Avatar image for iandizion713
    iandizion713

    I think a Vivendi takeover could be just what the doctor ordered. Godspeed Vivendi, godspeed.

    Avatar image for zinten
    zinten

    @iandizion713: If you look at other recent vivendi takeover, it has been mostly disaster for the companies hat have been bought.

    Avatar image for bigrob007
    bigrob007

    the industry says paid games are dead and everything is free to play on pc now.

    analysts can really be a bunch of f-tards. free to play is cancer for video games. wanting to turn a profit is one thing, but corporate shitbirds don't want to do anything if it's not low cost, high return. I feel like that model is in practice in every industry and is a major factor in why many facets of our civilization are in such desperate shape.

    Avatar image for darthrevenx
    DarthRevenX

    @bigrob007: F2P like what EA did to SWTOR is the cancer, that game gimped a lot of stuff and is more an ad to buy a membership than it is a game now....F2P like what Star Trek Online became is actually a good model.....there's rewards to being a lifetime member but it isn't mandatory and you pretty much still get the full experience......

    DCUO is a good F2P game, they do the same thing as STO and it must be profitable for em cus the game is still going strong.......you're confusing what goes on on mobile with actual F2P, mobile gaming is a cancer, companies know this and throw cratastic games on there knowing real gamers won't bitch unless mainstream press posts a story......real gamers play PC or consoles or a Nintendo handheld.....

    even if I was new to gaming I wouldn't be interested in what's on cell phones and tablets, i'd more interested in what's on PC and consoles......but that's me

    not all skid marks are sh*t stains......some are caused by tire burnouts or high speed sudden stops.....telling the difference is easy......lol

    Avatar image for BeefoTheBold
    BeefoTheBold

    From the very first question:

    Ubisoft and risk taking are mutually exclusive. Risk taking means ENDING a series at some point rather than milking it to death until sheep just stop buying it. CD Projekt Red moving on from The Witcher is risk taking.

    I stopped playing the Assassin's Creed games for a number of reasons. First and foremost because the story never leads anywhere. Every single game ends up a cliffhanger and that is supremely unsatisfying. At some point, I wanted all my animus BS to actually lead to a meaningful and satisfying conclusion in the present. But the series keeps going...and going...and going...and going...to the point I stopped bothering with Unity. Never played it or it's sequels and don't feel I've missed anything.

    Second, because the quality level on them decreased dramatically when they started trying to add additional things like co-op while still maintaining the same yearly development cycle.

    Other flaws that Ubisoft has is that their games are basically copy/paste. Far Cry 3 was an amazing and excellent experience. (At least the first half.) But then...they essentially made Far Cry 4 the exact same damned game. Didn't bother with Far Cry Primal because by all accounts the story is balls and the map is copy/pasted from the previous games.

    I think a lot of gamers don't really care whether or not Ubisoft gets taken over because we (or at least I...I'll speak for myself) honestly don't see how it would be any different if Vivendi was running the show as if Ubi was. I can't think of a real risk that Ubisoft has taken in the last 10 years.

    Avatar image for Thanatos2k
    Thanatos2k

    @BeefoTheBold: The moment the future story turned to trash in AC3 was when I knew Ubisoft just did not care about the series any more than extracting as much money as possible. It's also when I stopped playing Assassin's Creed games.

    When you have a game series about a worldwide disaster that's going to wipe out humanity in 2012, YOU BETTER FINISH YOUR STORY BEFORE 2012. Chrono Trigger was smart enough in this regard.