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Ubisoft subsumes Tom Clancy, new MMOG en route?

[UPDATE] Author-inspired techno-military media empire--including book, film, and game rights--purchased by Rainbow Six publisher; CEO Yves Guillemot says Ubi looking at massively multiplayer project.


This week began with news that Sam Raimi, director of the Spider-Man and Evil Dead trilogies, was in talks to resurrect film hero Jack Ryan. The marine-turned-CIA-analyst-turned-reluctant-hero was played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October (1988) and Harrison Ford in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994). In 2002, an attempt was made to reboot the series with Ben Affleck in The Sum of All Fears (2002).

The now even-wealthier Tom Clancy.
The now even-wealthier Tom Clancy.

However, the character of Jack Ryan was famous long before his film debut. He was the preeminent literary cold warrior in 1980s fiction, starring in a series of novels by Tom Clancy. Clancy's military expertise and fast-paced writing style made every one of his 14-plus books a bestseller, which made the author rich enough to attempt to buy the Minnesota Vikings football team in 1998.

Though that deal eventually fell through, the 20 years since his first novel was published have seen Tom Clancy become less of an author and more of a brand. Besides the aforementioned films, his name is plastered on several series of books by other authors, including Tom Clancy's Ops Center and Tom Clancy's NetForce.

The past 10 years have also seen the Tom Clancy brand become a heavy hitter in the game industry, with the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series selling tens of millions of copies on every platform. Two new franchises, Tom Clancy's Air Combat and Tom Clancy's EndWar, are also in development, the latter of which already has a best-selling novel complementing it.

With the Tom Clancy brand showing no signs of slowing down in gaming, Ubisoft has cut a deal with the 61-year-old author. Today, the Paris-based publisher of every Tom Clancy game announced it has acquired rights to the Tom Clancy name in virtually all forms of media. Under the deal, Ubisoft now has all rights "on a perpetual basis and free of all related future royalty payments" to make or license Tom Clancy-branded "video games and ancillary products including related books, movies, and merchandising products."

Though Ubisoft is publicly traded on the Paris Bourse, it did not disclose the amount it paid to Clancy to own his birth name. However, the company did drop some hints when it said that not having to pay royalties to Clancy would have "an average positive impact on Ubisoft's operating income of a minimum of 5 million euros ($7.7 million) per year." It also said it would be paying Clancy in four installments over its next three fiscal years. When its current fiscal year ends on March 31, 2008, the company predicts to have 130 million euros ($200 million) in cash reserves.

[UPDATE] In a conference call with analysts after the announcement, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot further outlined his company's plans for the Tom Clancy license. First, though, he talked up the strength of the Tom Clancy brand, saying it was the number-two brand in the US last year in terms of sales, according to the NPD group. He also said that the most recent game to bear the author's name, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2, had already shipped 1 million copies in the US, half of which he expected to sell in the first week after the game's March 18 release.

Guillemot also said that the acquisition of the Clancy brand will lead to Ubisoft "becoming a major player" in both book publishing and film production. He said the company retains full rights to future print and celluloid offshoots of Tom Clancy branded films, and also that the company was exploring television and online video offerings related to existing brands.

To that end, Guillemot talked up how Ubisoft now has "complete editorial control" over the Tom Clancy brands, which would allow characters from one of the various series bearing the name to appear in another. This crossover potential would be especially important in games, he said, declaring, "It will allow for cross-fertilization of characters between games like Super Smash Bros."

The executive also revealed that another big factor in the acquisition was the fact the deal allows Ubisoft to explore a Tom Clancy-branded massively multiplayer project. "We will be able to adapt the brand to new formats, in particular the MMO format, where the royalties were a big thing holding us back," said Guillemot. Though no specific game was announced, his was reminiscent of those of Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, who recently dropped a huge hint to a group of investors his company was considering a massively multiplayer project based on the Call of Duty series.

That said, Guillemot also revealed the Clancy deal's limitations. For one, it doesn't include exclusive rights to Clancy's past catalog of books, the rights to which are shared among several parties. Second, the deal does not include rights to books or films set in the Rainbow Six universe, which remain with another, undisclosed party.

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