How has this once relatively minor firm become one of game
publishing’s major powers, and a primary target for Electronic Arts?
Ubisoft’s full-year sales increased by eight percent to $670 million,
and the company is targeting organic growth of 20 percent this year and
another 20 percent through acquisitions.
Games like Splinter Cell Chaos Theory and Brothers In Arms: Road to
Hill 30 have powered the French company’s growth. Its IP stands as an
impressive example of publishing.
Things are looking good. That is, if the company can keep itself free from the clutches of acquisitive rival Electronic Arts.
The one-time family firm from France has been busily expanding
internationally since its founding 20 years ago. It pioneered the
founding of development studios in Eastern Europe and Asia, and now has
studios in 22 countries including the cities of Montreal, Shanghai,
Bucharest, and Casablanca. Exoticism also stretches to its core IP,
including the ethereal Myst line of puzzle adventures, and Prince of Persia, acclaimed as one of the most beautiful series of games ever made.
Less arty, but key to its recent growth, has been the connection with
Red Storm, acquired in a spate of activity at the beginning of the
decade. This has yielded a production line of acclaimed, mass-selling
combat games with serious retail presence–nearly 30 million copies
sold of the Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six, and Ghost Recon series.
Other brands include Far Cry, America’s Army, and Brothers in Arms–all
of which are, basically, action shooters–as well as jolly platformer
Rayman, innovative survival horror-show Cold Fear, and Blue Byte’s The
Settlers series of quirky strategy games, plus some military hardware
sims. And then there are European distribution rights to EverQuest and
its own slightly less lustrous MMO Shadowbane.
These brands, and the studios that create them, are what Electronic
Arts covets. The company picked up 20 percent of Ubisoft’s shares last
year, almost by accident if you listen to EA’s CFO Warren Jenson.
“There was a block of shares on the market and we thought it was
important for us to own them,” he recently told shareholders.
But Ubisoft isn’t just focused on the juicy drama of Electronic Arts.
Recent deals have included the purchase of Canadian studio MC2
Microids, U.S. distribution deals with Bandai and Hudson Soft, a
licensing agreement with Sony Pictures for two of its animated
features, and the game license for DIC’s kids mega-franchise Trollz.
Meanwhile, the company’s ambitions have lured it into the notoriously
fraught sports arena, with the purchase of Microsoft’s defunct sports
lineup, a licensing pickup with golfer Vijay Sing, as well as street
basketball organizer And 1. Could these, and movie licenses like King
Kong, propel an independent Ubisoft into America’s publishing top five?
See also: Laurent Detoc interview.