Over the past decade Ubisoft has gone through some pretty big ups and downs. Of course, us being human beings who prefer to sensationalise the negative, we’ll be looking at the downs. Those of you with an ear to the ground may already be aware of how, in 2004, EA threatened to take over the Ubisoft offices in a big push for expansion.
Assassin’s Creed ultimately saved them with a truly revolutionary twist on the free roamer and almost perfectly timed for new 7th generation console owners to look forward to. Officially, EA was fended off with what I can only describe in a nutshell as a kind of sales pitch (ironically) from the higher ups that focused on ‘unique talents coming together in the Ubisoft way’.
To bring you up to speed with the latest tale of woe for Ubisoft, Vivendi is currently holding around 15% of the company shares and they have now aggressively stated that they want to make it 100%, completely buying them out and taking them over. Interestingly, analyst Michael Pachter explains one major flaw in Vivendi’s plan in an interview with Bloomberg.
That is – if Ubisoft were bought out altogether, a majority of its senior members of staff would leave and disperse to the likes of EA, Activision or any other developer of their choice, frankly. This total buyout of the company would lead to what’s being called a ‘talent exodus’ from the Ubisoft offices. Pachter has a point and if this did happen would Vivendi have gone and shot themselves in the foot? Most likely. And it would be a crying shame as, for example, we’d see the likes of the beloved Rayman franchise creatively fall to pieces, as was the fate of Crash after several different developers held his reins.
Aside from the talent exodus being a major trump card for Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot to wave about in Vivendi’s face, he seems to be continuing the ‘sales pitch’ style of defence after The Division’s success in sales. Leaning on this very recent triumph and holding the legacy of Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed in a very strong deck of cards, Vivendi’s money grabbing paws may well be kept at bay and Ubisoft may shake the crosshair on its head.
So Ubisoft Will Come Out On Top, Right?
Alas, every coin has two sides and Ubisoft as a company to work for, may not be all sunshine and roses. Now, we’re looking at a threat to Ubisoft from the inside instead. This may seem like a drastic suggestion and before I make my point (or rather the fine gentleman in the video below makes it) we must remember what it’s like to work for a huge games company like Ubisoft.
These days, the videogames industry is gaining more and more traction in the big chase for money and AAA sales. With that comes companies like Ubisoft, who must hit very harsh yearly deadlines to crunch out truly enjoyable content. This inevitably leads to a lot of broken dreams for new and ambitious game developers who end up working twelve hour shifts for weeks on end, never being able to see their loved ones. Special credit goes to Rich at Review Tech USA, who inspired this article. His video below completely encapsulates what I’m talking about here.
It could well be, for the reasons mentioned above and in the video, that Gameplay Director Ryan Barnard left Ubisoft Massive to go and work for Square Enix in its IO Interactive branch before development of The Division came to a close. We found plenty of articles relating to his departure and some saying why he’d be great working on Hitman. None, however seem to explain why he left Ubisoft. With many of Ubisoft’s directors being veterans for over ten years (Barnard was with them for around 7), this was likely a huge decision for Barnard. Perhaps the pot came to a boil and he thought ‘enough was enough’. Or perhaps he fancied a change in scenery. We can but speculate on that one.
Interestingly, his leaving before the end of a big project like The Division goes against Yves Guillemot’s insistence that Ubisoft is a great and open minded place for ‘creatives’ to work. It almost nudges against his ‘sales pitch’ defence. It would explain The Division’s strong start, followed by a forgettable duration…
Ubisoft’s tumultuous presence in the games industry tends to put things in perspective. The Division – fun but forgettable. Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – really struggled on sales. Far Cry Primal – did OK on sales but ultimately stripped many gameplay features for its stone aged theme. If Yves Guillemot is depending on a once-in-a-decade hit (AC, then Division) to keep his company aloft; if veterans like Ryan Barnard are leaving, forgive us if we are not filled with optimism for Ubisoft’s future. Vivendi owned or not.