Wed, Apr 11, 2018 - Page 11 News List

Ubisoft aims for 5 billion players with Tencent deal

POWERFUL HANDSETS:The firm’s ambitious target is based on both hardware and software innovations that are expected to sweep through the gaming industry

AFP, MONTREUIL, France

Ubisoft chief executive Yves Guillemot poses for a photograph in his office at the company’s headquarters in Montreuil, France, on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

Fresh from winning a long corporate battle, French video game powerhouse Ubisoft is aiming for a 10-fold surge in its global playing audience after securing a partnership with Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊).

“Within 10 years, Ubisoft wants to reach 5 billion players” who have taken up the challenge of at least one of its games, compared with the 500 million it has now, Ubisoft chief executive Yves Guillemot said in an interview.

Speaking at the company’s offices in Montreuil, France, Guillemot made no secret of savoring his victory against Vincent Bollore, the French chairman of Vivendi who has a long history of corporate raiding.

In 2015, Vivendi began acquiring shares in the publisher of hit titles such as Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, threatening the Guillemot family’s control of Ubisoft since they no longer owned a majority stake, but last month Vivendi bowed out, selling its 27.3 percent stake in a 2 billion euro (US$2.5 billion) deal that saw Tencent come in.

“As soon as they expressed their desire to leave, we brought them a solution, with partners who wanted a stake,” said Guillemot, who nonetheless said the battle with Vivendi had an upside. “With our strategy for creating value, we proved that we didn’t need anyone and that they were not going to bring any added value.”

When the deal was signed “there were some nice parties here,” Guillemot said, though he was in the US at the time.

Tencent, which operates WeChat, is the nation’s leader in social media and gaming.

Guillemot said China had an “incredibly vibrant” PC gaming market and huge potential for smartphone gaming.

Ubisoft had already signed a deal with Tencent last year to develop Might and Magic: Era of Chaos, which has generated Chinese sales of more than US$100 million.

Ubisoft is also betting on the growing popularity of e-sports, hoping to organize more live gaming competitions.

“The goal is to be in the top five of the most-watched games,” with titles such as Rainbow 6, For Honor and Just Dance, Guillemot said.

The five-year deal with Tencent, which got no seats on the Ubisoft board and said it would not raise its stake, offers some protection from further shareholder battles, after Vivendi and before that Electronic Arts Inc in 2004.

The company’s ambitious target of 5 billion players is also based on both hardware and software innovations that are expected to sweep through the industry.

“In 10 years, handsets will be much more powerful,” with smartphones capable of exceeding current standalone gaming consoles such as the PlayStation, Guillemot said.

With more people playing via cloud computing, Ubisoft would be able to deliver its games to TVs, smartphones and even self-driving cars.

“It’s going to make our games available on the majority of screens,” Guillemot said. “The trick will be to create games that are adapted to these new technologies, with themes that speak to everyone.”

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