Now that the dust of E3 has well and truly settled, we can properly look back and inspect it. If you were to do so, you’d find a great E3 but nowhere near the last couple of years in terms of wow factor. Put simply, there just weren’t enough genuine surprises. In fact, probably the only real surprise was the re-announcement of Beyond Good And Evil 2 by Ubisoft. Of course, like every year since the original reveal in 2008, there were those who predicted (hoped) it would be there. While the hardcore Beyond Good And Evil fan may be rejoicing, they should look past the expletive-ridden trailer and focus on Ubisoft themselves. They might find a company who is using the cult game as a final gamble to keep a hostile takeover at bay.
First, the background. In 2015, Vivendi began buying stock in Ubisoft, gaining a 10% stake in Ubisoft. Yves Guillemot, one of Ubisoft’s founding family members and current CEO, was not too pleased about this. Not long after, Vivendi bought 30% of Gameloft, also a Guillemot company. As French law requires, Vivendi then had to make an offer to buy Gameloft outright. Vivendi did this, and by 2016 they completed the full purchase. By December 2016, Vivendi owned 27% of Ubisoft. This left them only 3% away from the stake which would bring about an offer of full purchase. At time of writing, they were still short of the 30% stake required.
How does this involve Beyond Good And Evil 2? Well, it offered the Guillemot’s the business time and space to concoct a plan to keep control of Ubisoft. Just before E3, Ubisoft’s stock price dipped to €47.61. This was troubling as their stock had reliably been on growth since April. With E3 coming up, people evidently weren’t expecting much from Ubisoft and a lowering stock price could present Vivendi with a bargain moment to pick up the percentage needed. In the week post-E3, their stock jumped to €52.13. Admittedly, the stock then climbed back down but a week is a long time in business. More importantly, it gave the current shareholders a reason not to sell; Ubisoft had big-sellers in the pipeline. Add this to games like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and shareholders have a convincing slew of excuses to hold off on selling their stock. Certainly a gamble, as there was no guarantee the enthusiasm was still there. For now, it appears the gamble may have worked in the Guillemots’ favour.
Outside of the ongoing hostile takeover, the re-reveal of Beyond Good And Evil 2 was a gamble with the consumer and the existing fanbase. While the trailer was flashy, followed by a pretty developer commentary, it was evident that the game was still years away. In fact, Ubisoft made a massive deal out of their Space Monkey program which they say will allow fans a hand in development. In the short term, Ubisoft have won themselves a huge mountain of goodwill thanks to the precedence they gave Beyond Good And Evil 2. However, with the considerable production time still ahead, I doubt Ubisoft will be able to ride that wave for long. Ubisoft have to be incredibly wary not to create a No Man’s Sky debacle of their own, and avoid overhyping for years. The backlash Hello Games received, rightly or wrongly, proved that the consumer can make their voices heard. Furthermore, the consumer proved they have more power than a developer or publisher when united. If there was ever a united fanbase, then the Beyond Good And Evil fans must be it. Ubisoft, and the Guillemots, cannot afford to antagonise such a passionate collective. If they fail to deliver yet again on a Beyond Good And Evil tease, then they will suffer where it matters most – their profit.
Indeed, the financial implications of this announcement are a further gamble Ubisoft are taking. First revealed in 2008, Beyond Good And Evil 2 has already been gestating for at least 9 years if not more. The Last Guardian and Final Fantasy XV were critically crucified for similar development cycles, and this game isn’t even out yet. The presence of Beyond Good And Evil 2 at E3 shows the commitment Ubisoft are putting into the game, and putting that much faith and cash into a series which is, at best, niche is a massive risk. Remember, the original delay in the commission of the sequel was due to disappointing sales. Ubisoft are banking on a sequel, released a decade after the only other game in the series, to bring home a profit on the production cycle. A more cynical person might infer that the Guillemots are swinging out of the corner, desperate for that knockout hit and to score the win.
The Guillemots are using the time they gained to take steps in their favour, but Vivendi aren’t intending to stop their pursuit of Ubisoft anytime soon, and this should be a concern for gamers. Ubisoft are a company who are as comfortable annualising a popular series as they are launching a quirky indie. Ubisoft are the publisher who regularly roll the dice with their IPs, leading to one of the most excitedly diverse catalogues in the gaming industry. Whatever happens, there is more at stake here than a family’s ownership of a company or the appeasing of a fanbase. The true gamer inside of me hopes that Ubisoft’s gamble in Beyond Good And Evil 2 pays off, but the realist inside me fears this may not their night at the roulette tables.