Ubi slams EA purchase, French gov may protect firm

Plot thickens over EA's new French "investment".

French publisher Ubisoft has criticised EA's purchase of almost 20 per cent of the company's stock before Christmas, describing the move as "hostile", while reports indicate that the French government may move to block a buyout.

Ubisoft has officially confirmed that it has not been in talks with the American giant, and in a statement said that "in the absence of information from Electronic Arts regarding its intentions, the latter's acquisition of 19.9 per cent of the groups capital is unsolicited and currently considered as hostile."

Although Electronic Arts itself has categorised the purchase, costing up to $100 million, as an investment, this view isn't accepted by most market watchers - and indeed, EA is certainly not in the habit of making passive financial investments in its largest rivals.

The acquisition gives EA the second largest voting block within Ubisoft, with only the Guillemot family holding more voting rights, and it's believed that the company is currently considering moves including soliciting the support of other major shareholders and increasing the shareholding of the Guillemots.

Another party believed to be watching proceedings closely is the French government, which is believed to fear the loss of the last major decision making centre in France for the videogames industry.

French newspaper La Tribune reported that the government is considering supporting the company in any bid to fight a buyout - which could include moves such as making low-cost financing available to the firm.

Ubisoft has enjoyed considerable success in recent years thanks to a number of hits such as Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia, and has been rapidly expanding its development studios in France, Canada and China. It has also grown its presence in the North American market very rapidly, as well as building on its traditional base in Europe.

Despite being one of EA's fastest growing rivals, the firm currently has a market capitalisation of just under 460 million Euro ($620 million), compared to EA's massive market cap of over $18.8 billion.

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