Havas owner Bolloré and Far Cry Primal maker Ubisoft gear up for their own gaming fight

The latest in Ubisoft’s Far Cry game series is Far Cry Primal, set back in the Stone Age and great fun it looks too: featuring a rather cuddly (albeit fierce) sabre tooth tiger.

Agency is BETC Paris, an obvious choice given its stand-out work for Canal+ and just the fact it’s BETC Paris. The middle period battle scenes are rather better than those in the BBC’s otherwise excellent War and Peace, but Far Cry Primal probably had a bigger budget.

The agency choice also casts an interesting light on the tentacular nature of French business.

BETC, the biggest agency in France, is owned by Havas, which is owned by the Bolloré clan. Pater familias Vincent Bolloré is also chairman of French communications giant Vivendi and the biggest shareholder there too, with a stake of 14.4 per cent.

But Bolloré/Vivendi and Assassin’s Creed maker Ubisoft (another big French company) aren’t on the best of terms.

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot reveals in the FT today how he took a call from Bolloré last year, suggesting that games maker Ubisoft and Vivendi should talk about ‘potential synergies.’ A couple of hours later he found out that Vivendi had bought 6.6 per cent of his company. Now it owns about 15 per cent. Later it emerged that Vivendi had bought 26.7 per cent of Ubisoft sister gaming company Gameloft, headed by one of Guillemot’s brothers. Vivendi has threatened to take control.

Guillemot says: “Many companies impose big external bosses who demand blind execution but we are in a creative industry, and creativity relies on letting people take risks so that they come up with something exceptional. Having a group come in that does not understand the industry and just wants to control us will very quickly kill that creativity.”

He has vowed to fight off Bolloré but what Bolloré wants he usually gets, although he was beaten to the prize of media buyer Aegis by Japan’s Dentsu.

All of which must be rather uncomfortable for the respective Ubisoft and Canal+ account teams at BETC. That’s a sideshow though. More interesting is how Bolloré sees Havas (now run by son Yannick) fitting in with with an expanding Vivendi empire that now includes Canal+, Universal Music, a 20 per cent stake in Telecom Italia and a growing stake in video gaming. Video games and movies are becoming almost indistinguishable.

Bollore may be happy just to shunt business Havas’ way, as he did back in 2014 when Telefonica’s £200m business was snatched from Zenith and moved to Havas Media without a pitch (Telefonica owns O2). This followed the sale of Vivendi telecoms assets in South America to Telefonica.

But this doesn’t seem to be the current Bolloré way. On the contrary Vincent seems embarked on a positively Napoleonic programme of empire building, seeing Vivendi as the French international rival to the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox. None of the Americans have so far tried to incorporate an agency group into their communications empires. Bolloré might be the first to do so.

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