Ubisoft executives fined €1.2 million for insider trading

Five executives from Ubisoft accused of insider trading have been fined a total of €1.2 million by French regulators, including the CEO of Ubisoft Montreal, Yannis Mallat, whose individual fine is €700,000. The company has said it will appeal the decision and continues to support the executives, saying that the regulator does not understand how its games are made.

This is part of a long-running case dating back to autumn 2013, when a delay to the original Watch Dogs was announced, causing Ubisoft stocks to take a severe tumble. The executives were accused of knowing the game would be delayed and selling stocks in the weeks leading up to the announcement – an action which is against French trading regulations. The Autorités des marchés financiers (AMF) has been pursuing the case and made its final sanctions on Wednesday.

The executives and their accompanying fines are as follows:

Yannis Mallat (CEO Ubisoft Montreal) – €700,000

Christine Burgess-Quemard (Worldwide Studios Executive Director) – €200,000

Francis Baillet (Vice President of Corporate Affairs) – €200,000

Olivier Paris (Vice President of Exec Operations, Ubisoft Montreal) – €100,000

Damien Moret (Ubisoft Club Brand Director) – €15,000

Banque Transatlantique, which facilitated the share transactions, was also fined €60,000 for a “lack of vigilance” and was told it should have considered the sale of the shares as “capable of constituting an insider dealing” once it saw the announcement of a Watch Dogs delay.

Ubisoft acknowledges the AMF’s decision, but continues to assert that the people involved acted in good faith,” a spokesperson for Ubisoft told Kotaku today. “We are convinced that these team members did not intentionally commit any acts contrary to market regulations.”

Regrettably, the AMF’s decision represents a serious misunderstanding of the game development and production process at our company and common to our industry.”

Ubisoft is appealing the sanctions. It’s not the company’s only worry in recent days. Vivendi have been slowly buying up their own stock in the company with a view to hostile takeover, recently reaching the point where they own 25% of the company’s shares.

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40 Comments

  1. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    This is a Far Cry from the behaviour we should expect from Ubisoft. I hope being caught out by the Watch Dogs like this doesn’t cause too much Division amongst the rest of the firm. There seems to be no Rayman of hope for Ubisoft lately. Anyone Clancy what will happen if they don’t Grow Up: A Splinter Sell to EA.

    (Apologies. I’ll get my many coats)

  2. SebfromMTL says:

    AMF is french-canadian BTW, please do not mistake us for those smelly cheese lovers :p

  3. skorpeyon says:

    I’m rather confused at how someone at the head of a corporation would have no clue that a game was delayed and also why they might think selling off some of their own stock in the company just before that news is made public is a good idea. I think it’s as simple as they screwed up and got caught.

    • Baines says:

      And it wasn’t just one exec, it was five.

      It is almost a shame that it wasn’t more recent. It would have been darkly funny if Vivendi had been the one to buy the shares as part of its we-swear-it-isn’t-a-takeover takeover.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Ericusson says:

    I always wonder how spokespersons come to the world.
    Are they robots, failed compulsively lying genetic experiments, aliens, bird people from the mirror dimension stripped of their luscious feathers ? Frustrated sociopaths who can’t quite embrace their murderous rampage calling ?

    Do they live in homes, or just power off with one’s building energetic supply ?
    Do they eat pizzas like the rest of humanity ? or Brains ?
    Are they vulnerable to lawnmowers ?

    Finally, is their sleek sensual metrosexuality a sign of their torrid sexual deviances in caverns filled of gold dressed as dragons ? Or a sign of the huge cost of their iridium nano colloidal power pack ? Or are their pizzas just that much more expensive than the rest of the world pizzas ?

    It is a mystery.

  5. Premium User Badge

    magogjack says:

    I wonder how many of Ubisofts issues are instigated by Vivendi?

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Ubisoft is worried that terrible things will happen if there’s a Vivendi takeover, but they seem perfectly able to do terrible things all by themselves. Whether these two things are related is anybody’s guess.

  6. SlimShanks says:

    I remember suggesting once in a comment on this site that shady or illegal actions taken by higher-ups in the game production/development process might account for a number of seemingly nonsensical business decisions. That comment was deleted by an admin, and now I feel vindicated.
    Yay.

  7. SlimShanks says:

    Woe is me, if only I could show you the post! Honestly, I would call my comments innocuous, but then again this was during the high watermark of RPS censorship about a year back, when posts frequently disappeared and comments were closed on articles that caused too much debate.
    Believe it or not, even the gods of RPS have been less than ideal at times.

  8. ephemeris says:

    I suspect I don’t understand this “Insider trading”

    An executive of a company knows that the product is having difficulty (obviously, This is why they are an executive), The only thing to do at this point is to mitigate any damage this will do to your property (shares in the co) so you sell, what is wrong with this? Is it only wrong when a suit does it, peons are often given stock bonuses, when the programmer sees things are going south and dumps is that insider trading?

    As far as I can see stocks are a game theory application of property ownership, Some people play this game too well, The rest us play the crab bucket( see Terry Pratchet) and pull them back down with the label “Insider Trading”.

    But this is why I own no stocks, I am about as competitive as a wet mop and don’t like playing games with money.

    For the record I think Martha Stewert did nothing wrong.
    And the idea that Douglas Colt[1] was doing anything illegal mystifies me, at the time I remember thinking
    “What’s wrong with that, he just figured out the game and is playing to win”.

    [1] link to nytimes.com

    • The Bitcher III says:

      I think the idea is that if the market makes decisions on what is in the public domain. If it becomes routine that people on the inside (who already get hugely preferential options) act in advance of the market, then… it’s not so much that it’s not fair, it’s that investors lose confidence in the enitre equities market. They feel that if others are acting on privilidged information, it’s not possible to compete – no matter how hard you analyse and whatnot, you might not get the full reward. It only needs to happen a few times before the game is rigged. Investors don’t need to play rigged games – there are always different ways of investing, be it securities of currency, who do play fair.

      • iucounu says:

        This is the point, yes. Public trading of shares in companies relies on the idea that the relevant information affecting the value of those shares is in the public domain, or it’s a market that is rigged in favour of people with inside information.

    • Haplo says:

      It’s as the Bitcher says. Insider trading is when someone makes trades in a company’s stock with the decision being based on nonpublic information.

      If the executives of Ubisoft had announced the delay first, -then- sold stocks, it would be fine. They would be working off the same information as everyone else.

      Because they sold the stocks first -then- announced the delay, they were able to sell the stocks for a higher price than they would’ve otherwise, based on nonpublic information- which means it disadvantages everyone else who doesn’t have that information.

      Insider trading can be harmless in some cases and there are arguments that it’s victimless. However, the general argument is that it makes the playing field uneven by privileging one group over another, which disrupts the market. It can also lead to manipulation especially in the hands of the most powerful members of a company- imagine if they sell stocks just before announcing something they know will hit the stock price (thus keeping more of their money than they otherwise would), then buying up stock when the price is at its nadir before announcing something they know will raise the stock- in essence, it can harm the company itself because its executives are using its processes to benefit themselves, sometimes at the expense of the company (especially if announcements are made purely to influence stock when they’re really infeasible).

      • Premium User Badge

        Ericusson says:

        There is also a whole component of the concept linked to the fact insider trading distorts the trading of PUBLICLY traded companies (whose stocks are freely traded on stock exchanges).
        When you buy stocks on these markets, you do not buy from anyone in particular but the stocks made available for sale as a whole and base your decision on publicly available information.

        To be honest, I would be full of shit trying to explain rules I do not exactly know anymore.
        But one can understand if a company’s stock is made public for trading (which is a huge source of financing for a company), then the principles of a free market supposes the information about these stocks be made public and available for all to decide the value and opportunity to buy/sell stocks of one company (hence the whole package of regulations around those companies).

        To say the crime is victimless is for me false : the buyers of a publicly traded stock which values goes down after some information is made public lost money on the trade.

        The potential for abuse is enormous and possibly damaging for the whole economy if everybody does it.

        One could say this is business. Then again the key is that if you go public with your stocks, some obligations are attached to this source of financing for maintaining a free effective market.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      “We are convinced that these team members did not intentionally commit any acts contrary to market regulations.”
      Sure. All 5 of them just happened to sell stock just before news came out that affected the stock price. It was all just a big coincidence.

    • sosolidshoe says:

      It’s quite simple really; all aspects of capitalist economics, including share markets, rely on what amounts to wilfull mass-delusion, on enough people believing everyone involved is operating on a roughly even playing field. Deep down everyone knows it’s bollocks, everyone knows that the idea capitalist economics is based on meritocratic principles is a farce, everyone knows that in the end those who already have power(ie wealth, which after the point that you no longer have any genuine needs or everyday wants, is functionally equivalent to power) use that power to circumvent the supposed-rules of the system.

      But, considering the lack of a whole-system alternative that works and the mix of rational and irrational policy positions that make up any given individual’s politics, most people prefer the blue pill version of reality where capitalism isn’t just a least-worst option filled with complex flaws that require complex solutions, but is instead a perfectly functional paragon of fairness where good old hard work and gumption can take anybody from the gutter to the boardroom if they really, actually want it.

      Stuff like insider trading makes that illusion harder to believe in, and so it’s necessary to wheel out a few sacrificial lambs every now and again for the public to savage, to preserve the pretence that the behaviour isn’t utterly rampant among market traders.

      • syndrome says:

        @sosolidshoes
        That’s a beautiful summary of current global affairs.

        My question is how does one overthrow the whole thing with just one idea that’s supposed to snowball in less than a decade, because I’m about to fully commit my life to it.

        I have a couple of theories. First I firmly believe we are ruled by majestically stupid and/or extremely ad-hoc people and/or malicious lizards. It doesn’t really matter which archnemesi one picks.

        Next, I believe the whole system is revolving around a set of feedback loops powered by fears of abandonment, isolation, and excommunication. All three are deep and rather volatile human emotions that emerge from “behaving” in a certain way that irreversibly damages one’s social/business status.

        Hey, but if our inner values are well founded, there’s no space for feelings of insecurity… Well except… Hmm. So it’s all designed in a such a way in that we don’t know who the enemy is, but we all wish for a deus ex machina finale.

        These anti-insider-trading measures are akin to what would a lizard senior do to a lizard junior for being too obviously greedy.

        “You can’t do that young Ashkazal, you have made our endeavors more obvious. You know the oath, and as a lesson, we shall make you less wealthy, for this is what hurts you the most.”

        I have certain experiences in life that lead me to believe in such things, for example 1) people behave increasingly weird the larger their company is (especially those in executive positions, they are lying for breakfast, with all the body language hallmarks and it’s obvious, which isn’t a natural human behavior, nor one a decent human strives for), 2) people in general are mighty confused since the 50’s turning clinical psychology into a lucrative commercial sector, which speaks volumes about the alien world we live in, 3) there is too much technology compared to an average human IQ, if everyone is so dependent on the system and afraid of the big changes then who is delivering all that novelty?

        Stupidity is glorified and made more powerful, therefore led and united. But by whom, if intelligence is shunned away at every instance, and we all know it deep down not to “act too smart” even if we are. Whenever we do this in a large organization, it leads to major but subtle problems with others.

        If we look at this from the Earth’s perspective, this ain’t natural. This ain’t natural at all.

        I’m not a believer in lizards per se, just for the sake of conspiracy, but just follow through my arguments, one by one. There’s something fishy going on, the reason why Trump is the president, the reason capitalism is going strong and we all know it’s poorly designed, unfit for human beings.

        There has to be a formula for an increase in awareness in human beings — and I mean those who are proactively thinking in terms of true human goals (preservation of nature and wildlife, preservation of other cultures and their creation, pursue of knowledge and deeper cosmic meanings, immaterial love, true connection, unified support), those who add value to anything they touch, those who care for all the affairs that deeply affect our soul — so that a complete overturn is possible in a decade or so.

        We all praise such values, yet obvious psychopaths are allowed to run amok, to wield abnormal power, to distort views, to clash people against people, manipulate reality.

        This is the worst struggle there has ever been, partly because so many people unknowingly work for the other side, out of fear.

        • April March says:

          I don’t think you need to resort to space lizards when there’s such an obvious and elegant solution in “a species that excels when living in 50-souls communities and using sticks and sharpened stones finds itself in charge of the entire world and technology capable of changing all of it’.

        • inspiredhandle says:

          This is almost my entire looping thought process on this matter. I like to think that humanity might one day break the cycle of paranoid hoarding of personal wealth and accumulation of power to protect said wealth, but we haven’t seen or imagined a system that can address the short comings of what we have seen so far.

          When will we invent the warp drive already so the Vulcans can come down and save our shitty planet?

  9. trashbat says:

    Their advent calendar giveaway escalated quickly, didn’t it. Yesterday it was a free wallpaper.

    • Titler says:

      Alas no; Assassins Creed 3 was also being given away with the Ubi-30 celebration, so if you knew that was active, the advent calender for that day actually gave you nothing…

  10. QuicksandJ says:

    It has been apparent for quite a while that Ubisoft is more about making money than decent games. I’m not the least bit surprised.

  11. notenome says:

    Question to the more lawyerly minded of us:

    The company (Ubisoft) has said that it will appeal the decision. But the company is not being punished, the executives are. Is this legal? Isn’t using Ubisoft’s resources and assets to defend the executives a misappropriation of company funds for personal benefit?

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