* EA sells 14.8 pct Ubisoft stake, cites strategy change
* Sells shares at 6.5-7 euros - Natixis
* Opens door to possible new investors - trader
(Adds Electronic Arts statement)
By Domininque Vidalon and Florent Le Quintrec
PARIS, July 16 (Reuters) - Electronic Arts ERTS.O, the world’s number-two video games maker, sold its stake in French rival Ubisoft (UBIP.PA), ending an uneasy relationship between the companies and possibly clearing the way for new investors.
The Redwood City, CA-based maker of games such as FIFA 10 and The SIMS 3, said on Friday it had decided to sell its stake because of a change in strategy.
The move comes six years after it bought a big chunk of Ubisoft, known for games such as “Avatar” and “Assassin’s Creed,” in a deal the French company at the time called unfriendly.
“Our strategic priorities have changed since our initial investment,” a spokeswoman for Electronic Arts Europe said in a statement. Electronic Arts had a stake of some 14.8 percent, or some 14 million shares, with a value of about 91 million euros.
In 2004, Electronic Arts bought a near 20 percent stake in Ubisoft, stoking speculation it might seek to control the whole company. The move forced Ubisoft to accelerate its expansion as it repeatedly insisted it had the means to remain independent.
“Negative at first glance, Electronic Arts was seen as a natural bidder for Ubisoft, though a lot of people had given up with this idea a long time ago,” said one Paris-based trader.
“On the other hand, it may open the door to new investors who were not willing to enter Ubisoft and try to shake up things as Electronic Arts owned already 15 percent (but was not doing anything with its stake),” he added.
According to Natixis analyst Richard Beaudoux, the shares are being sold at 6.5-7 euros. He said in a note that Electronic Arts bought its initial stake in 2004 at an estimated 4.5-4.75 euros.
A source close to Ubisoft said Electronic Arts had given UBS the mandate to sell its stake.
The Electronic Arts spokeswoman said: “We remain focused on growing our capability as a developer and distributor of online content and services,” adding the group maintained “the highest respect” for Ubisoft’s creative leaders and the management team.
Ubisoft was created in 1986 in Brittany by the five Guillemot brothers. As of May 2010, the Guillemot family owned 11.3 percent of the company.
Ubisoft, the world’s third-largest video games maker competes with Activision Blizzard (ATVI.O), which is “Guitar Hero” publisher and the world leader since the merger of Activision and Vivendi games (VIV.PA).
Ubisoft shares were down 1 percent at 6.898 euros by 1222 GMT, for a market value of around 680 million euros, following a 30 percent slide over the past year and a large loss for the year 2009-2010.
In May, Executive Chairman Yves Guillemot said this was due to the crisis but he expected a first-quarter sales rise in its financial year to end-March. First-quarter sales, reported on July 12, were up 93 percent.
Reporting by Florent Le Quintrec, Dominique Vidalon and Blaise Robinson, writing by Marcel Michelson; Editing by Erica Billingham