Things are going down at one of the biggest game-development technology companies.
Unity chief executive officer David Helgason is stepping aside to let former Electronic Arts chief John Riccitiello take over that job. Unity is a technology company that makes game-creation tools for developers. The engine makes it easy for studios to build one game that they can quickly release on nearly every platform. That includes new-gen consoles like PlayStation 4 as well as smartphones and tablets.
“[Riccitiello] is the right person to help guide the company to the mission that we set out for ourselves over a decade ago: democratize game development,” Helgason wrote on the Unity blog.
Today’s Unity announcement comes a few weeks after widely reported rumors that Unity was looking for a buyer. Companies like Google were mentioned as potentially acquiring the technology company. Since those rumors surfaced, Unity has announced that it is not up for sale.
With Riccitiello taking over the top job at Unity, Helgason announced that he’s going to get back to what he enjoys doing.
“I will be heavily involved in the company’s direction,” Helgason wrote. “And I will focus my efforts on finding the best ways to serve all of you amazing developers, all while working with some insanely talented people here at Unity.”
Helgason went on to say that not much will change for Unity.
“John completely agrees with our vision and our strategy,” wrote Helgason. “If anything, it means that we’ll be more focused than ever about making sure everyone has access to the best technology and services.”
Riccitiello is a long-time veteran of the games industry. Most famously, he served as chief executive officer of Electronic Arts from 2007 to 2013. He stepped down from that role after taking responsibility for the publisher missing its earnings expectations for several quarters in a row. Prior to that, Riccitiello worked at a private equity capital fund. The new Unity CEO originally got his start in the games business at EA back in 1997. He started on the executive team as chief operating officer, and he oversaw a period when EA became the world’s largest publisher of games. He left that post in 2004.
Most recently, Riccitiello has worked as a consultant for companies like Unity.
Helgason founded Unity Technologies in 2004 along with his partners Nicholas Francis and Joachim Ante. They started the company as a game developer, but the first game from Unity, GooBall, was a failure. The team came to a realization during development that game creators had a need for easy-to-use engines and tools. That led Helgason and the rest of Unity to shift its resources toward making the Unity game-development software kit.
While Epic Games captured a ton of business and made a lot of money with its Unreal Engine during the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era of consoles, Unity separated itself by targeting independent developers. Major companies like Electronic Arts used Unreal to build their games. Meanwhile, estimates suggest that more than half of all developers working on mobile games now use Unity.
By targeting smaller teams, Unity positioned itself well for the current generation of console hardware. Fewer publishers are interested in licensing technology. Today, EA, Bethesda, and some other big game houses have switched all of their internal development to their own proprietary engines. This has Epic Games now looking to target the indie scene, which Unity has largely dominated in recent years.
Today, Unity is a big deal.
“There are all kinds of ways to measure our business,” Helgason told GamesBeat in May. “We have a tool that can develop for pretty much every platform that matters, and some that don’t matter to everyone. In the last month, 630,000 developers used our platform to develop for something like 9 million hours.”
That 630,000 developers is up from 300,000 in 2012.
“We’ve doubled in a year and a half,” he said. “We can’t really keep track of the number of games, but we know it’s at least 10,000. We think it’s a lot more.”
Unity’s popularity enables it to make money from a few different resources. First, the company sells Unity Pro licenses to developers. This enables creators to build a game in Unity and then sell it commercially. Once people are into the software building a game, they can go into the Unity asset store to purchase items and things that other people have built. Helgason’s company takes a 30 percent cut of that.
Finally, Unity also makes massive deals with platform holders like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo that enables independent developers to get Unity Pro for free.