In recent weeks, it has only taken three simple words to spark a fury in the hearts of game makers everywhere.
Unity. Runtime. Fee.
The announcement came in September that Unity would begin charging developers for each install of their games built on Unity - a decision that would have major implications for creators big and small. An immense backlash followed, with defiant game devs even banding together in a unified protest against the formerly much-loved toolmaker's plans.
Now, Unity’s nine-years-long CEO John Riccitiello is the former CEO, retiring from the company just one month shy of notching a remarkable 10 years on the board.
Effective immediately, Jim Whitehurst has stepped up to bat. But who exactly is Whitehurst? And how has a new CEO from a background largely outside the gaming industry got the job in the Unity hotseat?
Whitehurst; James Whitehurst
Stepping into this new interim role as Unity’s CEO, Whitehurst’s wide-ranging accomplishments already include CEO positions at Delta Air Lines and one of the most successful open source businesses in history, Red Hat. He has also served as VP and director of the Boston Consulting Group, and president at IBM. He was Red Hat’s chair of the board besides, and his various titles have seen him manage in Chicago, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Atlanta.
If that weren't enough, Whitehurst is also an advisor at private equity firm Silver Lake; so to say he is a smart choice on Unity’s part - when the phrase 'safe pair of hands' was never more needed - would appear to be something of an understatement.
And after proving his chops by virtue of his accomplishments thus far, his appointment as CEO without a gaming background speaks volumes to Unity’s vision - underscoring the company’s ambitions to not only be a game software development platform, but a platform that deals in digital visions for any manner of industries from automotive to the movie business.
Another candidate who could have quelled the storm would be Unity founder and another former CEO David Helgason, who spoke up on the company’s debacle last month to acknowledge that it "fucked up" with the Runtime Fee. His reputation and gravitas calmed the tirade tidal wave and pacified Unity's audience but it seems that Helgason either declined an offer to step back into the limelight in a peacemaker role further or simply wasn't asked.
Riccitiello has been known to use similarly emotive language in the past, calling certain developers "fucking idiots" in 2022. He weathered that storm - just - but evidently it seems that the Runtime Fee, and Unity's desire to pin it on a board member, has caught their own CEO out.
In reality it's unlikely that the Runtime Fee was Riccitiello’s plan, though it isn’t hard to see where the finger of blame now points. Either way we're certain that Riccitiello's contract will mean that he's not smarting too much in the aftermath, and predict his return to the centre stage elsewhere in the coming months.