Last week, Unity announced David Helgason has stepped down as CEO with former EA man John Riccitiello stepping up to fill his shoes.
The news comes a week after Unity was forced to deny rumours it was looking to sell up. So, what exactly does the company have planned?
We asked our Mavens:
What will Riccitiello bring to the role and what do you think his appointment says about the direction of Unity in the months and years ahead?
This news hits at the same time as Newzoo is claiming mobile is about to become the largest games market.
I would propose, given the lack of curation in the mobile app stores and the resulting problems with discovery, that Unity could end up taking the role of a publisher. It could create an alternative game market on several platforms or simply support a co-promotion system within games.
Currently with F2P mobile games, most titles simply can't acquire players in a cost effective manner. Riccitiello could address that issue and Unity would profit from it. It already has the asset store for developers, which for some is their main source of income. This isn't a big stretch for Unity.
Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.
Well, I'm really excited about what John can bring to the table now that he's taking on the CEO role at Unity.
This move gives David the freedom to get back to strategic planning and community interaction.Oscar Clark
First, let's remember that David has done an amazing job driving the company forward until now, and realising the vision of the"democratisation of game development." Personally, I consider it a huge privilege to have joined the team during his time. This move gives David the freedom to get back to strategic planning and community interaction, which are the things he enjoyed the most about leading the company and where he feels he can have the biggest positive impact.
As for John, he's already been working with us for over a year, but stepping up his involvement merely means he can bring a whole bunch of new skills and opportunities with him.
It's not my place to surmise what John intends to do in the future, but what's important to me is that at the heart of it all, John shares the driving desire of empowering developers to make the best games they possibly can.
Unity has already started to expand its agenda of finding ways to help developers become more successful (hence its acquisition of Applifier, Tsugi, and Playnomics) and I'm sure John will work hard to execute that vision.
What's amazing to me is that the founders are still as involved as ever and the company has remained true to its original spirit/vision. We're just getting started!
I don't see John Riccitiello as a technology guy but that is what Unity needs. He knows the publisher business really well. As an outsider that didn't study his performance, my impression is that he didn't make a huge impact at EA. Although that could just be the nature of EA in that it's a huge behemoth that can't easily be turned in new directions.
I worked at EA for a project before Riccitiello became CEO and they have some serious infrastructure issues where there is a serious disconnect between management and the end developers. EA was too management heavy, highly political, threw bodies at problems, valued shipping on time over game quality and used acquisitions as a way to gain new technology. And once it gained that technology, it would force teams to use it whether it made sense or not. Then when the technology would eventually fail because of misuse, EA would shutter the acquired studio.
From my limited knowledge it seemed like Riccitiello understood these issues and made some strides to improve it but couldn't manage a complete turn-around.
This seems like a Stephen Elop-type situation where Riccitiello is being brought in to get Unity ready for an acquisition.Dave Castelnuovo
Now with Unity, I think there are different problems than with a game publisher. There needs to be a steady stream of technology improvements every single year and improved communication with developers in order to get what they need into their hands before their competition.
I've aso heard it many times among fellow developers that they wish Unity would develop REAL games in-house so that they understand what REAL developers need. It's possible that Riccitiello can bring this publishing aspect to Unity but that doesn't mean the problem will be solved. Just like with EA, just because you have publishing and technology teams doesn't mean that their goals are aligned and it doesn't mean they have proper communication. Unity would still need to change the direction of its technology team to SERVE game development instead of trying to lead it.
This is a tricky time for Unity - it used to have a lock on the non-triple-A engine market. Now you see the triple-A engines like Unreal and Crytek trying to make headway among indies. There isn't a more important time to double down on being the company that really hears what indies need.
My last thought is about what I think will happen. This seems like a Stephen Elop-type [Nokia] situation where Riccitiello is being brought in to get Unity ready for an acquisition. Maybe it's just a backup plan at this point and there is genuine interest in seeing if he can turn the company around but it feels like an acquisition is inevitable.
Riccitiello just doesn't have what Unity needs. 90 percent of his experience was at EA. God, what a disaster it would be if EA acquired Unity.
My take on this is that the Unity board are positioning the company to float at some time in the not too distant future. This is good news I feel.
Having Riccitiello at the helm (instead of in the background) brings top-flight experience of running a listed company in the games sector. Unity developers (those that care about the business behind the tech at least) are nervous about the company selling out. They have been there before (Renderware/EA!) and suffered from that experience.
Options for a trade sale would seem limited to acquirers that ‘wouldn't be so committed' to a cross-platform strategy (Apple? Google? Microsoft?) so if this does point towards a stock market float then I think developers that rely on Unity can begin to worry less.
I think Kevin is spot on.
I think it's a strong move from David and the team to position the company for the next phase.
David has done an incredible job building trust with the indie community, and with very, very few (if any) public missteps. I've never worked with the product or the team, but as an outsider looking at the PR and press, it's one of the best managed developer-focused startups I've seen.
Unity has been very successful in playing "the good guys".Thomas Nielsen
As I think history has shown, building a successful global operation takes a lot more than a good product and client trust. Unity has been very successful in playing “the good guys” with clients and competitors, and it has taken them far - but the next years are very likely going to be a lot more rough on the business side, regardless of whether the company is aiming to float or sell.
Riccitiello has served two times as the CEO of EA and came out of that alive. He's clearly someone who can lead, and also take more than his share of punches, from both the outside of the company, and inside.
I think he's a logical replacement to David, and if it frees David to put more of his focus on managing the way developers feel about and work with Unity, I'd say it's a brilliant move to prepare for what's next.