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Unity's John Riccitiello: The world would be a better place if there were more creators

The tech firm's CEO discusses China, artists, designers and education
Unity's John Riccitiello: The world would be a better place if there were more creators

Unity’s status as the mobile game engine of choice continues to strengthen each year.

At GDC 2017, CEO John Riccitiello revealed that mobile games harnessing the tech had been downloaded 16 billion times in 2016 – representing 31% growth from 2015.

He also claimed that Unity games now make up 38% of all mobile titles globally, while the number of devices these titles reached is thought to be 2.6 billion.

On top of that, he says 70% of all virtual reality and augmented reality projects are using the tech.

And with it last reported that the engine is harnessed by more than two million users, Unity’s vision of the democratisation has been met.

Making China accessible

But in a sense it’s a mission that can never be finished, and under Riccitiello the company is continuing down that road, while continuing to expand on exactly what that means.

Not resting on its laurels, Unity has made some major announcements in the last year, not least its partnership with Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Xiaomi.

The deal aims to help developers across the globe get through China’s strict licensing process to get their games released in the local market. Developers will also be able to monetise through both IAPs and Unity Ads, which is currently the only third-party ad network authorised within the Xiaomi store.


The news is a boon for Unity developers who may previously have looked at the Chinese market and baulked at the red tape they need to overcome to get a foot in the door.

“We’re removing a staggering amount of the complexity for what it takes to get there,” Riccitiello tells

“Larger companies can send out one of their army of a hundred BD people to go put together a deal, and even then it’s probably not as slick a solution as we’ve got in place now. I think it’s a pretty big deal.”

Technical hurdles

Riccitiello claims it’s a false judgement to suggest that the main barrier to entry in China is simply down to a fundamental cultural impediment between the West and Asia.

He sees it as a technical hurdle, rather than a cultural one, and it’s a belief based on the difficulty of penetrating the market from a physical barrier perspective.

“We’re removing a staggering amount of the complexity for what it takes to get in China.”
John Riccitiello

He highlights games in the past such as Battlefield, Medal of Honor, Need for Speed, FIFA and World of Warcraft as examples of games that haven proven successes in Asia, despite having a more ‘Western’ flavour.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t different cultural cues in China and Japan, there is in a way,” says Riccitiello, but adds that influences have also stretched across regions over the years, such as Street Fighter’s impact on fighting game design.

“Things move in both directions. I think we’ve seen, to my surprise actually, more penetration in Asia of Western titles than the other way around.”

Uniting professions

Another string to Unity’s bow announced during its GDC 2017 address was the new focus on artists and designers.

The company wants to make it easier for artists to use its engine, typically the realm of programmers, and has an upcoming slate of features that includes a new scriptable rendering pipeline, a smart camera system called Cinemachine and a track-based sequencing tool called Timeline.

Riccitiello claims it was never a real weakness for Unity, “it would be a bit like blaming a car for not flying”, he says. But it’s more a recognition of the issues artists and designers face, and is part of Unity’s goal of solving hard problems for development teams.

“Right now, the biggest problem as teams scale up is they’re hiring an infinitely larger number of artists and the specialisations are increasingly fine,” he says.

“Yet it’s still blood, sweat and tears, because the tools aren’t very good.”

Riccitiello isn’t criticising tools like Maya, Studio Max or Photoshop, but he’s referring to getting those assets into a game, animating them and dealing with other complexities such as lighting and level of detail in-game.


“In a weird sort of way, the programmer was the eye of the needle for the artist,” he says.

“Realistically, what the programmer wants is to be the canvas around which the greatest artists can express themselves, and yet there was still a constraint. We’re trying to do something that’s not been done before, which is remove that constraint.”

World of creators

The increased accessibility to China, an expansion in VR and AR, and addition of new features targeted at designers and artists come back to Unity’s focus on democratisation – at all levels of development.

“We’ve taken evolution as far as it can go, and we’re starting to attack revolution.”
John Riccitiello

“We’ve taken evolution as far as it can go, and we’re starting to attack revolution,” states Riccitiello.

The goal of democratisation is also a personal ambition of Riccitiello himself, having in the past set up GlassLab, which aims to use games to power the learning of key skills in the modern tech world.

And he’s keen to continue pursuing those goals with Unity to turn what he believes is a world of 999 content consumers for every one content creator, to one where most people can create technology.

“One of the things that I believe, and we’re investing heavily in education and the long arc of democratisation, is I think the world would be a better place - notwithstanding all the crap and politics in the world today - if there were just more creators,” he says.

“The argument I would have with my girls’ schools was, we don’t need to teach them to use Word, they kind of know it already it’s you guys that don’t know how to use it.

“We should teach them how a television signal works and how it’s reproduced on a device in your house, or we should teach them what runtime is, we should teach them how programming languages work, we should teach them to believe that they can create, they can be part of the revolution.”