Unity Engine CEO steps down; former EA CEO John Riccitiello steps up

David Helgason announced today that he is stepping down as CEO of Unity, makers of the Unity Engine game development tools. In the same statement, he announces his replacement.

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Unity Engine, one of the more popular game design tools around, is seeing some big changes to its team. CEO David Helgason announced today that he is stepping down as head of Unity. At the same time, John Riccitiello is stepping in to fill the role in his place.

Riccitiello has been in the games industry for a long time as both COO and CEO of Electronic Arts. He also played a role in funding and guiding startups like Oculus and Syntertainment. His experience and passion for Unity and its goal of "democratizing game development" makes him an ideal fit for leading the company into the future and growing its community.

As for Helgason, he isn't leaving the company. Instead, he'll be doing what he loves most: strategizing and connecting with developers. Together they are focused on making sure everyone has access to the best game development technology, services and tools. So, the future looks brighter than ever for Unity. 

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  • reply
    October 22, 2014 10:45 AM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Unity Engine CEO steps down; former EA CEO John Riccitiello steps up

    • reply
      October 22, 2014 10:49 AM

      In other news, ABANDON SHIP.

    • reply
      October 22, 2014 10:57 AM

      Insert SimCity and Frostbite jokes here.

      Seriously, Item 1 on John Ricitiello's PR agenda should be a stump speech on how he's going to be good for the continued success of the Unity engine as a platform. Also, I'd want to know if Elevation Partners (the private equity firm founded by Riccitiello, Roger McNamee, and Bono, which was responsible for installing Riccitiello as CEO of EA ( http://www.shacknews.com/article/45908/riccitiello-returns-to-lead-ea ), as well as leveraging the BioWare / Pandemic buyout ( http://www.shacknews.com/article/49412/ea-acquires-bioware-pandemic-for ).

      • reply
        October 22, 2014 11:02 AM

        Item 1 on his actual list is going to be sell to Ubi EA or Activision and GTFO

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        October 22, 2014 12:29 PM

        you've got an unclosed parenthesis (and an unfinished sentence). Like to know if Elevation Partners what?

      • reply
        October 22, 2014 12:36 PM

        honestly, i think he was around a lot of good things at EA around 06-09 that often fell fucking flat on their faces (ex. mirror's edge > great game! > sold badly, or "let maxis do whatever with spore" > WTF IS THIS). no idea how to tell what he had a hand in and what he didn't, i guess.

    • reply
      October 22, 2014 11:05 AM

      EA ruining yet something by proxy.

    • reply
      October 22, 2014 11:12 AM

      Yeah, not super thrilled about that after what he did to BioWare.

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        October 22, 2014 11:12 AM

        What did he do to Bioware?

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          October 22, 2014 11:20 AM

          You can find out for only $1.99 at https://www.origin.com/en-us/store/

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          October 22, 2014 11:24 AM

          Effectively raped the brand by renaming many of their subsidiaries to be "BioWare" under a new BioWare group. After Dragon Age II sucked, Mass Effect 3 got mired in controversy, and the founders of BioWare retired among other dumb incidents, EA realized it was pretty dumb. A number of studios closed or were renamed. The whole thing was just a travesty.

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            October 22, 2014 11:46 AM

            Pretty well this. He's the kind fo guy you hire if you want to sell. That's our theory. VCs were pressuring them to sell and they wouldn't so Helgason got the boot and now JR is in to get things ready for an exit.

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              October 22, 2014 11:58 AM

              JR will probably get a cushy board seat at whoever the buyer is, too. Everybody wins, as long as "everybody" is defined as the investors.

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                October 22, 2014 12:35 PM

                Yeah, we're kind of nervous as we've invested over a year of dev in Unity now.

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                  October 22, 2014 1:01 PM

                  I know it's probably the uncertainty that makes people nervous, but I don't understand how people think that Unity will suddenly screw their entire revenue stream. They're a company with significant revenues built around 3.3 registered users. It's not like they're going to suddenly say goodbye to all that revenue in favor of being a private proprietary engine or anything.

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                    October 22, 2014 1:35 PM

                    No, but they could change licensing models or mess with things in other ways.

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              October 22, 2014 3:46 PM

              The Stephen Elop of videogames.

          • reply
            October 22, 2014 11:56 AM

            I remember "BioWare Austin" (developer of SW:TOR), "BioWare Victory" (Command & Conquer Generals 2), and of course "BioWare Mythic".

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            October 22, 2014 12:25 PM

            Don't forget the Star Wars MMO. It destroyed the company.

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              October 22, 2014 1:05 PM

              I certainly don't want to whiteknight EA or Riccitiello, but that MMO brought in $165 million last year and EA stock is around a 5 year high. I would probably point more to actual tangible mistakes like the Bioware founders leaving and the fan disappointment behind ME3 and DA2.

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                October 22, 2014 1:08 PM

                Didn't that MMO cost $500 million to develop?

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                  October 22, 2014 1:14 PM

                  Any of the reported numbers about its development budget were educated guesses by analysts. The only remotely official hint was when Riccitiello said it would start turning a profit after 500k subscribers, but it's unclear what accounting voodoo has to be done to arrive at that number.

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                  October 22, 2014 1:34 PM

                  That's probably what they plan on spending on it over a period like a decade including development time. Also a good chunk is marketing, licensing, and the game has a ton of voice over work. But those estimated generally are inflated. Look at what Destiny, people said the same thing as well about its budget being $500 Million.

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                    October 22, 2014 1:36 PM

                    Money still has to come from somewhere. Hundreds and hundreds of people worked on that game for over 5 years. That's not cheap.

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                October 22, 2014 2:15 PM

                I was referring to Bioware, not EA. Between the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy and the poor performance of TOR, one of the doctors left the studio. we'll see if Dragon Age 3 gets them back on track but it could be argued (by me) that Bioware hasn't made a good game in many years.

                Dragon Age 2 was fucking awful.
                Mass Effect 3 was great until the final hour, then it wrecked the series. It retroactively made the previous games worse. That takes a special effort.
                The Old Republic was so overbudget and behind schedule that Bioware had all of their best writers working on it. That helps explain why DA2 and ME3 were so terrible, but its no excuse.

                I blame EA for the destruction of Bioware. EA is doing great and it always will.

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                  October 22, 2014 2:18 PM

                  That is a much better argument, but still, "destroyed" is the wrong word. Despite a poor DA2, they are about to release a much bigger DA3 and they're working on another Mass Effect game. That is the opposite of destroyed.

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                    October 22, 2014 3:24 PM

                    Their reputation as one of the leading developers of thoughtful, intelligent AAA games has been irreparably tarnished.

                    • reply
                      October 22, 2014 3:30 PM

                      Most definitely, but gamers are fickle both ways. If Dragon Age 3 is anything like what has been promised, gamers will be right back with them.

    • reply
      October 22, 2014 11:18 AM

      Rip unity

    • reply
      October 22, 2014 11:22 AM

      Is there any public info on their financial situation?

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        October 22, 2014 12:22 PM

        No, just rumors that they are talking to buyers.

    • reply
      October 22, 2014 12:11 PM

      NNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I think I would have preferred if they were outright bought :(

    • reply
      October 22, 2014 12:17 PM

      This sounds like great news for Epic.

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        October 22, 2014 12:21 PM

        I wish they'd add C# scripting to UE4 and use some type of IL2CPP technology. Probably won't happen, but I'd really, really like to stick with C# if at all possible.

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          October 22, 2014 12:24 PM

          same here. you have to think they are researching it and implementing please please oh god please

        • reply
          October 22, 2014 12:31 PM

          Is there some form of asset store for UE4? I use it constantly for Unity

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            October 22, 2014 12:35 PM

            They have it, but the content is pretty thin.

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              October 22, 2014 1:18 PM

              I think that's just because it only been around for a couple of months. I don't see any reason why it couldn't be just as vibrant as for Unity.

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                October 22, 2014 1:31 PM

                The reason would be that Unity has a much larger userbase and since Unity is typically used for smaller less intensive projects, the types of assets on their store are much less complicated to make.

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                  October 22, 2014 1:38 PM

                  Not really. Making a textured model takes the same amount of work regardless of the engine. Programming is another story, if you dive into source code then yeah UE is going to be more complicated.

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                    October 22, 2014 1:48 PM

                    While both engines are capable of doing many things, Unity is generally used as a mobile engine and Unreal 4 is generally used as a next-gen PC/console engine. Even a cursory look at the complexity of assets on Unity's store versus Unreal's store shows a large difference.

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                      October 22, 2014 2:02 PM

                      There are tons of Unity based PC games. Yes, they are in the indie category, but Unity is not mostly mobile. Also, I am not sure how you arrived at your final statement.

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                        October 22, 2014 2:10 PM

                        From their website http://unity3d.com/public-relations
                        Unity dominates 3D mobile games
                        In every major market in the world, an overwhelming majority of the top-grossing 3D mobile games made with third party tools are made using Unity.

                        This also concurs with most of the businesses I talk to about it. But to be fair, your point is probably true that the people who use Unity on the PC are indie.

                        My other statement. For example, here is the top grossing model package on the store right now. It is fairly low poly and low production value and not meant for a next-gen game.
                        https://www.assetstore.unity3d.com/en/#!/content/5730

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                          October 22, 2014 3:18 PM

                          None of the data on that page contradicts what I said. Unity didn't start as a mobile platform and it's still got deep roots in the indie PC/Mac space. Also, I have no idea what businesses you are talking to, but being big in mobile doesn't preclude a huge market in desktop gaming. Unreal still trumps them in the console world because it had a pretty strong foothold there for a long time. Lastly, are you really cherry picking a model pack to try to say that Unreal has more complex assets? Nothing stopping you from making high poly (and there are) models for Unity as well. Lower poly sells because it's cheaper to make and gives you a lower spec for your minimum.

                          • reply
                            October 22, 2014 3:28 PM

                            I would think that only serving small indies on the PC/console platform is what precludes having a huge market in desktop gaming. But yes, I would like to see actual breakdown of where their revenue comes from and they do not provide that explicitly.

                            In regards to complex asset, I can't very well link you the entire site, so I chose one example that is their best seller. Have you yourself spent much time trying to get high spec models on the Unity asset store? I have, and it was quite difficult to find anything production-capable. I don't think that is really a knock on the store itself. It just isn't where most of its userbase is. Nothing wrong with that. But that was my point.

                            What do you do? You sound like an industry person.

                            • reply
                              October 22, 2014 4:24 PM

                              I'm an audio director and have been in games for 15 years and have been working on a Unity game for a little over a year now. Have also worked on UE3 titles in the past.

                • reply
                  October 22, 2014 1:59 PM

                  Nah, he's right. It's just the newness.

              • reply
                October 22, 2014 1:33 PM

                I am sure it could, but they have to have the customer base and Unity has built that over the last 5 years. It will take a while.

        • reply
          October 22, 2014 12:59 PM

          God no. The number one issue with Unity is that it's using C#. It's easy to get started with, but then you spend the last six months having to rewrite everything to avoid the GC.

          UE4 has a custom GC for a small subset of allocations, but at least it's not everywhere.

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            October 22, 2014 1:28 PM

            yea you need to develop with the GC in mind from the start if your app instantiate a lot of stuff on the fly. But for example for my unity game it wasnt even a concern since it's not very intensive.

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          October 22, 2014 3:10 PM

          You aren't the only person I've heard who preferred Unity because of C#.

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            October 22, 2014 3:21 PM

            Our team likes it because it's WAY better than UnrealScript. Less of an issue with UE4 of course.

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              October 22, 2014 3:36 PM

              Or rather not an issue whatsoever with UE4: there's no UnrealScript and there are now bindings for C# if you're more comfortable with C# than C++.

              • reply
                October 22, 2014 4:23 PM

                I never checked. Have they totally abandoned Uscript?

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                  October 22, 2014 4:28 PM

                  Yeah.

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                  October 22, 2014 4:50 PM

                  Yep, and it's pretty rad. Their primary target is C++ with their GUI builder tool Blueprint for the not so code inclined. Recently they released bindings for C# so that's now officially supported as well.

    • reply
      October 22, 2014 12:39 PM

      hm. they grabbed RenderWare with Criterion back in 2004 - did they actively screw it up with that one?

      • reply
        October 22, 2014 1:55 PM

        RenderWare was pretty long in the tooth when they bought it and no publisher in their right mind would want to line their competitors pockets by licensing ther toolset, so it pretty much died very quickly.

        They did say they were going to use it heavily for their own projects, but I think the cost to get it up to a fit state for future titles was just far too much. Was easier for them to just shit out Burnout sequels.

        • reply
          October 22, 2014 2:07 PM

          they didn't though, did they? after they bought criterion as burnout 3 came out, there was:

          burnout legends, 1 year later

          burnout paradise, 4 years later. and i'd find it pretty tough for somebody to complain about this game, it's one of the 'Good Things' that i think EA did!

          • reply
            October 23, 2014 5:40 AM

            They pretty much owned them when Burnout Takedown came out, which EA then re-released on the 360 with a bunch of shirty changes.

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