OCT. 23, 2014 • Former CEO of Electronics Arts, John Riccitiello, has joined Unity Technologies as CEO. Riccitiello has been a board member at the game engine firm since 2013. Unity co-founder David Helgason is stepping down from the executive position. According to Helgason, Riccitiello has been devoting many more hours than most board members working with management, which has permitted Helgason to dedicate more attention to engine design work. After the announcement Helgason said running Unity at the scale it has become was something he did not enjoy. One of the primary reasons Helgason wanted Riccitiello to become CEO is that the former EA chief has experience running large companies. Moving forward Helgason intends to continue applying himself to technology and working closely with the development community.
Impact: Helgason is a friendly, sometimes quirky individual who is much loved in the development community. The Unity3D engine has been seeded to all major platforms and the technology has made it possible for developers to create high-quality cross-platform versions of games. But where Unity made its big mark was by making the browser a viable platform for core game content. Unity claims that it now has a 45% market share in the global game engine business. The company’s high standing in the development community is one reason why there is some concern about Riccitiello taking the reins. The spectre of Electronic Arts is often met with scorn by independent developers who dislike the company’s acquisition history. In this case, however, there have been regular rumors that the privately held Unity is in play to be sold and Riccitiello’s prior experience running venture capital firm Elevation Partners is seen as a red flag. Helgason’s retort is that there is a vision for the company that Riccitiello has been applying himself to for the last year, and little will change other than better execution at releasing new code. Whether that vision includes selling off the company for a large sum of money, remains to be seen. Unity has grown into a significant industry player, and with scale often comes intense management responsibilities. It is obvious that after more of a decade heading Unity that Helgason wants to concentrate on aspects of the business he enjoys. This is not uncommon as was the case with Bill Gates at Microsoft Corp. Riccitiello’s experience at one of the primary third-party video game publishers is a positive from a business perspective at a major game tools company. Furthermore Riccitiello is known as a dealmaker working to have Electronic Arts acquire PopCap, PlayFish and his own Elevation Partners. Riccitiello gets a bad rap for his second stint at EA but it was almost a no-win situation. Revenue was flat when he took over, and grew during his tenure, but profits took a hit thanks to expensive acquisitions he led and his efforts to push the publisher into digital distribution. Unity is in a much different market position relative to its side of the industry and there are not the same kind of challenges that Riccitiello faced at EA. If Helgason is indeed freed up to help push out more updates to the Unity engine, then getting a new CEO who he already is comfortable with makes sense at face value. But like everything else the devil is in the details and we will have to wait and see what happens at Unity in the coming months.