Business: Former EA CEO Riccitiello Now Unity CEO

He's very insistent that he wear this mask as 'the new face of the company.'

Thursday is, as ever, Business Thursday here at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. We’re wearing ties, playing Footsie, and folding that pretty pink newspaper into paper planes. It’s 12 o’clock, which means it’s now time for the RPS #business#noonblast brought to you by Millson’s Tie Clip Polish. Millson’s! Don’t let tarnish tarnish your reputation.

Business is afoot at engine makers Unity. Co-founder David Helgason has stepped down as CEO, and up has jumped former Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello. He’d already been on the Unity board for a year, and an insider tells me his appointment comes after nailing a sikk nollie 720 gazelle nerdflip. “What does this mean for Unity?” Helgason asks rhetorically. “Not too much …”

“… John completely agrees with our vision and our strategy,” he said in the announcement. “If anything it means that we’ll be more focused than ever about making sure everyone has access to the best technology and services.”

Riccitiello was EA president from 1997 through 2004, then returned as CEO from 2007 to 2013. That second stretch saw EA through changing times, with the digital distribution really taking off, panic over second-hand sales on consoles, and some odd experiments with DLC. Business occurred, and it led to The Ballad of John Riccitiello.

Helgason added, “It means I get to get back to doing what I love the most about working at Unity: strategy, and connecting with developers.” Lucky chap.

But what about those rumours of Unity looking to sell that we heard from Ian Video Games a few weeks back? A #business-savvy chap like Riccitiello might be being brought in to chart a course towards Sale Island, or it could simply be to do good #business things.

That Ian I tell you, he’s hardly got the best hearing, not since his barney with Barney Bigby on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps he misoverheard pub chatter about John Riccitiello as “G’wan really let’s sell-o!”

55 Comments

  1. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I look forward to the day he collaborates with Don Mattrick, Donald Trump and Karl Rove.

    For Armageddon.

    I’m saying they’re the four horsemen. Of the apocalypse. I’m here all week.

  2. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    Oh dear.

    One way to spot a company is in major decline? When the board is so insular and out of touch that they hire a new CEO who is already despised by much of their clientele.

    Matrick for Zynga and now Riccitiello for Unity.

    Next up, satan spotted going for his medical at the Holy See.

    • Monggerel says:

      Lucifer burns for g-o-d’s sins
      .
      These guys are just shit tho.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      EA is hated by certain types of players. But Unity’s clients aren’t players, they are devs. Do *devs* hate Riccitello? I think that’s a much more complicated question. I mean, for example many players hate stuff like F2P and dislike DLC, but to devs these can be a healthy boost to revenue and keep them afloat.

      EA’s issues were more based on its position on the market, as far as I am concerned, as one of the biggest fish in the pond, that was being challenge by new technology and new competitors. I wish Riccitello and Unity the best of luck.

      • satan says:

        “Do *devs* hate Riccitello?”

        Sounds like a challenge =P

      • Astroman says:

        Yes, devs do hate Riccitiello.

        It’s a well known fact that he profited off the closure of Pandemic Studios. He’s also a leading supporter of the outsourcing that decimated the US game industry..

        link to escapistmagazine.com

        • bj says:

          A well-known fact which is neither true nor suggested in the article you linked to.

          Did you even read it? A game developer who Riccitiello had just laid off was defending him, and it was an analyst who was being critical while pandering to shareholders.

          But whatever, he’s gone now, so we’re back to highly polished releases like Battlefield 4 and great value for money like the Dungeon Keeper mobile game, right?

    • SAM-site says:

      You think that gamers are Unity’s clientele? Intriguing.

      I’d humbly suggest that their customers are game developers.

      • drahill says:

        Didn’t realise devs and gamers were mutually exclusive. A lot of devs like myself were drawn to it from a love of gaming.

        • SAM-site says:

          Didn’t suggest they were, but as a dev surely you select an engine based on its capabilities from a developmental and commercial perspective first, with concerns vis a vis whether you like the man hired to make a company profitable somewhat lower down the list.

  3. Lobotomist says:

    This is almost worse than sale rumors last week.

    From outside it looked like Unity is winning “development platform” war , quickly becoming (indie) game development standard… But I guess the financial reality was different.

    Whatever is ahead for Unity , its not likely to be good or popular with its user base consisting mostly from indie developers.

    • Czrly says:

      A week ago, I chose to begin researching the Unreal Engine, spurning Unity. I believe I chose correctly!

      One must always remember that, in the corporate world, a CEO is hired to build the wealth of the share holders. This is their sole responsibility. The wealth of the wealthy is anathema to the Indie community.

  4. Malfeas says:

    Well, it was good while it lasted. It had to end someday and in some way.

  5. TechnicalBen says:

    Well, this type of takeover worked out well for Nokia…

    • rustybroomhandle says:

      Don’t even joke. We’re going to find out in three years that he was still on EA’s payroll and it was explicitly stated in his contract that he must bring down Unity’s value just enough for big daddy to swoop in and buy it.

      • Cinek says:

        It’ll be most likely something more similar to “must make Unity games more friendly to the EA principles” than anything you say – though the result will be the same.

  6. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Now Unity moves to completely free*

    *tools are free but to use them you need to have compute-credits, for example compiling a project for windows is 5 compute credits. Compute-credits are $9.95 each and are sold in bundles of 96.5.

    • Baines says:

      Unity already introduced the Asset store, where you could choose to grind away making your own shiny new wheels, or just pay money to buy someone else’s wheels.

      The thing that annoyed me was that the introduction of the Assets Store turned the answers to some coding questions into “Buy X from the Assets Store”.

  7. Malfeas says:

    From the announcement comments:

    “David Helgason

    October 23, 2014 at 12:23 pm / Reply

    The story of John at EA is a lot more nuanced than what the internets hold, and the people who were close to him there loved working with him and think very highly of him. But more importantly, he’s now working with us, and has ~499 colleagues who care too much about Unity to want to change things for the worse in any way.”

    I guess we’ll just have to see. We may be overreacting. At least I believe that they believe this.

    • Cinek says:

      Difference is that CEO got a lot of say in business decisions, while his ~499 colleges got next to nothing.

      • buzzmong says:

        Yes, but Unity Technologies is still privately owned by Helgason and other cofounders as far as I can see, so if he tries to take them in the wrong direction, they can just boot him.

        It’s going to be an interesting dyanmic on the company structure though, as the ceo technically works for the owners, who due to taking up other roles, are now under him in the corporate structure.

        • Cinek says:

          Truth is that we know nothing about the contract details, so can’t tell a thing for sure, but usually booting a CEO like that, especially with a ties in a large corporation, isn’t as simple as giving “wrong direction” as a reason for kicking him out. Even more so if he secured very nice paycheck upon breaking the contract – which is a standard practice.

    • derbefrier says:

      The. Internet overreacting? Impossible!

    • bv728 says:

      Acquaintances who worked at EA had nothing but good things to say about Riccitiello – that he was dedicated to original IP even if it couldn’t be milked yearly and argued against more abusive IAP. The current guy there, according to gossip, was going out of his way to sabotage Riccitiello on a number of occasions, and was basically the source of all evil over there.

  8. Crimsoneer says:

    OH MAH GADS, SURELY THIS IS THE END OF UNITY AS WE KNOW IT.

    Jesus, calm down people. He’s been on the board for awhile, and was at EA during their “good” years when they introduced some great new IPs like Mirror’s Edge and Deadspace.

    • Arathorn says:

      Well Riccitiello’s tenure at Elevation Partners (who bought Bioware and then sold it to EA in the same year Riccitiello became EA’s CEO) was the end of Bioware as we knew it. So I’d rather not see him in charge of nice independent companies.

    • Cinek says:

      “was at EA during their “good” years” – you remember different EA than I do. Just to remind you – what forced him to step down from EA CEO position was the SimCity disaster.

      • bv728 says:

        As always, semi-anon source, grains of salt, but: the way the EA Silos worked meant that EA Corporate had limited direct influence over Maxis RE: Game design. Maxis decided to do always online, and EA could have said no, but it was Maxis’s decision to pitch always online to EA. They had a feature set list that convinced EA it was a good idea, 90% of which was dropped during development.

        So where does EA’s blame lie? Well, after Maxis had already built a bunch of the always online features and infrastructure but dropped core features around them, they were too close to ship to pull those elements and make their ship date. And EA wasn’t going to budge on that date as late as this realization came. So they could have delayed it to get offline working, but their need to show the income as planned meant the game was pushed out in that state. Plus they did TERRIBLE PR around that decision, for whatever reason.

        • Cinek says:

          I guess you refer to this interview: link to gamesindustry.biz – truth is that noone knows which parts of this are truth and which are not, especially when all these statements are handed over by one of the guys responsible for a company image. None the less – SimCity wasn’t a failure on a PR level alone, it wasn’t a failure on a multiplayer or DRM level alone (like the guy suggests in an interview), but it was a failure on every single step – from lazy development practices, bad management, gameplay mechanics, through the level of simulation, false advertisement, very bad customer support, low quality (and oddly late) patches, greedy DLC polices, and so on, and so on.
          In no way it’s something that can be blamed on Maxis as you seem to be trying to.

          • bv728 says:

            I’m referring to private discussions with several people who worked in the EA silo during development, actually, but I definitely wasn’t trying to blame Maxis so much as point out how the whole situation was an octopus doing battle with itself (One of those EA Silo folks described the whole corporate empire using that analogy, and it’s stuck with me)-
            Maxis sells always online to EA with features they pull later as overly ambitious, which happens all the time at all levels of software development.
            EA declines to give them time to pivot the product after the feature revision so they have to ship with the half-constructed always online component, which again happens all the time at all levels of software development.
            Both EA and Maxis trip and falls down an endless staircase on the PR.

            So there’s a lot of fault, and none of it is exceptional, just normal software development issues put under a powerful microscope.

  9. Lanfranc says:

    Serious #business.

  10. tumbleworld says:

    Hm. Hmmmm.

  11. Laurentius says:

    The chances of something good coming out of this are close to zero imo.

  12. slerbal says:

    It took Unity 6 days to issue a denial of the rumour of a sale. I would imagine that was them unofficially “floating the idea” and seeing how it played out before officially denying it. This change of CEO does sound like positioning the company for a sale. Riccitiello might not be liked by gamers, but I guess for Unity he has some kind of financial market weight that will either make them more saleable or better able to raise investment.

    Frankly I think they are wrong, but that is just my opinion. Dancing the tune of the stock market never works out well for companies with long term projects, given that the average period of share ownership these days is 2 days… The stock market only cares about what you are doing today or tomorrow and will happily sacrifice long term viability for short term gain.

  13. Fitzmogwai says:

    I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

  14. Banks says:

    Oh god why.

  15. Leroy says:

    Finally created an account here to give my two cents.

    There seems to be a lot of hate for what this guy has turned games into. Note that by working for Unity he will be working with developers instead of players. He will be catering for developers of all calibre, from Mike Bithell to Rovio Games… as Unity already does. Mike Bithell (simply using him as an example of a nice guy, who hasn’t yet used IAP in games) has already had the chance to use IAP. Rovio Games has already integrated IAP in their Unity games (as have Activision Blizzard).

    Unity will not benefit from IAP as much as a developer would. Unity would not be getting a cut from those profits. However, they have already announced (at Unite 2014) that they are developed more ‘social’ platforms for developers to use. This most certainly involves allowing developers to easily installing IAPs into their products.
    Unity products will be able to use IAP more easily, we will see more products using them. However, that is always up to the developer.

    I also quite liked the note from David Helgasson regarding comments/jokes about Unity going Free-to-Develop or ruining games. (Paraphrasing) If Unity goes F2P because of John’s previous work, why would it not cost $1.23 because John’s previous work also includes being CEO at Pepsi.

    Hopefully this will make Unity a more competitive product and it won’t run it into the ground or utterly beat competition. We need healthy competition.

  16. xfstef says:

    Unity CEO is now a proven greedy capitalist bastard ? Sale confirmed and don’t expect the engine to have better updates and lower prices afterwards.

    In a way (as an indie developer who is making his own engine) I find this good. The games industry has made it its personal crusade to bring more people into developing games faster and with lesser effort. That sounds good but really isn’t. It is because of this engine “boom” that we’ve experienced lately a lot more completely unfinished and unplayable games coming onto the market. It is because of the engine boom that we have early access and half assed kickstarters. Not every hipster with an idea and a macbook should make a game, especially if he has close to no programming knowledge / experience.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      Or indeed it could be the case that access to engines for all allows creatives to create wonderful games we’d never have seen otherwise.

      Elitism doesn’t have a great history.

      • xfstef says:

        I have nothing against creative people being creative with their creativity … my wording might have been hard around the edges so allow me to rephrase my opinion:

        It takes a lot more than a computer, an idea and a seemingly easy to use engine to actually make a game that is playable.
        Although I don’t like the name myself, they don’t call it a game “industry” for nothing. Behind every successful project there are hundreds of hours of designing, planning, testing, bug fixing, etc. In recent years we’ve seen a lot more games come out, especially in “pre alpha”, “early access”, “open alpha”, “open beta”, “gama ray epsilon Charlie Runkle” format, most of which have only managed to lower the expectations of the gaming community while still asking for lots of money (sometimes pretending it’s some sort of privilege for people to pay in order to bug test an unfinished product).

        A lot of these practices are predatory in my opinion and although the intentions of their creators may be good, their affects have done little more than tarnish the reputation of all indie developers.

        I know that I sound arrogant and defying towards the little guys (although I myself am one) but what some may see as Elitism I regard as upholding certain standards.

      • Raiyne says:

        The worry of market oversaturation is certainly valid, though. Just look at the music industry. We all have limited time to devote to our hobbies, and if there’s too much crap to wade through to discover anything new, then everyone loses out in some way. I wonder if the issue will work it self out over time, as perhaps after seeing a generation of artists fail to capture an audience, the following generation might establish a higher threshold for quality content in response.

    • Premium User Badge

      JiminyJickers says:

      Not every hipster with an idea and a macbook should make a game, especially if he has close to no programming knowledge / experience.

      Why not? Someone making a game that is crappy doesn’t diminish someone making one that is good. How will they learn to get better?

      This is like saying that someone should not be allowed to draw a cartoon and post it online unless they are a expert artist. Sorry, but that is absurd.

      • xfstef says:

        “Make a game” in the context of also asking for money through some means of commercialization (crowdfunding, early access, …).
        If you are an amateur who finally decided to make a game, do it, not problem, but don’t expect people to shower you with money. You’ll probably need to develop a couple of tech demos / mods for free before you can go further and actually ask for money.

  17. Michael Fogg says:

    I got my main man Richie T… he’s like the top monkey in the tree…

  18. Shardz says:

    This is the worst news I have heard in a long time. I wonder what the poor shareholders are thinking about this move. What? Robert Kotick wasn’t available? We know the Paranautical Activity guy is free…how about him? I can already anticipate a Pay-To-Develop model for Unity where you pay them $1 per day to activate the client. Oh, My!

  19. Stellar Duck says:

    I… kinda like John Riccitiello?

    Yea, I do.

    He was at the helm when EA made Mirror’s Edge, Dead Space, Brütal Legend, Burnout Paradise, Mass Effect (the good one), Skate, Alice: Madness Returns and some more stuff.