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Unity’s CEO is out, but that still may not be enough for developers

Unity’s CEO is out, but that still may not be enough for developers

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Though some developers were calling for John Riccitiello to step down, now that he has, it might not be enough to improve developer sentiment toward the company.

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Photo illustration of the Unity logo with cash falling in the background.
Illustration by Cath Virginia / The Verge

Unity’s CEO is out, but that may not matter for game developers frustrated with the company.

John Riccitiello has announced he is retiring from his role as the CEO of beleaguered game engine software company Unity. Riccitiello, who previously held the top job at Electronic Arts when it was voted the worst company in America and had some controversial ideas about game monetization, will retire as CEO effective immediately but remain as a Unity employee until April 2024.

Earlier last month, Unity announced it would change its pricing model, making developers pay for games on a per-install basis once certain revenue and download thresholds were met. When the initial price changes were announced, developers reacted angrily, condemning the changes that they believed would financially imperil, if not outright bankrupt, the smaller indie developers who primarily use the engine.

Among calls for Unity to reverse these changes, which it now has, introducing a new 2.5 percent revenue share, some developers also wanted Riccitiello to be fired since he, as the company’s CEO, had become the face of the wildly unpopular pricing changes. Now that he’s leaving the company and in combination with the newer pricing terms, developers seem temporarily appeased. But sentiment toward Unity hasn’t monumentally shifted to positive, as many still simply do not trust the company and are still looking at alternative game engines.

“Is it good that Riccitiello is leaving? Yes,” said Brandon Sheffield, director of Necrosoft Games, who penned one of the first screeds condemning Unity’s initial price changes. “But do I trust that Unity will never do another rug-pull on pricing? No.”

Reaction on the Unity forums to Riccitiello’s departure was mixed. Some lauded the decision as a good first step toward restoring trust, while others saw the move as a way to appease shareholders and not Unity’s customers. Indeed, Unity’s stock price has fallen significantly since the pricing change announcement, and according to company filings, Unity has not been profitable.

“I mean, all good and dandy, but Unity is still a public company and main goal is to make shareholders happy, not the game devs,” wrote a user on Unity’s forums. “So I still will hold my optimism about this decision.”

Xalavier Nelson Jr., head of El Paso Elsewhere developer Strange Scaffold, agreed that it largely doesn’t matter who leads the company so long as the people who allowed such decisions to be made are still in place.

“Whatever failings Unity’s former CEO might’ve had, he answers to a board and shareholders who motivate, dictate, and authorize his actions — and they are still around in his absence,” he told The Verge. “Anyone celebrating the fact that Riccitello stepped down as an indicator of the company’s future actions still has to reckon with that.”

When the initial price changes were announced, a consortium of largely European mobile developers organized a kind of boycott of Unity, turning off Unity-controlled monetization for their games.

“It’s hard to call this decision the only right one. Right now we want to find a way that is right for both the industry and the company,” said Nikita Guk, an official representative of the movement and CEO of PR firm GIMZ. “We look forward and hope that the next CEO of Unity not only appreciates, but also fully understands the important bond between developers and Unity.”

The Verge has also reached out to several other studios who put out public statements condemning Unity, including Aggo Crab, Mega Crit, and Innersloth, to see if any are reconsidering their stance on the engine in light of these changes.

For some developers, though, moving away from Unity was never going to be feasible, and they are glad of the changes.

“We were never going to not use Unity,” said Dani Lalonders, creator of ValiDate: Struggling Singles in your Area. “A lot of us don’t have the resources to port to a new engine.”

These new changes don’t go into effect until a new version of Unity is released sometime in 2024 and only if developers adopt that version of the engine. It also will only impact developers making at least $1 million with 1 million downloads. Though these changes will impact a smaller number of developers and protect currently released games and projects in development, for some, it was never about the money or Riccitiello.

“John leaving doesn’t really make a massive difference to us. It doesn’t really change anything,” said Garry Newman, creator of Garry’s Mod and Rust who previously had choice words for the company. “I can’t imagine what they could possibly do that would make me trust them as a partner again. My feeling right now is still that Unity is a drug that we need to try to get off.”