After nearly nine years of ruining the reputation of what was once one of the most popular open game engines in the world, Unity President and CEO John Riccitiello announced he was stepping down from his role as the most hated man in gaming.
In a release, Unity said Riccitiello would “retire” from his position and would leave the company’s board of directors “effective immediately.” In his place, company outsider and former president of the IBM-acquired company RedHat Jim Whitehurst will be taking over the lead company position. Roelof Botha, who was previously the lead independent director of the Unity Board, is taking on the chairman role.
Last month, the game engine company Unity revealed its grand plans to charge subscribed developers depending on the number of downloads each game receives. The so-called “Runtime Fee” charges were so egregious and out of left field that it led to a revolt among top Unity developers. Many top names threatened to abandon any Unity projects and look elsewhere for another game engine if Unity didn’t reverse course.
In a statement, Botha said, “John has led Unity through incredible growth over the last nearly 10 years, helping us transition from a perpetual license to a subscription model, enabling developers to monetize, building other game services to serve our creator community, leading us through an IPO and positioning us as a pioneer in the developer community.”
That mention of trying to “monetize” games partially caused all this ruckus in the first place. The furor over Runtime Fees trickled down to the gaming community, and Riccitiello’s name was mud as far as the whole gaming sphere was concerned. It’s also hard to say how Unity exec’s new pricing plan was taken at the company. San Francisco police said that one Unity employee made a “credible death threat” toward his employer, though that staff member didn’t work at the company’s California headquarters.
It took just five days before the company backpedaled and declared it had a more amenable solution for the dev teams. The new pricing model essentially limits developer fees depending on if a game makes less than $1 million in the first year of release. Still, those teams planning future launches in 2024 would be subject to Runtime Fees. Despite the attempt to cool the situation, one of the first official cohorts of developers on the Unity engine broke up over the pricing model.
For many devs, their trust in Unity is already gone. Slay the Spire developers Mega Crit already announced its next, still unannounced title would be moving to a different engine “despite the immense amount of time and effort our team has already poured into development.”
Riccitiello has been a sore spot in the gaming community’s collective consciousness for a while now. He previously worked as CEO of Electronic Arts from 1997 to 2004 and 2007 to 2013. He dug his fingers into Unity after that, and in the past few years he’s more known as the guy who called developers who didn’t over-monetize their games “fucking idiots.” He further said that games needed hour-long “compulsion loops” to better hook players into parasitic relationships with their products.
The now-ex-Unity CEO essentially became a figurehead for gamers’ dissatisfaction with the current state of publishing. The over-emphasis on micro-transactions, lootbox economies, and overall excessive nickel and diming has eroded so much fun out of what would have been excellent, or just passable titles. Unity’s plan to force even the smallest developers to pay for the privilege of that engine would have simply passed those costs onto the consumers, either with more expensive sticker prices or, more likely, with even more in-game monetization.