Unity CEO John Riccitiello is departing Unity. The company has announced that the longtime game industry executive is stepping down as president and CEO of the 3D engine developer. According to Unity, James M. Whitehurst will assume the role of interim CEO and president of the company.
This news comes one month after Unity sparked two weeks of backlash over the decision to charge developers based on the number of times their game was installed. After poor reception (and the realization that some implementations of the plan could bankrupt developers), the company shifted gears and devised a new system that will ask developers to either pay 2.5 percent of their revenue or a fee based on the number of “initial engagements” their game receives.
Riccitiello was notably absent in the public eye as the turmoil over this new policy took place. In 2022, he’d become the company’s public face of a plan to merge with Israeli monetization services provider IronSource—a position that also sparked anger from game developers when he referred to some as “fucking idiots” in an interview with pocketgamer.biz.
Shortly afterward he apologized for his comments and became a more reclusive figure in Unity’s engagement with the press.
In 2019, he was accused of sexual harassment by former Unity recruiting director Anne Evans.
John Riccitiello has long been a controversial game industry executive
Riccitiello’s comments don’t seem that out of place (though no less caustic and short-sighted) when you look back at his time as CEO of EA Games. He was regularly loudly talking about the need for the game industry to shake up its publishing models, and would sometimes quip that developers were “boring people to death,” with increasingly difficult $60 games.
The longtime executive’s hyperfixation on the monetization of video games drew extra scrutiny during Unity’s September 2023 debacle, as industry observers dug up old quotes from a 2011 stockholders meeting where he mused about the potential of charging Battlefield players a microtransaction every time they reloaded.
His tenure at EA was also marked by a number of business stumbles—the trouble rollout of EA’s Origin platform, SimCity’s always-online debacle, and the numerous acquisitions of game studios that would quickly lead to said studio shutting down.
Depending on your point of view, you still might see upsides in Riccitiello’s time as the CEO of Unity. He did lead the company to a successful debut on the stock market in 2020, and the company also acquired 3D graphics tool developer Weta Digital in 2021 in a spinoff from the film VFX company of the same name.
But there’s no mistaking it—his departure from Unity comes after back-to-back reputational blows to one of the game industry’s biggest technological pillars.