John Riccitiello steps down as Unity CEO after weeks of controversy

John Riccitiello will depart Unity following backlash over planned changes to the company's pricing structure.
unity john riccitiello ceo departure

John Riccitiello is departing his position as CEO of Unity, following weeks of controversy and public backlash over planned changes to the pricing structure of the company’s popular game engine. While the public rollout of these plans was not cited as a reason for Riccitiello’s departure, the timing likely relates it to recent events.

The move was announced in a statement released by the Unity board of directors, which further revealed that former IBM President James M. Whitehurst has been appointed the “Interim Chief Executive Officer, President and a member of the Board” while Unity seeks new leadership. Riccitiello will continue to advise Unity, to ensure a “smooth transition” in the company’s next phase.

In announcing the sudden change, the Unity board of directors thanked Riccitiello for his contributions to the company over the last decade.

“John joined the Unity Board in 2013 and stepped in to lead the Company in 2014, at a time when we faced significant challenges,” Roelof Botha, the new Chairman of the Board 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 monetise, building other game services to serve our creator community, leading us through an IPO and positioning us as a pioneer in the developer community. Unity would not be where it is today without the impact of his contributions.”

Read: Unity announces new terms for runtime fee policy

In a brief statement, Riccitiello thanked the Unity team for their support. “It’s been a privilege to lead Unity for nearly a decade and serve our employees, customers, developers and partners, all of whom have been instrumental to the Company’s growth,” he said. “I look forward to supporting Unity through this transition and following the Company’s future success.”

A “seamless transition” is expected in the leadership shift, with Unity confirming its economic outlook for the next financial quarter has not changed.

Riccitiello’s departure will seemingly bookend Unity’s recent controversies, which stemmed from an attempt to better monetise the Unity game engine by implementing a ‘runtime fee’ that would have charged developers for every install of their game, above a certain threshold. The announcement of this policy drew immediate, angry criticism from game developers worldwide, who revealed that the policy would have made professional game development on Unity unviable for a large number of creators, potentially destroying whole businesses.

Following a week of consideration, and a complete overhaul of this policy, Unity walked back many of its planned changes, instead introducing an updated policy designed to have fewer impacts on smaller game developers. While the changes landed fairly well, the impact of the company’s initial policy is still heavily felt, with many developers claiming that Unity broke their trust in ways that are difficult to repair.

With Riccitiello’s departure, change may be on the horizon for the embattled company.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.