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Unity's CEO on staying relevant in a tumultuous era

David Helgason talks about its partnerships with Sony, Nintendo, and Facebook, and how the company continues to make sure its engine is elegant and works on all those platforms.

Christian Nutt, Contributor

March 28, 2013

3 Min Read

Unity has grown substantially in the last year -- adding "probably" 100 people, CEO David Helgason tells Gamasutra. While many of them have been posted to its Asian offices -- 14 or 15 in China -- a large swath of them have been added to QA, making QA one-third of its entire development team. Why QA? Because that's what it takes to make sure that Unity remains a push-button solution for delivering a game to so many platforms. "We're getting to a point where we're supporting more platforms than any other software, actually," says Helgason. "Not in just a theoretical way, and you have to compile it yourself -- but no, no, it actually works out of the box." This is crucial, says Helgason, because of the shifting sands of the game industry right now. Not only has the company added support for the Wii U, it has also brought in PlayStation Mobile and PlayStation 4. The company also recently announced a partnership with Facebook, which its director of game partnerships Sean Ryan talked up at GDC. "They created a category for Unity games on App Center," Helgason said, as part of the platform's push to capture more mid-core users. According to Ryan, 75 million Facebook users have the Unity plugin installed. "Not only does technology move fast, but the game industry has been accelerating," says Helgason. There are lots of opportunities for developers -- "Some are raw consumer opportunities, but they're mixed with people willing to fund things in certain ways for certain reasons." Unity, he says, has a mission to let developers "quickly grasp opportunities." The company has also began to "peer ahead," in his words, at what's coming next, as part of that package, and is showcasing a new demo based around features developed by its high-spec research team in Stockholm. "They break new ground, but they also break their toes, I like to say... stuff that wasn't prepared for you, they learn that, they fix it, and they bring it back to the product," Helgason says. "Nintendo and Sony got behind us," says Helgason. "That's the result of many things... but definitely because we did that groundbreaking." Working with platform holders is as "win-win-win," in Helgason's words, but he says that "our primary allegiance... we primarily serve the developers, we're here to make the developers successful. One big change Unity has undergone recently is that it has lost its longtime CCO, Nicholas Francis. Francis recently left the company to move into game development. Helgason says that the parting was amicable. "We talk more often now than before he left -- we talk every week because he's so excited about his game," Helgason says. "He's still a shareholder, and a friend, and we've been friends 10 years before Unity." "It was a very elegant transition, where he put people in place to replace all of his responsibility," Helgason says. "A guy like that had to be replaced by a number of people: Four very capable guys." "When the timing was right, he was ready to jump, and he jumped." Helgason says that Francis' obsession with keeping Unity simple and usable did not depart the company with him. "Honestly, he was not doing all this work -- he was an inspiration and a mentor, and he's mentored the team for many years, some of them almost a decade," says Helgason. "He's instilled a deep faith in design and elegance in the organization."

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