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Unity won't be sold, and is planning for a VR future: John Riccitiello speaks

Unity's CEO holds court with Gamasutra, dismissing the possibility of an acquisition, charting the future of the engine, and talking about what sets the company apart. Oh, and yeah, he talks pricing.

Christian Nutt, Contributor

March 4, 2015

4 Min Read

Prior to Unity's big announcement yesterday, chatter on Twitter turned to whether or not there would be bad news: Is an acquisition in the cards? After all, the company's new CEO, John Riccitiello, oversaw BioWare's sale to EA.

"No. I think we're a better company for being independent," Riccitiello told Gamasutra this afternoon. "I wouldn't've joined if I thought this was about a transaction."

He recognizes indies don't like the idea, but he says that nobody does, in fact: "We talk to our largest customers, and they say 'We don't want Unity to be sold.'"

Principles and pricing

Riccitiello -- in his presentation, our earlier conversation, and this new interview -- hammered again and again on the way that he sees the company as remarkably principled.

"We want artists to be able to create games, not just engineers," he said. Later, he expanded on that thought: "I've run game studios. I know what these teams look like; I know what they feel like, and they're awesome... But there are too few engineers in the world.

"But perhaps the most important thing is we want to let the artist create... So the artist and the game designer can create something -- so it's not just filtered through the hard challenge of creating something just so it renders or lights."

Getting the core of what makes Unity tick through to me seemed to be his top priority. I've conversed with Unity executives (past and present) many times before, but the novelty of working for a company that puts artists first seems to energize Riccitiello.

For example, he said (and then repeated) this: For Unity 5, "I never even got a spreadsheet built at all, by anyone from Unity while we were figuring out the pricing model."

"Nobody ever said we should seriously consider anyting other than free for the Personal edition."

It seems genuinely important to the CEO that Unity 5 Personal (the free version of the engine) performs on parity with the Professional version. With Unity 4, "free was lesser performance than Unity pro," he said -- whereas this time, "it's the same awesome performance."

And he promised that triple-A Unity development is really here: "A year from now, there will be a boatload of gorgeous games for PC and console," he promised.

Unity and Epic are locking horns over the developer audience, with Epic targeting indies and Unity moving upscale, so to speak -- but Riccitiello is adamant that "there really isn't a debate" over whether Unity Pro is a better deal than Unreal Engine (our comments would suggest that debate is genuine, however.)

"Nobody in our dev community big or small complains about our pricing model," he said. The distinction is the audience: "There are a bunch of tools that I think an indie would like and a pro absolutely needs, like a Team License," he said.

He also noted that developers can buy specific elements of Pro ala carte for a cheaper price, too -- for example, Team License, by itself, will soon be available for $20 a month.

Figuring out Unity's future

Unity 4 was released in 2012, and Unity 5 came out today. But in the intervening years, the company vastly upgraded its engine -- with last year's 4.6 being the final release of version 4.

A big question is, then, what will the future bring to the engine? And how does the company identify the right targets to tackle?

"We're in this very unique position," Riccitiello said.  He listed off a number of companies Unity is speaking to about what's in their pipelines: "Whether you're Magic Leap, or Oculus, or Microsoft, or Apple, or Google ... you call us a long time before you release it, and you sit with us a long time before you release it. What you want is, when you actually release it, the millions of commercial developers around the world who use Unity can actually build content to take advantage of the new CPU in your phone, or Metal."

"I probably have a conversation with a hardware or software mega-company, and startup companies too, that are looking at next year, the year after, and the year after that -- and they're disclosing to us what's on their roadmap," says Riccitiello.

But at the same time, he said, " we live and breathe the industry," and of course Unity monitors what the developers who use the engine are actually doing and want from the company.

I also asked him about Unity's relationship with Oculus, and its efforts to bring VR tools into the engine. He acknowledged a close relationship, but also said that Unity's byword is expansive platform support -- which will continue to expand.

"We are the one company that crosses all the platforms; it would be nutty for us to be aligned with one platform. It wouldn't make sense. Even the platform companies acknowledge that."

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