In a sudden press release issued earlier today, news broke that Unity CEO John Riccitiello has stepped down after immense negative backlash surrounding a new fee change. The top-down restructuring of the company is to be effective immediately, with outside consultant James M. Whitehurst serving as the interim CEO while the Unity board looks for a new hire.
CEO John Riccitiello was CEO of Unity from 2014 to 2023. (Source: Getty Images)
This news comes hot off the heels of community backlash after Unity unveiled a new runtime fee that game developers were less than happy about. In the initial pricing model announcement in September, Unity stated that a flat rate fee would now be charged to developers every time a player interacts with their game. The Unity Runtime Fee would be based on “each time a qualifying game is downloaded by an end user”.
Needless to say, small and indie game developers were incredibly enraged at this new announcement. Not only would their games be charged fees, but they would also have to meet a threshold of downloads and payments in order to qualify. This means that games could take more money out of the developer’s wallet depending on the location and genre of the specific market they are developing for.
Unity is one of the world’s most popular cross-platform game development tools, with its engine software being used to make games for desktop, console, VR, and more.
The backlash against this new pricing policy was so strong that the company received serious death threats, forcing them to cancel upcoming town hall meetings and encourage employees to work from home. After being labeled a terrible and disastrous pricing model, Unity released a second announcement backpedaling on the initial terms of these fees. On September 18th, Unity made a Twitter post breaking down the details of the runtime fee while also modifying some of the elements that developers were most irate about.
The modified pricing plan will limit the fees that Unity can take from developers and ensure that none of this will be retroactive.
Unfortunately, the backpedaling was not enough to satisfy developers who have been outraged since the start. In an open letter to the community, Unity Create leader Marc Whitten addressed the controversy with an apology and a clear explanation of the changes set to be made on January 1st, 2024. But, since the company had already changed its Terms of Service and started implementing these changes despite developer complaints, many fear that the trust has already been broken.
Unity’s open letter was published on September 22, 2023, just weeks before CEO John Riccitiello steps down. (Source: Unity)
Unity’s restructuring efforts are no doubt a direct response to the controversy that has gone on for the past month regarding its new pricing program. The company has acknowledged its poor communication and ignorance of developer concerns, promising to do better by its users in the future. While Unity has been able to answer many questions on its Twitter page, the canceled fireside chat and subsequent stepping down of company leadership puts the future of the once reliable game development toolbox into question.