Unity CEO 'retires' in the wake of fee fiasco

Ex-Red Hat CEO James M Whitehurst takes the big chair in the interim

Unity has announced the immediate retirement of president, CEO, chair, and board member John Riccitiello.

The boss's departure follows a botched attempt to charge developers per-install fees for games created with Unity's tools – a step that effectively amounted to charging royalties on each sale of a game. Unity had previously promised never to do such a thing.

Developers did not appreciate Unity's proposal, expressing opposition so vigorous the toolmaker canceled a Town Hall Meeting and mostly walked back its new pricing plan.

Riccitiello's departure was announced in a press release headlined "Unity Announces Leadership Transition." Tellingly, Unity posted it to Business Wire – a press release distribution service and repository that many comms people regard as a source of on-the-record info – rather than its own site.

In a canned quote, Riccitiello – or a duly appointed PR flack on his behalf – stated: "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. I look forward to supporting Unity through this transition and following the company's future success."

You may or may not know that Riccitiello was CEO of games publishing house Electronic Arts from February 2007 to March 2013; back then he quit that biz saying he was accountable for EA's under-performing finances. He joined Unity the following year.

Unity is now searching for a new leader, but has appointed James M Whitehurst as interim CEO, president, and board member.

Whitehurst is a former CEO of Red Hat. After IBM acquired the Linux slinger, he briefly served as Big Blue's president. On Tuesday he posted an image of a suitcase tagged for San Francisco at an airport luggage carousel, with the text: "Hope that's enough stuff to get me through the next few months!"

San Francisco is Unity's home city, suggesting Whitehurst has relocated to take charge.

It's hard to know if Riccitiello is retiring, or has been retired. Online sources put his age anywhere from 61 to 66 years old – roundabout when many decide to wind down their careers. So perhaps he really is about to sail off into the sunset.

Unity's share price, which was $38.97 before it changed pricing plans, then descended to $28.30 last Friday, bounced from $29.56 to $30.11 in after-the-bell trading – suggesting investors are quite happy with the changes.

But it's developers who will likely determine the future price of the scrip and Whitehurst – then whoever comes next – gets the job of restoring Unity's reputation among coders who were clearly enormously dissatisfied with the former leadership's plans. ®

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