Unity Shares Surge 31% in Public Debut, Meet the Key Players Taking the Gaming Engine into its New Phase

Anna Bradley-Smith September 21, 2020
Unity
Editorial credit: justplay1412 / Shutterstock.com

San Francisco-based game engine and simulation company Unity Technologies made a very strong public debut on Friday. On its first official day of trading, the company rose more than 31%, opening at $75 per share before closing the day at $68.35, well above the $52 per share in its initial public offering on Thursday.

"Going public is good for discipline. We can also compensate our employees with more transparency," said Unity Chief Executive John Riccitiello. "We picked the date earlier this year, and we never expected it's going to be a hot IPO market."

Unlike most companies which require employees to hold onto the stock for a lockup period following an IPO, Unity allowed employees to sell 15% of their vested shares on Friday.

Unity Technologies produces Unity, one of the gaming industry’s most popular development engines, powering 2D and 3D video games and other programs. Valued in 2019 at $6 billion, the gaming platform now has a market value of around $18 billion, increasing its stakes against its closest competitor, video game software titan Epic Games.

There’s no doubt there will be a lot of eyes watching how Unity Technology shares continue to perform in the coming weeks, with the pressure on for the company’s key players.

Looking outwards

Software built on Unity runs on more than 1.5 billion devices, the game engine has 1.5 million monthly active users and claims more than 53 percent of the top 1,000 mobile games on the Apple App Store and Google Play. In 2019, the company reported a loss of $163.2 million and revenue of $541.8 million, the latter being up 42 percent from 2018. So clearly, the company is becoming a dominating force in the powerful gaming industry.

Unity’s top competition comes from Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, on which Fortnite was created. But with Epic facing a momentous court battle with Apple over violations of App Store rules, Unity is now taking advantage of timing to reinforce itself with its IPO. 

Currently, the company’s biggest shareholders include Sequoia Capital, affiliates of Silver Lake Partners and J.A. Technologies. Plus Unity has invested heavily in R&D, with more than 56 percent of its workforce (or more than 1,800 employees) working in the field.

Democratizing the gaming world

Co-founders David Helgason, Nicholas Francis, and Joachim Ante started Unity Technologies in Denmark in 2004 with the aim to build a game. When that failed, they realized the tools they had created simplified game development and could be of serious value to other developers.

Seeking to “democratize game development,” the company derives revenue primarily through subscriptions to its services, used by game developers, artists, architects, automotive designers, filmmakers and others.  Through Unity, users can design, import and buy digital assets, such as forests, characters, sound effects and more, and then design how those assets interact with players. The engine runs games on just about any platform.

The team

Unity Desktop

In 2016, developer Niantic used Unity to build the global sensation Pokémon Go, leading Unity Technologies through several large funding rounds that ramped up its value. The stage of growth was overseen by CEO John Riccitiello John Riccitiello. Riccitiello, who came on as CEO in 2014, has also seen Unity expand into other forms of entertainment—acquiring nine companies in 2019 alone.

Riccitiello will be responsible for keeping Unity Technologies in the fast lane for growth and development as the company pushes through the change in ownership and into the future.

Riccitiello joined Unity from Electronic Arts (EA), where he served as CEO from 2007, taking over the CEO role from Unity co-founder David Helgason. Helgason said Riccitiello was the right man for the role and a “heartfelt believer in the indie scene and its importance to the overall well-being of the industry.”

In a 2017 interview with Venture Beat, Riccitiello said Unity Technologies would stay on the forefront of a global shift to augmented reality products. 

SVP of AI Danny Lange will be fundamental to Unity’s success on the technology front.

Lange, formerly of Uber, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM, has been bringing AI to gaming at Unity Technologies since 2015. At Uber, Lange built a machine learning team, at Amazon, he managed the internal machine learning platform and at Microsoft, Lange worked as principal development manager and architect on many of the company’s most successful machine learning programs. 

Another integral member is co-founder and CTO Joachim Ante, who wrote the first lines of code for Unity at high school and has stayed with the company ever since. Ante will be a key leader through the IPO and future growth of the company, anchoring Unity to its game development roots as it forges ahead into the broader entertainment and simulation world.

And finally, Unity CFO Kim Jabal, who joined Unity from Weebly, where she served as CFO and was responsible for selling the company to Square. 

Jabal will no doubt be instrumental in guiding the company and employees through the private-public transition--likely one of the most-anticipated in the gaming industry this season.

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