- Unity Technologies offers the most popular software used to develop mobile video games.
- But the company’s long-term future lies outside the game industry, company CEO John Riccitiello told Business Insider.
- The company’s tools are already being used to do things such as offer virtual tours of new buildings and real-estate developments.
- But its opportunity outside the game industry isn’t a sure thing; it already faces competition from companies that have long catered to the types of enterprise clients that Unity is targeting.
There’s a good chance that the last mobile video game you played was powered by Unity Technologies, the 3D engine used in most of the industry’s smartphone games, from “Pokemon Go” to “Super Mario Run”
But if Unity CEO John Riccitiello’s bet pays off, you could soon end up benefiting from the company’s software when you repair a leaky pipe in your house, customize your next car, or get a preview of your next house.
Riccitiello, who took the reins at Unity four years ago, believes that traditional businesses— such as construction, car design, and film making — will eventually replace video games as Unity’s main customer base and source of revenue.
That’s a bold prediction coming from a veteran of the game industry —Riccitiello served as President of gaming giant EA in the late 1990s and served as CEO from 2007 to 2014, a span of time in which EA’s annual revenue swelled into the billions of dollars.
“There’s a massive amount of interest from a bunch of different industries,” Riccitiello said in an interview last week with Business Insider.
Unity offers a development environment that’s designed for creating virtual three-dimensional spaces. It started off in the mobile world, and more smartphone games are made with its technology than with any other gaming engine, according to the company and analysts.
But it turns out that the same tools that can be used to create 3D mobile games can also be used for other applications. Unity started to take an early lead among developers of virtual and augmented reality apps, for example. And because its tools can be used to create virtual objects, structures, and worlds, they can be used to do everything from offer virtual tours to allowing consumers to customize products such as bicycles or cars.
This use of Unity’s software outside of gaming is just getting started, Riccitiello acknowledges. And it’s unclear how long it will take before the company see significant revenue from outside the gaming industry. But he insists it will happen eventually.
Riccitiello thinks Unity’s software could be the next Photoshop
He compared Unity’s development tools to Adobe’s Photoshop. After it launched in 1990, Photoshop first got traction in the fashion industry, Riccitiello said. People criticized and made fun of the industry for using it to digitally alter pictures of models to hide their flaws or to make them skinnier.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Photoshop is the core piece of Adobe’s business and is used by companies in basically every industry, Riccitiello said. Companies need to be on the web, which means they need a tool to edit the pictures they post on their sites, which leads them to get Photoshop, he said.
“It’s everywhere,” Riccitiello said.
The same will eventually be true for tools like Unity’s that allow companies to create applications with 3D images and to build environments that can be rendered in real-time, he said.
“Real-time 3D is going have an arc that’s not unlike Photoshop,” he said. “You’re going to need it for just about everything.”
In the near term, Unity is biggest opportunity outside of gaming is likely in areas such as architecture, construction, and engineering, Riccitiello said. Workers in those industries have long been working with computerized 3D models and related tools, he said.
Riccitiello declined to make any concrete predictions about when Unity’s software would reach the same kind of broad adoption as Photoshop, saying only that he didn’t think it will take as long.
“If you ask in me in 20 years, I know that other industries will be bigger” for Unity than the gaming industry, he said. “If you ask me in five years, I’m not sure.”
But some industry analysts aren’t convinced that the opportunity for Unity outside gaming will be as big as Riccitiello expects.
Unity faces lots of competition outside of the games business
Much of the expected use of Unity’s tools outside of gaming will be to create augmented- and virtual-reality apps and experiences. Augmented reality involves the layering of virtual information and objects over real-world views. Experts on the technology think it could be used to offer tourists information about the cities they visit as they walk around them and to allow customer service specialists to remotely help consumers fix plumbing or equipment problems.
In some cases, augmented-reality applications will need to be able to display three-dimensional virtual objects, said Lewis Ward, a research director at IDC, a tech industry consulting firm. Unity’s tools will come in handy on those. But many AR apps will only need to be able to display text or two-dimensional images, he said.
“If you’re only overlaying data on a screen, you don’t really need a game engine,” Ward said. “You can use a much simpler piece of software.”
Unity might find find more opportunity with companies looking to build experiences that are closer to virtual-reality, in which users are completely ensconced in an artificial environment, Ward said. Virtual-reality experiences are very similar to video games and rely on similar tools, he said. And Unity, whose software supports many of the VR headsets on the market, has an early lead in the business of virtual-reality development tools, Ward said.
Creating virtual worlds is “what a game engine does really well,” he said.
However, even if they are interested in making apps with three-dimensional objects and virtual worlds, non-gaming companies could be reluctant to rely on Unity’s tools, said Marty Resnick, a research director at Gartner, another industry consulting firm. Enterprise companies tend to be conservative about adopting new technologies and frequently stick with their established partners.
And those partners are doing what they can to convinces their clients to stay with them, even as they begin to experiment with augmented reality. Oracle, Kony, Mendix, and other firms that specialize in helping enterprises develop apps are building tools into them to allow customers to add AR features, noted Resnick.
“That’s what Unity’s competition is going to be” as it tries to make headway out of the game industry, he said. He continued: “There’s a comfort level with existing enterprise software providers.”
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