Architect of virtual worlds

The partners began with modest ambitions: they just wanted to develop video games. But their first attempt, GooBall, released in March 2005, was a fiasco. “After that failure, we thought about it from a programmer’s standpoint,” says David Helgason. “How could we make it easier to create video games?” A few months later, the team came out with Unity, a video-game development platform.

Again, things got off to a rocky start. “The programme didn’t generate enough money. It was stressful,” Helgason recalls. “We’d sometimes pay employees late and we couldn’t afford to hire enough staff. I was personally covering after-sales service and would spend up to four hours a day on the phone with customers.”

David Helgason, Unity Technologies

“We wanted to democratise the industry, to let anyone and everyone design video games easily.”

Everything changed in 2008 with the launch of Apple’s App Store. “Suddenly anyone could have access to millions – now billions – of players,” he says. The game market exploded, and their game engine with it. Unity Technologies raised $5 million in 2009, $12 million in 2011 and, most recently, $181 million in 2016. The company currently has a valuation of $1.5 billion.

With 5.5 million customers, Unity Technologies now dominates the video-game development industry. “We offer a free version of our software programme,” he says. “We wanted to democratise the industry, to let anyone and everyone design video games easily.” Helgason stepped down from his position as CEO in 2014 and was replaced by John Riccitiello, former CEO of the US video game giant Electronic Arts. “These days, I’m involved in planning and strategy.”

His latest project is virtual reality. “It’s still just the beginning, but we are very confident in its future,” he says. “We want to turn Unity into the platform that anyone can use to create games in VR format.”