Entertainment

Unity CEO: The killer app of the metaverse will be more like TikTok than Fortnite

John Riccitiello doesn’t think people really want universal avatars. Many metaverse destinations won’t require avatars at all, he told Protocol.

John Riccitiello

Unity CEO John Riccitiello is looking to the metaverse.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Unity CEO John Riccitiello thinks the metaverse is the future of the internet. He just doesn’t believe it will look like Fortnite or Meta’s Horizon Worlds.

Riccitiello called the latter “trapped in a weird view of avatars” in a conversation with Protocol this week, in which he also expressed skepticism about the idea of universal avatars that can be brought from one metaverse experience to another. Riccitiello instead argued that we don’t need avatars at all in many contexts, and that the metaverse’s killer app will look a lot more like TikTok than Fortnite.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Everyone seems to have a different definition of the metaverse. What’s your take?

It's the next version of the internet. It's always in real time. It's often some combination of social, interactive, persistent and 3D, but doesn't have to be all of those kinds of things. Most things will be three or four of those.

It can be fully digital, [or] a blend [between digital and the real world]. Most companies that have a website today are going to have a metaverse destination. You're going to have millions, if not billions, of destinations. They will be way more compelling than what we have today.

Most people have also said that embodiment, or avatars, will be a key part of the metaverse. You seem to be a bit more skeptical of that.

Yes, there will be avatars. Avatars are useful in some circumstances, but not in most cases, to be honest. I certainly don't think I need an avatar to buy a book on Amazon. It's kind of pointless, counterproductive. If I was trying to make a hotel reservation online, I wouldn't physically want to embody an avatar and stand in line for 15 seconds and have an avatar check me in.

I’d want a Shopify kind of experience. It recognizes who I am, my credit card, etc. It's over in a matter of seconds. However, I might want to stand in a fully scanned room where I could look out the window and see if the view is what I think it is. How many times have you checked into a hotel room and been disappointed?

When it comes to avatars, there’s a big focus on interoperability, on giving people the ability to bring their personalized avatar everywhere. You’ve called BS on that. Why?

The universal avatar is born of a business strategy to propound the success of an identity-centric business model. It's a very company-centric viewpoint around identity. I think you're going to want different avatars for different use cases. You might be 6 foot, 10 [inches] in World of Warcraft. I don't know how tall you are, but I doubt you're 6 foot, 10 [inches]. If Nike is your favorite apparel brand, you might be whatever size you [really] are [with their avatar]. You don't want to lie to them.

Many of the other companies in this space have their own metaverse-like platforms. There’s Roblox, Epic has Fortnite, Meta has Horizon. Unity doesn’t have any of this. Does that put you at a disadvantage?

I started at Unity when we were a pretty small, about $20 million company. At the time, we had 10% of mobile, nothing in console and PC to speak of and AR/VR hadn't launched yet. And we were a much smaller company than Epic. Today, we have 72% of mobile games, half of all games, the leading developer platform for PC and all console platforms and two-thirds of all AR/VR. Part of that is that we don't compete with our customers.

I actually think Tim is great. I really love having the competition, and I love Fortnite. I just think we're trying to do different things. I'm not trying to be a game company. I'm trying to be a content creation and operations platform. If you think of Roblox as a destination, I think there'll be thousands of them. Some will prevail, and most of them will rise and fall.

Given your focus on mobile gaming, which devices do you think will power the early metaverse?

At any given point in time, there are about 100, 150 million households that are using game consoles. Maybe 200 million if you include [gaming] PCs. In a given month, there's 4 billion or [4.5] billion people playing games on mobile devices. They live in entirely different worlds in terms of market penetration, number of users. My best guess is that we'd be pretty lucky for AR/VR devices to get much bigger than consoles, or consoles plus PC. But it's a very dedicated use case.

The other thing is: Sites like Facebook reached [billions of] users. Games at their very best top out at about 100 million MAUs. I do believe someone's going to figure out a real-time 3D interactive social platform that starts to reach TikTok numbers, or Facebook numbers, or Instagram numbers. We haven't seen that yet, but that's one of the killer apps that will be spawned by the metaverse.

I don't know exactly who's going to make it. I mean, who would have thought ByteDance would make TikTok? These things can come from anywhere. Our role is to democratize the tools so everyone can do it, and then see what they make with it. There's no doubt someone's going to do what Meta's Horizon tries to do. But I don't think it's Horizon. Part of the issue [is that] it's awfully trapped in a weird view of avatars.

There's been tens of thousands of social media sites. Only a few of them have prevailed. And big doesn't always win.

Entertainment

Niantic’s future hinges on mapping the metaverse

The maker of Pokémon Go is hoping the metaverse will deliver its next big break.

Niantic's new standalone messaging and social app, Campfire, is a way to get players organizing and meeting up in the real world. It launches today for select Pokémon Go players.

Image: Niantic

Pokémon Go sent Niantic to the moon. But now the San Francisco-based augmented reality developer has returned to earth, and it’s been trying to chart its way back to the stars ever since. The company yesterday announced layoffs of about 8% of its workforce (about 85 to 90 people) and canceled four projects, Bloomberg reported, signaling another disappointment for the studio that still generates about $1 billion in revenue per year from Pokémon Go.

Finding its next big hit has been Niantic’s priority for years, and the company has been coming up short. For much of the past year or so, Niantic has turned its attention to the metaverse, with hopes that its location-based mobile games, AR tech and company philosophy around fostering physical connection and outdoor exploration can help it build what it now calls the “real world metaverse.”

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Climate

Supreme Court takes a sledgehammer to greenhouse gas regulations

The court ruled 6-3 that the EPA cannot use the Clean Air Act to regulate power plant greenhouse gas emissions. That leaves a patchwork of policies from states, utilities and, increasingly, tech companies to pick up the slack.

The Supreme Court struck a major blow to the federal government's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Striking down the right to abortion may be the Supreme Court's highest-profile decision this term. But on Thursday, the court handed down an equally massive verdict on the federal government's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of West Virginia v. EPA, the court decided that the agency has no ability to regulate greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. Weakening the federal government's powers leaves a patchwork of states, utilities and, increasingly, tech companies to pick up the slack in reducing carbon pollution.

Keep Reading Show less
Brian Kahn

Brian ( @blkahn) is Protocol's climate editor. Previously, he was the managing editor and founding senior writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate site, where he covered everything from the weather to Big Oil's influence on politics. He also reported for Climate Central and the Wall Street Journal. In the even more distant past, he led sleigh rides to visit a herd of 7,000 elk and boat tours on the deepest lake in the U.S.

Fintech

Can crypto regulate itself? The Lummis-Gillibrand bill hopes so.

Creating the equivalent of the stock markets’ FINRA for crypto is the ideal, but experts doubt that it will be easy.

The idea of creating a government-sanctioned private regulatory association has been drawing more attention in the debate over how to rein in a fast-growing industry whose technological quirks have baffled policymakers.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Regulating crypto is complicated. That’s why Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand want to explore the creation of a private sector group to help federal regulators do their job.

The bipartisan bill introduced by Lummis and Gillibrand would require the CFTC and the SEC to work with the crypto industry to look into setting up a self-regulatory organization to “facilitate innovative, efficient and orderly markets for digital assets.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

Alperovitch: Cybersecurity defenders can’t be on high alert every day

With the continued threat of Russian cyber escalation, cybersecurity and geopolitics expert Dmitri Alperovitch says it’s not ideal for the U.S. to oscillate between moments of high alert and lesser states of cyber readiness.

Dmitri Alperovitch (the co-founder and former CTO of CrowdStrike) speaks at RSA Conference 2022.

Photo: RSA Conference

When it comes to cybersecurity vigilance, Dmitri Alperovitch wants to see more focus on resiliency of IT systems — and less on doing "surges" around particular dates or events.

For instance, whatever Russia is doing at the moment.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins