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.


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