The Unity sell-off rumors explained

Shane Schick

The comments from "ZenGarden" are not particularly well-worded, but they show just how easy it is for rumors--in this case, a potential sale of the mobile gaming tool provider Unity--can turn into crazy speculation:

"MS could buy and just keep MS products related to Unity, all people wanting Android, ios would have to find another solution," said ZenGarden, just one of many commenters in a thread about the rumors on Unity's own online forums. "No one knows or can say what could change or arrive later if MS would buy UT."

This was apparently enough for Unity's leadership team, because the next comment in the thread came directly from Joachim Ante, the firm's CTO.

"We have no plan to sell Unity," he wrote. "Our response has always been that for Unity it is best to be an independent company. This has been true for the last 10 years, it is equally true today."

Sounds pretty unequivocal to me, which makes it interesting that the rumor spread far enough to be picked up by the likes of CNETVentureBeat and others. What is it about Unity's position in the mobile game developer community that makes it a target of this kind of gossip? In a word, it's success. 

Companies tend to get acquired or seek an exit for two main reasons. In many cases, like startups, they're doing really well but still small enough that they would be attractive to a firm that has a complementary product and service set or access to a potentially wider customer base. Then there are the former greats that have fallen on hard times, who seek via a sale to get the resources of a larger entity, reduce competition, or both. Unity is no startup, and if anything it seems to be flourishing, but its frenetic pace of activity may have some wondering if it needs to move to some kind of next level. 

This past summer, for example, Unity made a slew of announcements at its developer conference, including a cloud-based service for building games, a mobile ad platform, partnerships with Intel and Google and a new UI. A little earlier, there was the launch of Unity for Xbox One and Unity for PlayStation 4. A host of new animation features has been previewed for Unity 5, its next-generation release. In other words, if the company was to try and pitch itself to potential bidders, it would be doing so at a time when it has never looked better. 

Whether or not Unity gets bought by a larger entity, what developers should focus on is whether the company continues to live up to its mission, which it has spelled out countless times: "the democratization of game development with tools that help developers create immersive experiences and connect millions of users across multiple platforms." 

Unity's popularity suggests that it is meeting its goal, but that doesn't mean its direction is subject to some kind of democratic process as well. Choosing to stay loyal to Unity in the wake of a takeover--if one ever happens--is the only vote mobile developers really get to make.--Shane