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Unity appoints former Electronic Arts chief Riccitiello as new CEO

John Riccitiello, who helmed publisher and game maker EA, now leads the fast-growing company behind multi-platform gaming software.

David Helgason, Unity's CEO, in a promotional video in 2013 Unity

Unity, a company whose software developers use to build games, is shaking up its leadership.

The San Francisco-based company's co-founder and CEO, David Helgason, said he is stepping down and will replaced by John Riccitiello, a former chief executive at Electronic Arts.

Riccitiello, a veteran of the video game industry, has served on Unity's board of directors since last November. Helgason will now serve as executive vice president in charge of strategy and communications.

Helgason and Riccitiello worked closely during the past year he's been on the board, meeting twice a week in many cases to discuss Unity and its strategy, Helgason said in an interview.

"He wasn't just a classic stereotypical board member that shows up every three months and hears you out," Helgason said. "He helped us develop the strategy we've been talking about."

The move signals a potentially stronger push for Unity, which was founded in 2004 and makes game-development software that has become backbone of the mobile gaming industry. The software now powers a broad range of games, from mobile hit Temple Run to Blizzard's popular Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. More than 3 million people have registered to use Unity's tools and the company says 600,000 monthly active developers now use its platform.

With Riccitiello at the helm, Unity will likely strike even more agreements akin to the ones it's made with Sony, Microsoft, Facebook and Nintendo to reduce costs for developing games when they're made for their respective company's products.

But things likely won't change much at Unity following Riccitiello's rise. Unity today, Helgason said, has already been shaped by his involvement in the company.

Riccitiello was EA's CEO from 2007 to 2013 and is largely credited with expanding the company's focus beyond creating games for computers and consoles. In 2009, EA purchased PlayFish, a game that made games playable on social media websites. And in 2011, EA bought PopCap, whose Peggle, Bejeweled and Plants Vs. Zombies strategy games were hits on mobile devices. As a result of those and many other efforts within EA, the company became one of the top mobile game makers.

What Unity won't be doing is selling itself, at least right now. CNET reported earlier this month it was considering an acquisition. Unity CTO and co-founder Joachim Ante wrote on the company's website last week that Unity has no plans to sell, a sentiment Helgason supported.