Unity’s biggest acquisition ever

Hi friends! Greg here. You might remember me from such hits as “Greg takes over Lucas’ newsletter while he’s on vacation.” Now we’re back with “Greg takes over Lucas’ newsletter while he’s on vacation, part II” the straight-to-DVD sequel that no one really acknowledges. The animation is worse and half the cast didn’t return, but maybe we’ll introduce a talking dog or something. Who knows!

(Editor’s note: there will be no talking dog.)

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Let’s recap the big news this week.

The big thing

This week Unity announced a massive acquisition. Its biggest by far, in fact.

The company plans to spend $1.6+ billion to acquire the tech side of New Zealand’s Weta Digital, the legendary VFX studio co-founded by Peter Jackson. Unity will be taking on the engineering teams, digital assets and responsibility of the ridiculously deep catalog of custom tools that Weta Digital has spent the last 20 years building. The visual effects artists, meanwhile, will rebrand into a new thing called Weta FX, who will in turn license the tools back from Unity.

If your first reaction is “Wait what?”, you’re not alone! The news was surprising enough that I was actually blown away that it didn’t leak.

I’m told the 275-or-so engineers joining Unity from Weta Digital will stay in New Zealand. Unity has thousands of employees spread out across offices all over the world, so a distributed workforce isn’t anything too new for them.

So why Weta Digital?

Unity SVP Marc Whitten tells me that, basically, he sees a need to make building in 3D easier over the next few years. The word “metaverse” was dropped a few times in our conversation. Weta Digital has spent the last few decades building the things that build the things, so they’ve probably spent more time on these problems than anyone else.

Whitten is also a big fan of the way Weta’s tools all work together in harmony through the magic of the cloud:

“What [Weta Digital’s] tools are … is really this pipeline,” says Whitten. “Each individual tool is individually powerful, but in conjunction together across this pipeline they all work really effortlessly. If you make a change in one particular tool, it shows up in the right way when you go to do the lighting, or compositing, in any other particular tool. Groups of people can work really, really easily together.”

“What we’ll do then,” he continues “is make sure that these cloud capabilities plug directly in where artists are and where they’re trying to do their work — inside of Maya, or inside of Houdini, or inside of Unity.”

Plus, eventually opening up these tools will pique the curiosity of just about everyone in TV/film, and I’m sure Unity wouldn’t mind snagging the next “Mandalorian” or “Westworld” that might’ve otherwise been built with Unreal.

Other things

Youtube will hide the dislike count on all videos: The headline says it all, really. The company says it’s to put an end to “dislike attacks” wherein groups of users work together to pile on the dislikes. As you might expect when it comes to changing a feature that has worked a certain way for years, the user reaction is … heated, with many pointing out that two of the top 10 most disliked videos are from YouTube’s own account.

Discord clarifies a cryptic crypto tweet: After Discord CEO Jason Citron tweeted out an image of what appeared to hint at a possible crypto wallet integration on the popular chat platform, much of the user base responded with a hearty “oh hell no”… in the form of encouraging others to cancel their optional paid subscriptions to the service. Citron later clarified that Discord didn’t currently have plans to ship the concept, with the company telling TechCrunch the screenshot was from an internal hackathon project.

Robinhood gets breached: An attacker was able to social engineer their way into Robinhood’s customer support system, managing to make off with millions of customer email addresses and names, plus a few hundred dates of birth. While that’s not exactly the most sensitive info a company like Robinhood deals with, it’s not a good thing — as Zack Whittaker points out, “it’s precisely that kind of information that malicious hackers can use to facilitate further attacks against victims, like targeted phishing emails.”

Added things

While the very vast majority of the content on our site is free, a slice of it lives in a premium section we call TechCrunch+ — and that slice is all really, really good! Here’s some of the top stuff this week:

Airbnb’s Brian Chesky on the one thing he’d do over: No one knew what the hell was happening going into this pandemic. But, looking back on the last two years, what might Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky have done differently given the chance? Jordan Crook asks just that in an interview covering everything from Airbnb’s return-to-office plans to what the company is working on next.

How Zapier’s homepage converts customers: You only get so much time and screen real estate to convince a visitor to become a customer. Why do successful startups do the things they do with their homepage? Demand Curve’s Joey Noble breaks down some of the things Zapier does right, element by element.

Expensify’s CEO on why/how the company is going public now: The wonderful Ryan Lawler sat down with Expensify founder/CEO David Barrett to “discuss why the company decided to go public now, why it chose a traditional listing as opposed to a SPAC or direct listing and how it sees the expense management category shaping up as corporate travel begins to pick up post-COVID.”