The future of games including Worlds Adrift and Lazarus remains uncertain as Unity, the makers of the engine these use, continue to row with the makers of the multiplayer cloud server tech they rely on, Improbable’s SpatialOS. Improbable claimed on Friday that they were told by someone “at the most senior level” of Unity that SpatialOS didn’t breach Unity’s terms and conditions, so last week’s news that games built with Unity and SpatialOS might need to shut down was a surprise to them too. That contradicts what Unity have said so, with both sides blaming the other for the problem and the panic, it’s all still up in the air.
To briefly recap, Improbable’s SpatialOS is cloud server technology intended to make large, complex multiplayer games easier to make and host. The dispute is over SpatialOS violating Unity’s terms and conditions governing how much of a game a cloud gaming service can run without formalising a partnership with Unity. The engine makers say SpatialOS has been in violation for ages, while Improbable say that it’s only due to terms changes Unity made in December. And so the argument has raged, back and forth – and publicly.
On Friday night, Improbable issued a response to Unity’s response to Improbable’s opening statements . In short, Improbable say the stuff Unity said was wrong (who had, in turn, said the stuff Improbable previously said was wrong).
Improbable do concede that during “very early commercial discussions with Unity, it was suggested that we might be in breach of Unity’s terms of service,” but say that after providing technical details they “received verbal confirmation from Unity at the most senior level that we were not in breach”. They claim they hadn’t heard anything to the contrary until Unity expanded their terms (or clarified them, as Unity frame it) in December.
That contradicts Unity’s claim that they told Improbable “in person” over a year ago that they were in breach of the terms, and that they further gave them written notice of violation six months ago. Improbable don’t specifically counter Unity’s claim that they had “been clear with Improbable that games currently in production and/or games that are live are unaffected [by the changes].”
And so on and so forth, each side contradicting the other and making themselves out to be the wronged party. Which doesn’t much help developers caught up in the panic and confusion. But one consequence of Unity revoking Improbable’s Unity Editor keys is clear.
“We cannot easily fix bugs, improve the service or really support our customers without being in a legal grey area,” Improbable say. “Anyone who has ever run a live game knows this is a farcical situation that puts games at risk. Unity has still not clarified this, granted an exception or had a conversation with us, but we hope this will change.”
Well, make that two real consequences for developers – the first was the panic and confusion felt when Improbable told devs their games would likely need to shut down, until Unity publicly said nah.
Here we stand. So far, this whole mess has been fought in the court of public opinion, each side saying what they’ve done is harmless and pinning it on the other. Friday’s statement from Improbable was probably (hopefully) the last we’ll hear from this for a while. Trying to sway the public has made this one big mess, the misinformation and contradiction not doing anything to help developers, and making both sides look bad.
Improbable suddenly launching a $25 million (£19.5m) fund with Epic Games to help developers switch from Unity to Unreal Engine didn’t do much to help. As well intentioned as it may be, it came off as a PR stunt to sway public opinion and pressure Unity. It’s made worse by coming at a time when Epic are slinging cash around to secure exclusives for their new Epic Games Store, looking like an opportunistic attempt to capitalise on confusion and grab a larger slice of games.
At this point, both sides should stop playing to the crowd and start negotiating. Or perhaps we’re already at the point where public slapsies tends to turn legal, calling in the powerful hands of The Suits to slap out statements beginning with phrases like “My client wishes to…” and “Let the record show…” Neither have hinted that this is headed that way but y’know, I wouldn’t be surprised if they can’t even agree on what has happened.
Disclosure: I’ve pals at both Unity and Improbable.