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Worlds Adrift and other MMOs safe as Unity and Improbable dispute ends

Worlds Adrift - one of the games at risk - sets sail with clear horizons once more.

The past week’s flurry of accusations, counter-claims, big-money deals and license revocations between Unity and Improbable seems to have come to an end. Developers using Improbable’s SpatialOS cloud server tech can breathe easy, and resume development as normal without fear of the floor dropping out under them. In a Unity blog post here, the company say they’ve reinstated Improbable’s Unity licenses, and have altered the terms of service so that they are no longer in breach. Developers are now free to use any third-party services they wish, although not all will be officially supported.

Update: Improbable have also confirmed plans to support SpatialOS for Unity long-term, signalling a hopeful end to hostilities between the companies. You can see their full statement here.

To recap, on January 10th, Improbable released a statement claiming that Unity had revoked their license over recent terms changes, and that the future of multiple games using SpatialOS tech was in jeopardy. Unity’s counter-claim was that developers had nothing to worry about, and while their license had been revoked, Improbable had been in breach of terms of service for many months. The situation escalated further when Epic Games jumped in, announcing that – in collaboration with Improbable – they were building a $25 million fund to bring Unity developers over to Unreal.

“Today’s change in our TOS means Improbable is no longer in breach by providing you a service, and that we are able to reinstate their licenses. But we do not consider them a partner, and cannot vouch for how their service works with Unity as we have no insight into their technology or how they run their business.

We know Improbable was in violation even before the December TOS update and misrepresented their affiliation with us. Although SpatialOS is not a supported third-party service, it can continue to be used for development and shipping games.”

Alice Prime almost went mad untangling all the corporate legalese on Monday, so please read her summary of the situation here, concluding that much of it was theatrics and playing to the crowd. Whoever was in the wrong almost doesn’t matter at this point, especially to the devs unsure whether they’d be able to continue using (or updating) the software that makes their MMO tick. With Improbable’s  Unity license restored, updates can continue to SpatialOS , although Unity are not obliged to provide direct support.

A glance at Twitter game-dev circles suggests that most are relieved, although it’s a fight that never should have happened in the first place, highlighting how vulnerable developers are if corporations and license-holders fight. Lars Doucet of Level Up Labs breaks it down concisely in his Twitter thread here. While it was mostly corporate posturing, Unity seem to be on the back foot after this week-long exchange of words, and are currently running an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit here to clarify the finer points of the revised terms. So long as none of the involved parties decide to escalate the situation once more, things look relatively stable for developers.

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Dominic Tarason

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