Earlier today, Unity Technologies blocked Improbable’s SpatialOS online-gaming tools from accessing the Unity game-dev engine. This has left developers reeling because many of them rely on both tools to run their games connected multiplayer modes.
In the first of its two blog posts today, Improbable claimed that Unity is hurting games that are live and in development by making this change.
“Games that have been funded based on the promise of SpatialOS to deliver next-generation multiplayer are now endagered due to their choice of game engine,” reads the Improbable blog. “Live games are now in legal limbo.”
But Unity has since fired back and is claiming that Improbable is deliberately misrepresenting the issue.
“Improbable’s blog is incorrect,” Unity chief technology officer and cofounder Joachim Ante wrote in his own blog post. “We terminated our relationship with Improbable due to a failed negotiation with them after they violated our Terms of Service. We’ve made it clear that anyone using SpatialOS will not be affected.”
On Friday, Improbable posted a new blog, which it claims is its final statement. It addressed Unity’s claims. Specifically, it says that while developers can continue to use SpatialOS with Unity if they’ve already started, Improbable is locked out of supporting those studios.
“Improbable still has all its Unity license and access suspended,” reads the Improbable blog. “We cannot easily fix bugs, improve the service or really support our customers without being in a legal grey area. 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.”
Unity devs already using SpatialOS are unaffected
According to Ante, Unity games going forward cannot use Spatial OS. If a game is live or in production, it may continue to do so.
“We have never communicated to any game developer that they should stop operating a game that runs using Improbable as a service,” wrote Ante. “If a game developer runs a Unity-based game server on their own servers or generic cloud instances like GCP, AWS or Azure, they are covered by our EULA.”
Improbable is different because it adds its own software on top of Unity. And Ante says that the company considers this a separate platform and not just a generic cloud. For a service like that, Unity wants to form an official partnership. And it claims that Improbable skirted a deal like that for two years.
Improbable invites Unity to do … something
Improbable posted a second blog after Unity’s response, and it is bizarre. It does not address any of Ante’s claims directly. Instead, it is a reflection on the need for some sort of governing body to protect developers and gamers.
“We don’t believe that today was about Unity or for that matter Improbable,” reads the blog. “Ultimately, a commercial dispute between two companies, in which both sides have certainly made errors, should never threaten access to essential technology used by a large number of developers.”
I’ve reached out to Improbable to clarify this point. But it’s seemingly saying Unity shouldn’t have the right to stop developers from using SpatialOS with Unity. The company argues that could threaten innovation in gaming.
The cyber police
And what is Improbable proposing as a solution to that threat? Well, some kind of platform police.
“We think this incident shows that, as an industry, we might need to consider making some changes which hugely increase the rate of innovation and the collective success we could all experience,” reads the Improbable blog. “Perhaps it’s time to create a code of conduct, or basic set of principles that the enablers within the ecosystem need to operate by, as against developers and clearly also players. The law is a useful tool in disputes, but as today has shown, in game development reputation and trust can be equally powerful. As a first step, we may be able to self-police, or at least experiment with informal principles to help guide this space.”
Again, I’ve asked Improbable to clarify. It seems like it doesn’t want to make a deal with Unity. But Improbable also doesn’t want Unity to prevent future developers from using SpatialOS. And Improbable is characterizing this as an existential challenge for every platform, developer, and gamer.
But until Improbable can get every company in the gaming space to agree to its suggested new code of conduct, Unity will probably continue blocking SpatialOS. And that is unlikely to change.
Updated on Friday January 11 at 5:45 p.m. with Improbable’s latest statements.