Unity, Improbable, and Epic Games have been wrapped up in a messy dispute surrounding terms of service and the much-hyped Spatial OS Platform.
It’s not often that industry powerhouses come to blows on a public stage. It’s even more uncommon that three all start going for throats. Of course, nobody is at fault and it’s all a big miscommunication. The situation has stagnated with companies being dragged through the mud, and a $25 Million deal being signed in a matter of hours. Here’s the full rundown on what exactly is happening.
This raging fire of a situation started on January 10, when Improbable published a blog post titled “Unity’s block of SpatialOS.”
“We’re waiting for someone in the west coast to wake up and make some ransom demands, basically.”
“Due to a change in Unity’s terms of service (clause 2.4), all existing SpatialOS games using Unity, including production games and in development games of all developers, are now in breach of Unity’s license terms.” The blog post concerningly starts. Clause 2.4 states that Unity cannot be “simulated by the cloud or a remote server and transmitted over the Internet or other network to end user devices without a separate license or authorization from Unity.” Improbable concerningly wasn’t authorized, so all games using SpatialOS were in breach of the new terms.
Improbable co-founder Herman Narula spoke up about the situation in an interview with The Guardian. Narula referred to Unity’s decision as “probably either an accident or a negotiating tactic.” Telling the newspaper: “We’re waiting for someone in the west coast to wake up and make some ransom demands, basically.”
Shortly before the interview, Developers began to show their understandable concern. Bossa Studios, the team behind Worlds Adrift, an MMO sandbox created using Unity and SpatialOS showcased their concerns on Twitter.
We’ve just been made aware there is a situation developing between Improbable (makers of SpatialOS, the technology underpinning the Worlds Adrift servers) and Unity (the technology we use to create the game itself). The details are still sparse.
— Worlds Adrift (@WorldsAdrift) January 10, 2019
Later that night, the studio was informed by Unity themselves that “Worlds Adrift should not be affected by the situation between Improbable and Unity.” Bossa went on to state that “As far as we know the two companies are working to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”
Later, and importantly before Unity made any comment, Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games took to his Twitter to suggest something much broader. Suggesting that Unity’s new Terms of Service could affect other online multiplayer titles that don’t use SpatialOS, Sweeney Tweeted: “Did Unity just prohibit all cloud-hosted multiplayer games? You couldn’t operate Fortnite, PUBG, or Rocket League under these terms.”
“Recent actions did not come as a surprise to Improbable; in fact, they’ve known about this for many months.”
Following all of this, Unity finally issued a statement, alongside the statement made to Bossa Studios. As it turns out, the violation goes back much, much further than a few weeks.
Unity stated that “More than a year ago, we told Improbable in person that they were in violation of our Terms of Service or EULA. Six months ago, we informed Improbable about the violation in writing. Recent actions did not come as a surprise to Improbable; in fact, they’ve known about this for many months.”
Following this, Unity suspended the licenses of Improbable employees in a move that Unity described as “unique case — and not a situation we take lightly — but Improbable left us no choice,” before reassuring developers that “anyone using SpatialOS will not be affected” and that Unity has “never communicated to any game developer that they should stop operating a game that runs using Improbable as a service” The post came from Unity co-founder Joachim Ante.
Shortly after, Improbable posted “An Update on Today’s Events” where the company apologized to “the incredible community” for the “uncertainty, confusion and pain for so many developers who really do not deserve this.” While Improbable acknowledge that the event was instigated by themselves, they quickly change the narrative away from Unity, and even from themselves.
After completely failing to acknowledge the moves by Unity to help the community, Improbable said that they “don’t believe that today was about Unity or for that matter Improbable.” The company seems to instead be pushing the narrative towards the industry as a whole, stating that “a commercial dispute between two companies,… should never threaten access to essential technology used by a large number of developers.”
Improbable’s statement is that “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.” While the company makes some very valid points, referring to developers as “most vulnerable yet most critical constituents” of the industry, the whole narrative seems a little off given the almost instantaneous partnership with Epic Games.
“We believe we are at the beginning of an unprecedented age of inclusive online games that become parts of our everyday lives.”
Following the statement from Improbable, Epic Games posted a blog post from both Tim Sweeney and Herman Narula. Yes, both Epic and Improbable founders on the same blog. On Epic Games’ website.
After some light Unity Bashing, including a backlink to Improbable’s original blog post, of which most of its content has been countered by Unity, the two companies begin to tie the knot.
“Epic Games and Improbable would like to jointly reaffirm our commitment to giving game developers the best combination of engine and other technology backed by interoperable standards that work for everyone” The pair claim in what can only be seen as a power move by the two industry giants. Following this, the two companies talk about their plan to help developers with the current situation.
“Epic Games and Improbable are together establishing a US $25,000,000 combined fund to help developers transition to more open engines, services, and ecosystems” The two companies announced. The fund is intended to “assist developers who are left in limbo by the new engine and service incompatibilities that were introduced today” or in other words, Help developers switch from Unity to Unreal.
At the time of writing, Improbable has just issued “A final statement on SpatialOS and Unity” outlining its position (without mentioning their rather impressive deal with Epic Games, interestingly) and what would appear to be a demand for action on the part of Unity.
“Unity’s response had statements which confuse the understanding of how we got here” Improbable state regarding the statement from Unity. The company also states that Unity’s statements “need clarification so developers understand their position, Improbable’s position and likely future outcomes.” The ‘error on the part of both parties’ mentality of the previous day’s second statement seems to have completely vanished.
“Unity must urgently clarify their terms or unsuspend our licenses.”
Following Unity’s statement of Improbable being aware of a breach for some time, the Company claims that following very early commercial discussions with Unity in which it was suggested that Improbable might be in breach of Unity’s terms of service, they “received verbal confirmation from Unity at the most senior level that we were not in breach of their terms of service.”
Improbable is choosing to take this, as well as the lack of Unity managers within studios claiming any form of a breach as “clarification that we have never acted in bad faith or concealed anything concerning service breaches.”
The statement ends with a section titled “Moving Forward.” One bold statement grabs attention at the top of the section. “Unity must urgently clarify their terms or unsuspend our licenses.”
“Currently the lack of clarity in the Terms of Service for Unity – and the ambiguity created by their subsequent statements – places us and developers in a difficult situation.” Improbable states. “We urgently need clarity in order to move forward.” The use of ambiguity here really suggests that Unity are the only party at fault, and the party twisting the narrative, which isn’t exactly the “both sides have certainly made errors” narrative Improbable were following just 24 hours ago.
Improbable goes on to comment that their “preference would be that Unity simply adopts industry standard practice and allows platforms to host the engine as was the case before the change in Terms of Service.” As for what that industry standard is, well it’s the notion that SpatialOS and similar services “do not require any direct technical cooperation with an engine provider to offer our services” or in other words, why can’t you be like everyone else?
Aside from a post on Twitter, Unity is yet to post a follow up from its statement yesterday, but there’s no doubt it will be different to that posted by Improbable. There are still countless unanswered questions, most notably how Improbable and Epic Games managed to draw together a $25 Million deal in what would appear to be a matter of hours. There are rumors floating around that the deal between the two has been arranged for a while and this is either a catalyst for an early announcement or something more sinister.
The willingness for Epic Games at a senior level to jump on this has led these suspicions, although a Tweet from Tim Sweeney seems to suggest that the matter was indeed settled within the span of 5 hours:
Haha, actually though I first heard of this controversy at 1pm, Herman @ Improbable and I agreed on the fund at 6pm, live edited the announcement in Google docs till 7:30pm, released at 8pm.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) January 11, 2019
Ultimately this whole situation seems like a lot of misplaced words becoming very, very big issues. No, the wording of Unity’s new terms of service is not up to par and has left a lot of concern, but Improbable’s approach of being so active with posts that all have a different flavor is not helping the situation in the slightest. Meanwhile, Epic Games seems to have slipped in and in one fell swoop, dropped a nuke on one of their biggest rivals. The story seems to be far from over, so we’ll be sure to keep up to date with the developments as they come.