What's going on with Unity's TOS and Improbable's SpatialOS?

Jan 18, 2019 at 11:46 am by SchelleFire

Unity Vs. Improbable

Dueling blog posts from Unity, Improbable, and Epic Games has resulted in Unity pulling back a Terms of Service change that some developers in legal limbo for more than a month.

At issue was Improbable's cloud-based development platform SpatialOS and whether the company was a official Unity partner.

Unity said Improbable has been in violation of the TOS for two years. Improbable said they were negotiating. Epic Games said we're cool, come use our game engine.

On Jan. 10, Improbable and Epic Games released a joint statement reaffirming their relationship and slamming Unity's recent TOS changes. Then, on Jan. 16, Unity released a revised TOS that rolls back the changes that Improbable violated.

So what happened exactly?

Unity's recent TOS changes left middleware developers like Improbable in violation of the EULA.

In December, Unity revised it TOS to clarify restrictions to streaming and cloud gaming. The company said the terms were similar to the previous version, but it was rewritten after receiving complaints that the language was ambiguous.

"From a technical standpoint, this is what our clarification on our TOS means: if you want to run your Unity-based game-server, on your own servers, or a cloud provider that provides you instances to run your own server for your game, you are covered by our EULA. We will support you as long as the server is running on a Unity supported platform," Unity said.

If a third-party provider, like Improbable, wants to run Unity in the cloud, they must be an approved Unity Partner.

"This kind of partnership is what we have continuously worked towards with Improbable," Unity said.

But Improbable wasn't a official partner, which meant SpatialOS violates to TOS.

Because of the TOS violation, Unity turned off Improbable's keys after "a failed negotiation with them after they violated our Terms of Service."

According to a Jan. 9 blog post from Improbable, this meant SpatialOS was blocked by Unity and developers were left in a "legal limbo."

What Unity says happened

According to Unity, the game engine started negotiations with Improbable more than two years ago about how it "chose an approach, which doesn't involve partnering with Unity, but instead involves making unauthorized and improper use of Unity's technology and name in connection with the development, sale and marketing of its own products."

This violates Unity's TOS and EULA. Unity said they informed Improbable in writing multiple times over the past year and the other company didn't make any changes.

"Two weeks ago we took the action of turning off Improbable’s Unity Editor license keys. This is a unique case — and not a situation we take lightly — but Improbable left us no choice. This was the only course of action to protect the integrity and value of our technology and Unity developers," Unity said in a blog post.

Unity also said current live and in-production games would not be affected.

What Improbable says happened

Improbable was in negotiations with Unity to partner so that SpatialOS would be in compliance with the TOS and EULA.

The company was under the impression they were still in negotiations when the TOS was changed in December. And then, with no warning, Unity deactivated Improbable's keys.

"This is an action by Unity that has immediately done harm to projects across the industry, including those of extremely vulnerable or small scale developers and damaged major projects in development over many years. Games that have been funded based on the promise of SpatialOS to deliver next-generation multiplayer are now endangered due to their choice of game engine. Live games are now in legal limbo," Improbable said in a blog post.

Here are the basics of what SpatialOS does. It is a cloud platform for developing and hosting multiplayer games in the cloud. Its main features are server networking and game hosting.

SpatialOS isn’t a game engine, nor does it contain any game logic. Developers upload whatever server-side game executables they want, and we run the executables inside containers for them. Game clients communicate with these executables through our server networking layer.

Improbable provides networking libraries in multiple languages (e.g. C, C#, C++, Java) for developers to use their own tools and game engines. It also provides open-source toolkits to help developers use SpatialOS with popular game engines.

What does Epic have to do with this?

Epic Games issued a statement with Improbable "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, while respecting developers’ ability to choose partners and software components freely."

This in hindsight reads like a naked grab for some of Unity's business. Can't say that I blame the attempt.

Unity rolled back the TOS, Improbable celebrates

On Jan. 16, after nearly a week of bickering, Unity updated the update to its TOS.

"Over the last week there was much confusion, and untrue statements were raised which we refuted. But most importantly we listened to you, our community that felt that the End User License Agreement (EULA)/Terms of Service (TOS) was too restrictive," Unity CTO Joachim Ante said in a blog post.

He said the company had gotten away from its core mission of helping develop video games in a non-restrictive and cost-effective way.

"When you make a game with Unity, you own the content and you should have the right to put it wherever you want. Our TOS didn’t reflect this principle – something that is not in line with who we are," Ante wrote.

The new TOS explicitly allows developers can use whatever third-party service they wish. The difference now isn't whether a service is partnered with Unity; it's about whether it's "supported."

These changes mean "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," Ante said.

On Jan. 17, Improbable issued a statement that promised a long-term commitment to developing SpatialOS and upcoming support for mobile platforms.

Hopefully this clears things up.

Image: Fight! by chinchbug



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