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Unity Disputes Accusations Of Crippling Games; Fortnite Studio Gets Involved

Update 3: In a surprising announcement, Fortnite studio Epic Games announced that it had teamed up with Improbable to create a $25 million fund aimed at encouraging developers to leave Unity in favour of other platforms. Epic and Improbably created the fund to give cash to developers who abandon Unity for other game-development tools. Epic, of course, owns and operates the very popular Unreal Engine, which competes directly with Unity.

“To assist developers who are left in limbo by the new engine and service incompatibilities that were introduced today, 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,” Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney and Improbable executive Herman Narula said in a joint statement. “This funding will come from a variety of sources including Unreal Dev Grants, Improbable developer assistance funds, and Epic Games store funding.”

It continues:

“We believe we are at the beginning of an unprecedented age of inclusive online games that become parts of our everyday lives. Enabling this will take much more than Epic or Improbable; it will take a vastly more mature, broad-based industry to enable this future: a community of companies connected by values such as fair and openly disclosed business terms, respect for developer choice, and full interoperability between platforms, software, and services. We encourage others with a similar vision to reach out, so we can find ways to make it come sooner.”

You can read the full statement here.

Update 2: Unity has now responded with a blog post of its own that disputes Improbable’s account of the situation and states emphatically, “Improbable’s blog is incorrect.”

Unity offers a detailed breakdown of what’s happened over the past year-plus, though it starts out by clarifying, “Projects that are currently in production or live using SpatialOS are not affected by any actions we have taken with Improbable. 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. We have never communicated to any game developer that they should stop operating a game that runs using Improbable as a service.”

It goes on to explain the background of the situation, claiming that despite discussions between the two sides, “Improbable 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. 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.”

Unity explains that, two weeks ago, it turned off Improbable’s Unity Engine license keys, saying it didn’t take the matter lightly but that Improbable had “left us no choice. This was the only course of action to protect the integrity and value of our technology and Unity developers.”

“We believe that even though Improbable is violating our EULA, game developers should never pay the price for that,” Unity said. “We have been clear with Improbable that games currently in production and/or games that are live are unaffected, and we would have expected them to be honest with their community about this information. Unfortunately, this information is misrepresented in Improbable’s blog.”

Unity’s blog post goes on to provide further details and discuss changes to its EULA. You can read about that in full here. The original story follows.

A dispute between Unity and the developer of the middleware SpatialOS is impacting developers. Studios have had to pull their games due to the conflict, and SpatialOS developer Improbable has strong words for Unity’s approach.

In a blog post, Improbable explained that a change in Unity’s terms of service puts SpatialOS games in breach of the license terms. In fact, it suggests that Unity clarified directly to the company that the change in the TOS was specifically to disallow services like theirs to work in the Unity engine. It says Unity also revoked the license due to another breach in an unspecified manner. Other engines remain unaffected.

[Update 1: Improbable has now published another blog post in which it accepts some of the blame alongside Unity but suggests the problems are deeper and could have involved any company. It proposes that the games industry “might need to consider making some changes which hugely increase the rate of innovation and the collective success we could all experience.” It doesn’t outline any specific solutions, instead seemingly seeking to initiate a dialogue on the subject.]

Going forward, Improbable says it is attempting to negotiate with Unity, and is offering development support to those who use the SpatialOS tech in the meantime, including opening an emergency fund. It’s also looking into moving to a different engine as a last resort.

“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,” the company said. “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.

“All customers who entered into a relationship with us and Unity previously did so on the good faith understanding that the terms they signed up to, sometimes years ago, would allow them to be successful and not carry additional charges.”

Indie developers like Spilt Milk and Vitor de Magalhaes have made announcements on Twitter of their projects going on hiatus, pending a resolution to the conflict.

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