The creator of 'Fortnite' is getting involved with an intense feud between $2.6 billion Unity and $2 billion startup Improbable

tim sweeney epic games fortnite

  • Improbable and Unity — two big names in the world of
    video game development — are engaged in a public spat, being
    carried out via back-and-forth blog posts.
  • The core of the matter: Unity seemed to have changed
    its terms of service to forbid customers from also using
    Improbable’s SpatialOS tech,
    which helps developers run
    cloud-based gaming services.
  • The change frightened some Unity customers, who had
    been using Improbable’s SpatialOS to power their online games —
    one developer actually shut down its game’s servers, for fear of
    violating Unity’s terms of service. 
  • But Unity says that Improbable misrepresented the
    situation, and customers can continue using SpatialOS as they’ve
  • Epic Games, the maker of “Fortnite,” then got involved
    when it announced a partnership with Improbable for a $25 million
    fund for developers who might be in “legal limbo” over the
    situation. The two companies have called on Unity for more clarity
    and a renewed commitment to openness. 
  • Epic and Unity are long-time rivals — Epic’s Unreal
    Engine and Unity are two of the most popular video game engines in
    the world, and big business for both companies.

Epic Games, the creator of “Fortnite,” has inserted itself into
the middle of a
back-and-forth feud
 between $2 billion British startup
Improbable and $2.6 billion Unity Technologies. 

The beef began on Thursday, when Improbable announced that
SpatialOS, a cloud gaming service, was no longer compatible with
Unity after a change to the latter’s terms of service.

This was a big deal: Unity, the flagship gaming engine from
Unity Technologies, is the foundational software behind many modern
video games — games like “Pokémon Go,” “Hollow Knight,” and
“Cuphead” were all built with Unity at the core. Similarly,
Improbable, a prominent British technology company, is the
proprietor of SpatialOS, which helps developers quickly and easily
deploy the underlying plumbing for online multiplayer

Improbable’s announcement created ripples throughout the
industry — one Improbable customer, Spilt Milk Studios, reacted
to the news by shutting down the online servers for its Unity-based
game “Lazarus,” for fear of violating Unity’s terms of service.

hollow knight

Then, Unity responded, saying that Improbable had misrepresented
the situation, and that developers using Unity with SpatialOS had
nothing to worry about. It pledged to clarify its terms of

But then, later in the night, Epic Games, the $15 billion gaming
giant, got involved. It announced that it had partnered with
Improbable to create a $25 million fund for developers stuck in
“legal limbo” over the situation. And Improbable issued its own
“final statement,” calling on Unity to  

Although the clash was between Improbable and Unity, Epic Games
decided to jump in because it believes that game developers should
have the freedom to use whatever tools they want. Of note is that
Epic Games and Unity are long-time competitors: Epic makes the
Unreal Engine, a direct competitor with Unity. Game engines are

big business
both companies

“The principle at stake here is whether game developers are free
to mix and match engines, online services and stores of their
choosing, or if an engine maker can dictate how developers build
and sell their games,” Tim Sweeney, co-founder and CEO of Epic
Games, told Business Insider via a Twitter direct message. 

Here’s how things got to this point. 

Where it started

The roots of the feud go back to December, when Unity updated
its terms of
to exclude “managed service[s] running on cloud
infrastructure” that “install or execute the Unity Runtime on the
cloud or a remote server.” The meaning of this clause is what seems
to be at the center of the dispute. 

In its original blog post, Improbable said that it was informed
by Unity on Wednesday that SpatialOS would be in violation of those
terms. In other words, Improbable wrote, all Unity-based games
using SpatialOS — including those in development, as well as
those released to the world with paying customers — were
themselves in violation. 

Improbable also said that its own license for the Unity Editor
software has been revoked. 

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“Overnight, 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,” Improbable wrote in its blog

At the time, Improbable said that it would set up an emergency
fund to aid SpatialOS developers on Unity, as well as make its code
for the SpatialOS Game Development Kit for Unity available as open

“Live games are now in legal limbo,” Improbable wrote.

Developers in limbo

Improbable’s blog post sent the gaming industry into a tizzy,
with many expressing concern that Unity would seemingly make such
an aggressive, sudden move to block developers from hosting
multiplayer games in the cloud. 

Sweeney himself questioned the logic of the move: “You couldn’t
operate Fortnite, PUBG, or Rocket League under this terms,” he

Did Unity just prohibit all cloud-hosted
multiplayer games? You couldn’t operate Fortnite, PUBG, or Rocket
League under these terms.

— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic)
January 10, 2019

Unity developers expressed shock and dismay over the change, as

Spilt Milk Studios, whose game “Lazarus” uses both Unity and 
SpatialOS, briefly shut down its servers after Improbable published
its blog post. Boss Studios, the proprietor of “Worlds Adrift,”
came close to making the same move, though ultimately kept its
servers online. 

Hi – we’ve got some really bad news.

Due to a dispute between Improbable
& Unity we have to shut down the Lazarus servers.

It’s going to be down for an undetermined amount of time,
basically until the dispute is resolved, one way or

— Spilt Milk 💦 (@SpiltMilkStudio)
January 10, 2019

Bossa has been informed by Unity that Worlds
Adrift should not be affected by the situation between Improbable
and Unity. Thus, Worlds Adrift remains live as normal.

As far as we know the two companies are working to resolve the
situation as quickly as possible.

— Worlds Adrift (@WorldsAdrift)
January 10, 2019

The move seemed to endanger in-progress projects, as well. 

“I don’t know how many hours I’ve sunk into these projects and
the plans to start a game company utilizing this technology but
it’s a huge portion of my time over the last two years,” user

AtomiCal posted
on the Unity forums. “Today I woke up to a
message essentially pulling the rug from under my feet saying that
I can’t do that anymore. Unity won’t let it happen.”

Later, Improbable wrote another blog post apologizing for the
uncertainty created by the situation, and suggested that the
industry should standardize on some rules for how to handle
situations like this. 

“In the near future, as more and more people transition from
entertainment to earning a real income playing games, a platform
going down or changing its Terms of Service could have devastating
repercussions on a scale much worse than today,”
Improbable wrote

Unity calls Improbable ‘incorrect’

Unity finally responded when CTO Joachim Ante wrote
a blog post
saying that Improbable’s blog post was incorrect,
and pledged that the company was working on clarifying its terms of
service around cloud-hosted gaming. 

First of all, Ante said, Unity developers using SpatialOS won’t
be affected, whether their games are in production or live. 

“We have never communicated to any game developer that they
should stop operating a game that runs using Improbable as a
service,” Ante wrote.

Unity’s issue is specifically with Improbable, as a company —
Ante writes that Improbable had been “making unauthorized and
improper use of Unity’s technology and name in connection with
the development, sale, and marketing of its own products.” As such,
Unity revoked Improbable’s license keys for Unity Editor, one of
its commercial products, such that the startup can no longer use
Unity tech to build its services, he says. 

worlds adrift bossa studios

What’s more, Ante wrote that Improbable had already been in
violation of its terms of service for over a year, and it had told
Improbable this both in person and in writing months ago. In other
words, this should not have been a surprise to Improbable, as it’s
known about this for many months, Ante said. 

Also, Unity said it had been clear with Improbable that no games
currently in production won’t be affected.

“We would have expected them to be honest with their community
about this information,” Ante wrote. “Unfortunately, this
information is misrepresented in Improbable’s blog.”

Epic Games swoops in

The saga didn’t end with Unity’s blog. That same day, Epic’s
Sweeney and Improbable CEO Herman Narula penned a blog post
together saying that they were starting a $25 million fund to
assist developers “who were left in limbo.” 

“Epic Games’ partnership with Improbable, and the integration
of Improbable’s cloud-based development platform SpatialOS, is
based on shared values, and a shared belief in how companies should
work together to support mutual customers in a straightforward,
no-surprises way,” they wrote in
the blog post

Sweeney tells Business Insider that developers shouldn’t be
locked into Unity-approved services just because of some changes in
the terms of service.

“As a new operator of a store and online services, Epic’s
ability to serve developers depends on whether they’re free to
choose us, or if Unity can say they’re locked into Unity-approved
services,” Sweeney said.

Improbable speaks out again

On Friday, Improbable made another blog post, saying this was
its “final
.” In the post, it clarified that it had received
verbal confirmation from Unity that it was not in breach of Unity’s
terms of service. It also said that although SpatialOS games based
on Unity can stay live, the fact that Unity revoked its license
keys means that Improbable cannot legally provide support to those
games’ developers, which includes fixing bugs.

“We regarded this as the end of the matter and proceeded with
commercial discussions. Until the recent change, neither we nor
Unity had reason to believe there was any issue for developers,”
Improbable wrote.

herman narula improbable 2

It also said that the terms of service cast too wide of a net,
as the terms could put any cloud-based multiplayer solution or
cloud-based streaming solution at risk of being in violation. After
Unity clarified that Improbable was in violation of its terms of
service, Improbable decided to put a public notice, says the blog

Finally, Improbable said that Unity should either unsuspend its
Unity Editor license, or else clarify its terms and conditions —
something that, again, Unity has pledged to do. 

“We urgently need clarity in order to move forward. Everyone
requires a long term, dependable answer from Unity on what is and
is not allowed, in a documented legal form,” Improbable wrote.
“More broadly, developers are asking about other services, not just
Improbable’s. This urgently needs resolution.”

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The creator of 'Fortnite' is getting involved with an intense feud between .6 billion Unity and billion startup Improbable