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Dispute Between Unity, Cloud Service Shuts Down Some Online Games

Updated: Online video games that use both the Unity game engine and the SpatialOS cloud platform are now at risk thanks to a recent change in Unity’s terms of service, according to SpatialOS developer Improbable.

Unity reportedly changed its terms of service to specifically disallow services like SpatialOS from functioning with its game engine, Improbable said in a blog post on Thursday. That means all games using both platforms, whether they’re live or in-development, are now in breach of Unity’s license terms.

“Worryingly, this change occurred during an open commercial negotiation with the company to find a way to do more together,” Improbable said. “In addition, Unity has revoked our ability to continue working with the engine for breaching the newly changed terms of service in an unspecified way. This will affect our ability to support games.”

Unity’s actions have done immediate harm to a variety of gaming projects, Improbable said, including those from “extremely vulnerable” or small-scale developers. While it can’t say exactly how many studios are affected, a representative told Variety via email a number of them have had to take their games offline.

Spilt Milk Studios uses both Unity and SpatialOS for its sci-fi MMO “Lazarus.” It temporarily shut down servers on Thursday. “We’re not quite sure what’s going on,” the studio tweeted. “We were told that access to the servers would be revoked by 2:30 p.m. today, but it seems that’s not the case. Until either the servers are forced down or we’re told to turn them off, we’ll keep ‘Lazarus’ live.”

Bossa Studios’ “Worlds Adrift” also uses both platforms, but said it’s currently “operating as normal.” “Bossa’s main priority is you, our players. Whatever is happening in the background outside of our control, our focus is ensuring players are looked after and your memorable experiences in the game are protected,” it said on Twitter. “Rest assured you will be the first ones to know if this situation causes any disruption to your experience.”

Unity issued a lengthy statement on its website Thursday evening refuting some of Improbable’s claims. It said it terminated its relationship with Improbable after the developer violated its terms of service and negotiation failed. But, it stressed that anyone using SpatialOS will not be affected.

“Projects that are currently in production or live using SpatialOS are not affected by any actions we have taken with Improbable,” Unity said. “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.”

While Unity said it was excited to explore ideas with Improbable when the two started discussions more than two years ago, the developer “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.” Unity said it told Improbable in person that it was in violation of the terms of service. It sent another warning in writing six months ago.

“Recent actions did not come as a surprise to Improbable; in fact, they’ve known about this for many months,” Unity said. “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.”

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