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Own your tech: on the Unity-Improbable incident

15.1.2019 07:32:31

In the past week there's been a debacle between the game technology companies Improbable and Unity Technologies. Improbable, as you probably know, produces a set of software called SpatialOS, apparently intended to make the creation of scalable massively multiplayer online worlds easier. The software is aimed at the users of the major contemporary game engines and, if I'm not mistaken, also has support for custom engines.

As I understand it, the way Unity came in the way of Improbable was by changing their Terms of Service. Currently, it seems that Unity is planning on its own cloud-gaming service, and after failed negotiations with Improbable, decided to cut out the competition via legal means.

There's been a lot of talk about how this change will affect the companies already using Improbable's technology with Unity, many of which are small independent companies. Epic has claimedly used the incident to its advantage, funding the transition of Unity games to Unreal Engine by millions of dollars. It is still unclear to me whether or not existing games or games in development will be allowed to operate with Unity and SpatialOS, but if not, the effects will be devastating for the smaller companies.

The main point to take home from this? In my view, it is that you should always own your technology, or use free and open source software. The IT industry has this obsession today with "saving" development time by buying all the technological parts of products from different sources. But not only does this lead to poorer software due to the commercial parts not being specialized for the types of products being made, but as this incident shows, using    proprietary third party parts can lead to serious legal issues.

While I retain my opinion that all of the best games ever made were written using custom engines tailored specifically for them, if I was to use an existing game engine, I would use a free and open source one, such as Godot, which has been making great strides in the past few years and gained quite a bit of popularity. It takes tech of your own or an open license to ensure no catastrophy such as this one caused by greedy companies fighting each other can ever happen to your game.