Why Linden Lab Is Building Its Own Engine for Sansar, Instead of Using Unity or Unreal

Inara Pey has done her usual excellent job of expertly summarizing last week’s Sansar Product Meetup, where the topic of discussion was why Linden Lab decided to build their own game engine for Sansar, instead of using an off-the-shelf engine such as Unity or Unreal.

So, rather than reinvent the wheel, I am just going to point to her blogpost, and tell you to go over there and read it all. Among the Linden Lab staff present at the meeting were:

  • Richard Linden, Sansar’s Chief Architect
  • Jeff Petersen (aka Bagman Linden), Linden Lab’s Chief Technology Officer 
  • Landon McDowell, Linden Lab’s Chief Product Officer

So you can get the scoop straight from the people directly involved.

While I think the reasoning for this decision is very sound, the unfortunate fact remains that since Linden Lab is a smaller company with limited resources, feature development will tend to lag behind off-the-shelf engines like Unity and Unreal, which have bigger development teams and lots of users. However, as mentioned in Inara’s notes, backwards compatibility of user-generated content (UGC) is a key issue that needs to be addressed in any successful virtual world. I still think that Sansar is on the right track.

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A Nasty Dispute Between Improbable and Unity Puts Several Virtual Worlds/Games in Jeopardy

Worlds Adrift 11 Apr 2018
Worlds Adrift is one of the virtual worlds impacted by the disagreement between Improbable and Unity

The Guardian newspaper reports that a spat between two companies, Improbable and Unity, has put numerous virtual worlds/games in jeopardy:

[Improbable’s] core product, a cloud-based server system called SpatialOS, allows video game developers and others to build enormous virtual worlds that exist and operate independently of player action.

SpatialOS only works in a finished game when paired with a graphics engine capable of displaying those worlds on the computers, phones or games consoles of players.

On Thursday, the developers of one of the largest commercial engines, Unity3D, told Improbable that a change to the engine’s terms of service was intended to block SpatialOS, and all games created that use the technology – including those which had already shipped – from working with Unity.

“Unity has clarified to us that this change effectively makes it a breach of terms to operate or create existing SpatialOS and Unity games and in-development games, including production games,” Improbable said on its website.

The company added: “Unity has revoked our ability to continue working with the engine for breaching the newly changed terms of service in an unspecified way.

“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.

“Games that have been funded based on the promise of SpatialOS to deliver next-generation multiplayer are now endangered due to their choice of front-end engine. Live games are now in legal limbo.”

Among the virtual worlds/games which are suddenly impacted by this dispute are Worlds Adrift (which has already launched) and Seed (which is a promising virtual world/MMO still in development).

Frankly, this sort of dispute is one of the reasons why companies such as Linden Lab and High Fidelity build their own game engines, even though that means it often takes longer to add new features. For example, both Sinespace and VRChat are built on top of the Unity game engine (one of the companies involved in this particular fight), which means that they have to carefully check for things that break whenever Unity issues an update to their game engine.

Then again, Linden Lab and High Fidelity need to do that when they update their in-house game engines as well. But at least they have complete control over the situation. I’m sure that the developers of Worlds Adrift and Seed are feeling rather powerless tonight.

Thanks to Gindipple for the heads up!