Improbable’s plan for rescuing the MMO genre from ‘nuclear winter’ involves a crapton of money

Have a melon.

Improbable keeps popping up in news stories relating to MMOs lately — that’s thanks to SpatialOS, what the company is calling a “distributed computing platform for building large virtual worlds for gaming.” The platform is now in use on MMOs from Identity and Worlds Adrift to Chronicles of Elyria and Metaworld; its most recent partnership was announced last week with RuneScape studio Jagex, and it’s already working with Google to bring the tech to “hundreds” of developers. has a great interview out with Improbable CEO Herman Narula today that illuminates what the team worth over a billion bucks (an extrapolation based on the fact that Japan’s SoftBank’s half a billion dollar investment bought less than a 50% stake in the company) is focused on. It turns out it’s mostly video games — but it’s also bigger than video games.

“Our long-term objectives, and it is long-term, is to literally create other worlds,” explains Narula. “Not just in the context of gaming, but in the context of being able to solve really important problems. This core problem of massive distributed systems and engaging large-scale virtual worlds, is as important and significant as AI or space travel. It is just as important for the future of what our experience will be like as human beings in the world, and how we are going to solve some of the most pressing problems that we have. […] A lot of people just can’t believe that we think games are important. They are incredibly important and they’re going to be more important. Hypothetically, one day, if 100m, or 1bn, people entered simultaneously into a virtual world, that would cease to be a game, that would be a country.”

But the real reason MMORPG gamers should sit up and take notice is that Narula believes in the power of online virtual worlds and the MMO genre specifically.

“I want the industry to believe in online games again. We went through a bit of a nuclear winter, with MMOs in particular, and part of that was technological, part of that was gameplay and part of that was consumer expectation. But now the time is right to revitalise the notion of worlds where actions can be meaningful and where we can create these experiences that we’ve dreamed of. I am hoping that with us having this cash and having this stability, it’s going to make people excited about investing in that.”

Narula believes that now, “there is a much larger market of people who want deeper immersive experiences,” but the tech to make that happen has proven risky and expensive for all but the biggest studios. “What we are hoping to do with technology like Spatial is make it possible for people to do that a lot cheaper and a lot quicker so they can take experiment more,” he explains. “And maybe we will start to see some of the vibrant innovation that we have seen elsewhere. […] We are not in this to flip the company or make a quick buck. We did this because we want to play the things that people are going to make on top of Spatial. I will consider it mission accomplished when I can enter into an immersive world and feel like that experience is as meaningful as the real world.”


No posts to display

newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Loyal Patron
Kickstarter Donor
Patreon Donor

“nuclear winter”?? shouldn’t it be called “bubble bursting”? Or did i miss proverbial thermonuclear war within the mmo industry?

Kickstarter Donor

Ready Player One dystopian future here we come :)


If you’re interested in playing around with Improbable’s SpatialOS, be sure to check out the Worlds Adrift beta tomorrow.


The usual blizzard (and now bungie) dragon chasing lol…
I hope they succeed tho lol…


I don’t think most people are catching the implications of what they’re talking about.


I’m still hoping for a game where 10% of the pop is players and the rest are npc’s but at first glance you can’t tell who is who and everyone even the npc’s has something they are working towards. Is this the sort of thing SpatialOS will help you do? Still not 100% sure what this does other then “Build virtual worlds”.


“Hypothetically, one day, if 100m, or 1bn, people entered simultaneously into a virtual world, that would cease to be a game, that would be a country.”

No, it wouldn’t.
Not by the broadest stretch of the imagination, any more than Facebook is a “country”.
The vary assertion is ridiculous, and suggests that the hyperbole (and stupid) has sunk to his brain, or was there to begin with.

Patreon Donor
Loyal Patron

Too harsh i think, a country as in a huge population, i see nothing wrong with that.

Darren Gentles

Personally, I don’t find it much of a stretch of the imagination at all.

I own a VR system and in a lot of games and experiences, it’s very easy for me to lose the sense of physical reality and really immerse myself in the presented world. If the guys at Improbable see their dream realized and hypothetically every person in the country of the U.S. was strapped with a VR headset and dropped into a virtual upside-down geographical copy of the U.S. named “The S.U.”, it would be extremely easy for me to see and experience that as a virtual country (Think The Matrix).

I wouldn’t count Facebook as a fair comparison as it does nothing to infer that it’s attempting to have everyone on the planet interacting in real time within a virtual world.

Also c’mon, it’s Facebook, haha.




odin valhalla

In 2016 the gaming industry generated 91 billion in revenues.


Now that’s the whole industry, but there are interesting metrics on cross consumption for not only consumers but platforms. Meaning consumers are “gaming” on multiple platforms, with distinct desired products for each platform.

As an example: It’s like buying a soda with each meal. At a diner, at a chain restaurant at a 5 star hotel or a food cart. The consumer wants soda in all locations, the trick is providing the same soda in each location, like Coke. That’s how coca cola makes a lot of money. It requires multiple delivery systems of the same product.

This is part of what is happening in “gaming”, and it’s not necessarily a good thing. The delivery systems (your I phone, console, PC) are becoming more homogenized in terms of capabilities. It’s only a matter of time before a product (like the one in Bree’s article) enables the “soda” example.

Example: I can play Elder scrolls online on PC and Console it’s essentially the same game with minimal differences. At what point will I be able to play it on my phone as well?
You’ve then effectively consolidated the product delivery system, often what happens is the products become similarly homogenized at that point.

Example: when you go to a restaurant do they have more than 3-4 choices for soda?
Now maybe soda isn’t a great example but the point is if all the delivery systems are equal or becoming equal and the products are easier to produce the variants become less and less. Sure, in gaming we have “lore” and that’s a great mitigator for the games we play but systems with games are more likely to synergize with other games. You see it now, trait tree’s, health, Mana, reticles. I mean there isn’t anything wrong with a good system being copied but with each synergy you lose uniqueness.

As delivery systems homogenize consumer markets expand (again 91 billion) and majorities are served. Fast forward to 2025 (7.5 years from now, not that far) cross platform games will likely be common place with tens or hundreds of millions playing the popular titles all over the world. Is that good? Yes and no, yes because you’re going to have lots of games to choose from, No because the choices you have are going to be, more often than not, targeted toward obtaining the same market share, with the same mechanics.

Essentially, it’s the old meme “WoW Clone” 2.0.

See you in 2025, LOL


I’m definitely a believer in using Middleware to develop games or other software. It takes a lot of the effort of developing the same stuff that everyone needs to do on each project out of the equation. A good example of this are the Unity, Unreal, and other game engines that allow developers to make a game rather than build an engine each time.

But SpatialOS makes me a little nervous. It’s not just a MMO server ‘engine.’ It’s proprietary and hosted on Improbables own servers. And more importantly, the developer is locked into both the software AND hardware. (At least from what I’ve read so far.) That’s a dangerous thing as far as I’m concerned, not having the ability to move to a different host.

Remember The Repopulation and it’s problems with the Hero Engine? That’s the issue here.

How about “hundreds of developers” all running their games and Improbable goes into receivership? Or gets bought out? Or jacks up the prices?

Or even the simple case of their servers going down, taking every game down with it.

If this can be hosted on a developers own server hardware, good. If not, then it’s a major risk.

Kickstarter Donor

This, so much this.

A service/middleware is fine when it can be replaced, even at a high cost. Choosing a solution should have a quantifiable risk. From what I understand of Improbable’s tech and business model, using SpatialOS just doesn’t have a quantifiable risk, it’s 100% dependency. That’s comparable to run an MMO without having database backups, everything is fine until it’s not fine anymore (wasn’t there a game that disappeared one day due to that? M2, was it?). It just doesn’t seem acceptable to me.


You can indeed. They offer free hosting for initial development by using not their own, but google’s servers. Afterwards you can set them up on any other physical server.

I’m too lazy to search for sources

Kickstarter Donor
Ville Uusitalo


Amazing! I read about the investment already earlier from some tech-site but didnt make the connections with SpatialOS and their Dynamic-infinite universes…

No mans Sky already rode the ticket with the premise – sadly it went sour. Though, their very-very-small team was able to still make in incredible game… Just imagine a 100million budget SpatialOS game :D

I am ready to play a mmorpg where I can find some “new” source of energy, mineral, hell anything that makes me rich in game. Make my town around the prospect and wait for others to arrive. The traffic creates a city – after what I sell the ownership and find a new place!

Exploration is amazing and most interesting thing games have – and SpatialOS is 110% about that!