NDA's Are Not Used Properly


Excited to play First Assault earlier this month, I giddily downloaded the game’s client when disappointment reared its head, “by participating in this test you agree to the terms of the NDA.” The non-disclosure agreement suffocates my excitement and I return to old habits. I want to share my experience, not take a vow of silence like a mid-life crisis ascetic. Why are you advertising your game to the public and telling us not to talk about it. “If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.” Developers, read more Kahlil Gibran before you advertise a game no one’s supposed to discuss.

The principle motivating an NDA is that information needs to be released like a conservationists hand on a faucet, carefully controlling the stream as part of the developer’s marketing strategy. In the world of technology we find a parallel through Apple, who pride themselves on company secrets until the weeks before a major release. The adage is that hype relies on one colorful firework at a time, with developers choosing when to strike a match. But foregoing an NDA doesn’t slow down the hype-express. It can bolster anticipation. Watching YouTube videos of Tree of Savior riled my jealousy and regret that I was out of town for the first CBT. An NDA would have pushed ToS to the back of my mind, to be replaced by a title with exorbitant information I could soak in.

NDA implies that you’re not confident in your product to be discussed publically. It’s a sign that it’s unfinished and the drawing board is still prone to eraser marks. And that’s okay. It is a test. Today’s market is drowning in buggy, unfinished Early Access titles. But if you don’t want the public to discuss it don’t send press releases to major media outlets advertising your game. Unless the press release reads, “only interested in testers willing to aid the developmental process.” What purpose does it serve to have a general player—one without the keen eyes or motivation to provide feedback—to test your NDA stamped game?

Target players who want to debug. Keep press to a minimal. Remember when testing games was a job, when dedicated players provided feedback? When I tested Warhammer Online I filled out a lengthy questionnaire and was compelled to provide feedback on every aspect of gameplay through clever systems. Now, it’s a free for all where everyone is a tester—sometimes paying ludicrous amounts of money to be a guinea pig. The vast majority of players during a widespread announced test-phase are interested in one thing: fun.  So, don’t shout from the rooftops that you have a new game to play and then say, “But remember children don't talk about it. You’re hip, you like Fight Club don’t you?” It silences the number one form of advertising.

The best marketing is word of mouth. No matter how many advertisements you shove down my throat I’m still going to trust the recommendation of a friend over Kate Upton's voluptuous gaze (Game of War). NDA’s ostracize the strongest advertising force in the world, the community. Because games aren’t just game’s themselves anymore. They’re the communities that settled around a title, building hype through excited conversations. And mistiming an advertising push with an NDA test-phase stifles the roots of a community before it can grip the dirt. The test announcement builds hype that fades with time because the NDA has cut off tester’s tongues.

NDA’s are appropriate in the right context, when the purpose of a test is to garner feedback from bugtesting players. But then the testing phase ought to be directed towards a specific audience, not the general public. There are plenty of people interested in aiding the development process, who get shafted by XxXCoolGuy69XxX because sign-ups only asked for an email address and a birthday. What happened to seeking out players interested in development? Are they now solely relegated to crowdfunding projects? Use NDA’s properly, when your game is still early in development. Don’t advertise your product and tell the general public not to discuss it. You’re trying to silence the wind.

From Mega Man II to Ape Escape, I've been playing games for as long as I can remember. I've spent months killing porings in Ragnarok Online and more recently lived a second life in Eve Online. I usually play as gUMBY, gUMBLEoni, or gUMBLes in-game.