Tobold's Blog
Thursday, August 23, 2007
The NDA and me

If you plotted my "alignment" on an old-fashioned Dungeons & Dragons alignment chart, I'd be somewhere on the "lawful" side. I respect rules, even those which would be easy enough to circumvent. Thus, although it would be easy to sign up with a fake e-mail, I use my real e-mail address to sign up for beta tests, and I respect the non-disclosure agreements. I might make a honest mistake, like once I posted a paragraph from an NDA and somebody told me afterwards that under the NDA the NDA itself is secret. But otherwise I keep my mouth shut and don't even mention the names of the games I'm beta testing, unless the NDA allows it.

As I'm currently in three betas, this makes my blogging life difficult. I'm used to blog about what I'm playing. Only now I can't. One of these betas was the first thing I played after coming home from my recent trip, and I'm absolutely hooked and can't wait for the game to come out. But I can't even tell you which game it is.

Now at first I was thinking that the game companies are hurting themselves with those NDAs. Why not get the free publicity? But after thinking it through, I can understand why they prefer the silence. For example take the review of EQ2 I wrote during it's beta, when the NDA was just lifted. Most of the bad stuff I'm saying about the game back then: bugs, server lag, feature incomplete, has long since been fixed. The review was fair insofar as that was the state of the game at the time the NDA was lifted, and even still pretty much true a month later on release. But if EQ2 had postponed their release by a couple of months and kept the lid on, the review would have looked a lot better for them.

If the betas I am playing were release versions, I would complain about lack of content, bugs, balance issues, or server problems, in various degrees. But these things are normal for a beta, and experienced beta players just log the bugs and then ignore them. The amount of bugs, or the magnitude of the gap in content gives you an idea how realistic the announced release dates are, with postponements or a release in a half-finished state being both unpleasant options, but that is about it. Sooner or later the bugs will be fixed, and more content will be added. Either in added development time, or after release. Sometimes it is even hard to tell which is the better option. With both WAR and the second WoW expansion expected for the first half of 2008, the temptation must be strong to release a game now, even with some remaining bugs, and not go head to head with the big guys next year. But then, Vanguard is a good counterexample of why postponing is sometimes the better option. Of the three betas I'm playing I can see two having a realistic chance of being released this year in a playable form, while the developers of the third would need to be crazy if they released it now.

So with bloggers and other beta testers being too critical, especially with early faults of a game, I can understand why developers rather keep everyone under an NDA. Far easier to present the best bits during E3 or similar events to traditional media journalists, which are more reliable producers of hype and often less critical in previews. So what I should do (and already did in one case) is to write some "first impressions" piece on the game and stick that file on my hard drive for later use, when the NDA is lifted. There is a risk that I'll need to rewrite the bits that have significantly changed before publishing. But that is something I'll need to live with.
Pirates of the Burning Sea or Rome Rising. I'm putting my money on Pirates - an mmorpg that seems tailor made for you.
Tabula Rasa is in beta but don't know if has still a strict NDA . In theory it had been avaible on FilePlanet for subscribers. So it should be nearly at the last beta stages and near to completion. And having a big number of random beta players (random players as paying customers, and not selected beta tester) I wonder how is handled an NDA in such a case.
NDAs are really tricky. I know I've signed several, and a good deal of them were with Sony. I know that on the first few with them, I was told that even when the public announcement of the NDA being lifted was made, that it didn't apply to me, as my NDA was "on a different level". Later on, it wasn't even mentioned directly, but it was strongly implied. Which is a shame, because I saw a lot of good stuff I wish I'd have been able to talk about, other than with people that were there with me. Bad stuff too, sure, but that's what testing is all about.

The policy I tend to go with is that I get permission on posting prior to doing so, which usually isn't too hard.
I'd put my money on Tabula Rasa and PoTBS being ready for release this year, and WAR being the "you'd be crazy to release" candidate...but of course, you can't confirm or deny :) It's still fun to speculate, though.

I've been thinking about NDA's listening to Gary and Ryan on the MOGarmy podcast talking about Tabula Rasa. They keep saying they're under NDA, and they keep kinda talking about it, and I wonder how much is kosher. Since they love it, it's good press, and they're seasoned testers and keep saying that it's a beta and any bugs or issues are all to be expected...but I think they stray further toward a chaotic good alignment :)

*Waves to Oz*. Long way from The Grove, my friend :)
Post on the games' secret forums of course! Many (most?) of us are NDA signers too. :)
The WAR NDA allows you to state that you are in the beta. Several folks on forums I read have bragged that they are in it and that this is all they can say.

I am surprised all the NDAs don't allow this. It's kinda silly to not let you even say you're in a given beta.
Indeed it is. I should e-mail the CMs of the games I'm in on and see if I can announce that I'm in at least. It'd take a load of my mind if I could just blog it and be done with it until the NDA drops.

The CMs will most likely not say anything that would contradict the NDA. They might not bring you to court for saying that you are in the beta, but they would not give an approval for you to say it.

My guess is that those with particuarly restrictive NDAs are from companies with more limited legal efforts - it is easier to disallow too much than to disallow just what is needed.
The bigger and more experienced companies have probably put more effort into the legal work and might not be too restrictive.
Hmm, I wonder who Rick is. He definately knows me!
Also, I need to find out what club Tobold's in that he gets to do all this Beta testing. I found testing to be a lot of fun, especially when you'd see something in final release that you could point to and (interally) say, "That does that because of me".
I wish i could get in a beta lol. I haven't got in once since COH. I guess I just need to apply more. I applied to AoC & WAR but so far no luck. Oh well, I have other stuff I need to do anyway.
If you want in betas, start a gaming blog and update it frequently.
Re: things being fixed from the EQ2 review

The obvious solution is to keep the NDA in place for several months after the game goes live.
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