Monday, July 14, 2008
Are NDAs a good idea?
Rohan asked in the open Sunday thread whether NDAs were a good idea. He says: "My initial thought is that if you have a good game, an NDA will cut down on the amount of hype or positive publicity you can generate. If you have a bad game, people are going to ignore your NDA and post anyways, as the only repercussion is getting kicked out of the Beta/game." Interesting thought! Although it paints a grim picture of the only reason for people not breaking a legally binding contract is if the punishment for the infraction hurts them. At least the game companies must think that people who sign an NDA will actually stick to it, regardless of the quality of the game.
My take on NDAs is that they are a form of attempted control of public relations. I'm in one beta without NDA, Football Manager Live, so I can state freely that I like the game, even if the economy is screwed up. But then Football Manager Live probably needs all the publicity it can get, even if it's just me writing about it on a blog. I'm in another beta, for Warhammer Online, where the NDA only allows me to say that I'm the beta, and not what I think about the game. And I think that is what the guys from Mythic want. They have a huge and well-functioning marketing machine, one that is even more impressive than that of Blizzard. They have monthly newsletter, the Warhammer Herald, video podcasts, developer's blogs, they got everything. If they have bad news, like, hmmm, lets say not being able to finish 4 classes and 4 cities before release, they prefer to have Mark Jacobs doing the announcement and writing detailed explanations on various game forums. They have the PR under control.
And, beta leaks or no beta leaks, at least for them it works. They can live without the potential hype from people in the beta, because they already get enough hype from people who are NOT in the beta, who just react to what Mythic fed them. There are already lots of WAR fan blogs, in spite of the fact that the game isn't even out yet. I think they are much better off with the NDA they have. If you see some of the "beta leaks", you'll notice that they are based on outdated information, or misinterpret a test of something as being a problem in the future release. How would a game company be able to use a beta test to actually test something if then everybody went "I just saw this in the beta and I hate it" publicly? The purpose of the beta test is for the beta testers to say "I hate this" to the devs, and the devs to take it our or make it better for the release version.
The only "beta leaks" I believe in are those like in the case of Vanguard, where Sigil said "we are releasing this game in 3 weeks" and all the beta testers collectively went "no way!". But for games which still have months of development ahead of them, I'd rather have an NDA, and us relying on official announcements instead of rumors. I'm willing to worry if Mark Jacobs tells me that Empire won't have tanks, but I'm not willing to do so if some beta tester says that there were no tanks on the Empire character selection screen. Only when the game is released, or at least very close to release, or the developers say so, do we really know what features are in or not in. If NDAs keep the premature rumors low, than that is fine with me.