If you’ve been playing MMOs for even a short period of time, and haven’t heard the term “Non-Disclosure Agreement”, then you’ve probably been living under a particularly large rock. And so the topic of NDAs in general has been raised in my mind again this morning. And I’m sure will again in the not so distant future as we start to look forward to the release of Star Trek Online, Knights of the Old Republic Online, and others.
Generally I’m against NDAs because they stifle the free flow of information. In a game setting, they stifle valuable information that other gamers are keen to gain. I understand all the reasons why companies use them. At first NDAs are used to stop the release of information that could potentially damage opinion about a game. Especially in the very early stages when it is particularly buggy, un-balanced, and there is limited content and scope. I personally never bought that argument, because as most NDAs stipulate, the game is a BETA and blah, blah, blah. I think most players understand that specifics about balanced game-play, end-game, and everything in between can’t really be gleaned from early betas. But there are also other nebulous reasons NDAs are used. They’re also tools used to shape expectation and create desire in the player base to learn more. By withholding information, you stoke the fire in the gaming populace to learn more about your game.
Whichever side of the fence you may fall on in the debate, there are very real consequences to gamers who release information prior to the NDA being lifted later in the beta process. If you are a well known blogger your postings will garner greater attention than others and anything you say will most likely be attributable to you as a specific player by the company. That may get you kicked from the beta. And it also could lead to you not receiving beta invites in other games if if were to become known that you break NDAs. So generally bloggers follow the rules, or they blog about their experiences anonymously somewhere. I can think of at least one very well known blogger who has been doing exactly that in WoW since the inception of the game. He always seems to have the most up to date information, which leads to some interesting questions about the individual in the first place. But for the purposes of this discussion illustrates my point.
In the end NDAs have another effect. They stop people like me who might otherwise be giving glowing press to a game that is at a stage when it could really capitalize on it, from getting it.