Sunday, 27 May 2012

NDAs and The Gordian Knot

The Gordian Knot

The short version of The Gordian Knot story is that some guy with a sword attempting to untie a complex knot, simply gave up and cut it with his sword.

The DUST 514 NDA

Now let us turn our attention to the NDA for the DUST 514 open beta. Have a read through it, I'll be commentating on parts shortly.

The short version of the parts that are relevant to my commentary here is as follows:

You are reviewing DUST 514 as a favour to CCP. They claim unlimited rights to reproduce any review commentary ("feedback") whether you give it to them directly or publish such reviews yourself.

You are not allowed to reveal anything about the game which CCP might consider to be a secret. Thus you can point people to an existing review or story about the game (such as the multitude of videos that CCP themselves have published), but you can't make your own based on your own recording.

The waters start to get a little muddier here: what does CCP regard as "secret"? We know that you probably arrive on the battlefield using descent suits, you probably shoot guns and run around shooting those guns in people's faces. You probably drive a tank that has been air-dropped onto the battlefield on your behalf. You might get to hack computers, paint a target for an orbital strike, or fire a "Skyfire Cannon" (whatever that may be).

But just how much of that content will CCP still regard as secret? Will the presence of certain tools in the game be public knowledge (and thus no longer "trade secret") but the combination of those tools and the sequence in which you use them be considered "trade secret"? Think about that one. Is reading the last page in a thriller novel exposing a secret about the plot line that you wouldn't otherwise have known?

Would knowing (for example) that in order to fire a "Skyfire cannon" it has to be installed by a capsuleer (through Planetary Interaction), you have to train the skills to access the controls, you have to gain access to the building, there must be enough power grid available to power it, and other support structures are also required, count as exposing "trade secrets"? Note to CCP: I have not had any exposure to the game yet, I am just speculating. Any similarity between the preceding description and any in game events or configurations is entirely coincidental.

In other words does telling the world, "Snape kills Dumbledore" constitute a breach of the expected secrecy of the plot line of a book? Many people would consider this a "spoiler," even though there is still the question of what sequence of events would lead to the situation of Snape killing Dumbledore, how he achieves it, and what happens as a result. Would it be any less of a spoiler if you told the world, "Dumbledore dies. Snape kills a popular character"?

Thus in simple words, the NDA is — from a reviewer's perspective — a compact (or agreement) between CCP and the reviewer to not release any spoilers however cleverly worded they are. In other circles, I would talk about not stealing the boss's thunder on that presentation. Imagine if you had leaked some clues as to how a Skyfire Cannon works, then Hilmar gets on stage to show how awesome DUST is, highlighting how planetary defence is a multilateral sustained effort between spaceship jockeys, dust bunnies and the commercial interests keeping the planetary infrastructure ticking over? Then everyone sighs because they've seen it all before …

Way to spoil the fun, right?

The NDA Knot

I'll redirect you to the part of the NDA which reads, "CCP may discontinue the Private Trials Evaluation program at any time for any reason."

Let's say that you — for whatever reason — manage to leak something you shouldn't have. Which is easier, in your estimation: CCP engages in dialogue with you to arrange for retraction of a story, you apologise and promise it won't happen again, the lawyers talk about damages and restitution, etc. Or CCP simply terminates your Private Trials Evaluation licence and you are kicked out of the game?

Alexander the Great didn't bother untangling the mess, he just cut it.

This is why people who are bound by the NDA will prefer to tell you nothing, rather than argue about what they are allowed to tell you. Can I tell people that I helped overrun a planetary defence facility as long as there's no how involved? Can I tell people that I used my hacking skills to help win a fight? Can I tell people that training to use an orbital bombardment target painting system is as skill-intensive as training to fly a Curse?

Why risk something that is perfectly fine in your opinion, when CCP will simply cut you out of the game if it is breaching the NDA in their opinion?

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