Article by Monica Mizzi
Beta testing computer and console games can be a lucrative job – not only do you get to test games before they hit the market, you can earn some sweet moolah for your efforts. While you may think your responsibility rests solely on giving honest and constructive feedback, you will likely have legal obligations to uphold as well.
Understanding any legal obligations you have to the company you are working for is critical, particularly if you are new to the field of beta testing. The most common legal document you will be asked to sign is a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). This short guide will answer some of the key questions you may have about NDAs, and will also offer advice on how to remain on the right side of the law.
What is an NDA?
A Non-Disclosure Agreement is a legally binding document which prohibits the disclosure of proprietary and sensitive information. The agreement defines which information is considered in such terms, and sets parameters regarding the usage of it.
As the “Receiving Party” of the NDA, you will have a number of legal obligations to fulfil –that is– if you decide to sign it.
By agreeing to the terms of the NDA, you enter into a legally-binding contract that states:
a) you understand the scope of the sensitive information in focus.
b) you understand that there will be repercussions if you break the terms of the NDA.
c) you will not use or disclose the protected information with any third parties.
What should I do now I’ve been given an NDA?
Take the time to read it thoroughly, ideally more than once. You don’t want to be caught out later because you skimmed over an important clause. You should be able to understand all of the components of the NDA – the terms, the scope, the legal obligations you have, and possible repercussions for breaking the NDA. Before you sign anything, it’s strongly recommended that you read more about the vital NDA considerations you should make.
If you find there are still outstanding parts you don’t fully understand, ask. It is perfectly reasonable to follow up with your point of contact about any questions you have. Likewise, if you find something unjust or out of place, such as overly broad language, don’t be afraid to ask for the document to be modified.
If you find at this point that the company is being too cagey, or is unwilling to compromise, trust your gut. Is it really worth it to take on a job you don’t feel completely comfortable with? Is it really in your best interests to work with a company that isn’t completely transparent?
It may be hard to walk away from what seems like a brilliant opportunity, but dealing with an unresponsive and possibly questionable company is much harder.
Can’t I just tell a few trustworthy people? Surely the company won’t find out..
If you wouldn’t even dream of breaking your NDA, feel free to skim over this section. However, as Blizzard can attest to, NDA slips in the gaming industry are a relatively common occurrence. So let’s just go over this quickly just in case the thought ever crossed your mind.
Hey, I get it. The struggle is real: you now have a juicy nugget of information, and you’re dying to tell your friends.
I don’t want to get all NDA police on you, but this isn’t just some casual gossip you’d be letting out. By telling anyone anything about the NDA, you expose yourself to the consequences of breaking a legally binding contract.
Even mentioning that you’re under an NDA puts you at risk of being targeted for the sensitive information you possess. You’re also far more likely to give in to your friends if they start hounding you for information.
But are the consequences even that bad? Well, when you consider that the secret you let out could cost a company millions of dollars in lost revenue, you can imagine that the consequences are going to be pretty hefty.
Anyway, why don’t you decide for yourself if it’s worth the risk….
What are the repercussions for breaching an NDA?
If the company that issued you the NDA finds out –or even suspects– you have breached it, they will likely seek retribution from a number of legal avenues at their disposal. As such, there are many possible consequences you could face for breaching an NDA.
Consider the following typical scenario to get a taste of what you could be in for if you are suspected of breaching your NDA:
The company will first gather evidence to support their claim that the NDA was breached. They will investigate what information was compromised, how it was done, and who was involved. Following this, the company may send you a Cease and Desist Letter as a means of getting you to halt your unlawful action. It is basically a stern warning that if you do not comply with their demand to stop sharing the sensitive information, the case will be escalated.
According to experts, if the Cease and Desist Letter does not work, the company can choose to take you to court. If they have a strong enough case and you are found guilty of breaching the NDA, the possible consequences include:
- Monetary damages
- Termination of employment
- In very serious cases, jail time
That’s not to mention the emotional stress of a legal battle, loss of reputation, and subsequent ongoing personal and profession consequences of having a legal breach to your name. Even if the court rules you were not in breach of the NDA, you will still have prohibitive court costs to pay. None of that sounds too fun, right?
TL;DR: Err on the side of caution
The TL;DR is to be err on the side of caution. Be vigilant when checking over the NDA, and clear up any questions you have before signing your name to it. If you choose to sign the NDA don’t tell anyone anything about the contents of it (or even that you have one!) – it’s not worth the devastating life consequences of breaching this sensitive legal contract. Just remember those caveats, and you’ll be on your way to your first beta tester coin run, Mario-style.