Monday, January 25, 2016

NDA Is Not The Enemy

On Friday, one of the lead writers for BioWare left the company after 17 years of creating memorable, and sometimes other-wordly, characters. David Gaider's announcement was unexpected, and comes off the heels of Chris Wynn, who was the senior developer for the next Mass Effect game, leaving just a month ago. Gaider's tweets have been vague on why he left, and he spoke with Polygon that the resolution was amicable. He didn't say what he would be doing next or where his work will take him, but that it'll be mentioned soon enough.

Why am I talking about this? While perusing Facebook this morning, I found a comment from a page I follow and it made me think about how just don't understand.

NDA, or non-disclosure agreements, exist outside the realm of video games as well. We just happen to be very aware of them in the gaming culture since it permeates so many aspects of the industry. If the team making the game isn't signing one, we as consumers are when we opt into a beta. But NDA's don't exist simply to keep content from being spoiled. They are there to ensure the safety of the brand over the course of their life-cycle as people enter and leave the company.

Wal-Mart has one.

Target has one.

Even your local bakery that you like to get your morning donuts and coffee from probably has an NDA to keep workers from sharing the recipe on the creme-filled confections you adore so much.

NDA's are meant to cover your ass and the company. That's part of the agreement employees enter into in order to work for said business. I'm not saying it's always right, because sometimes it does bar you from discussing publicly why you were fired or why you left, but at the core, they are meant for your best interest. Just imagine the legal ramifications of what would happen if Gaider decided to spout a bunch of Andromeda secrets this late into the development cycle. Or talked about BioWare's employee training program. Or maybe how they offer free meals as a perk. I'm taking a giant stab in the dark on the last two points, but some of these features may help make BioWare stand out as a great place to work by comparison to other game developers. That's something they don't want their competitors to know - otherwise Ubisoft, EA, or Microsoft could snatch up the talent by making counter-offers of "Hey, does BioWare have a gaming lounge that you can play in all the time? Screw free food. Gaming lounge!"

And something like an employee training program can be copyrighted. I know. I've been involved in a few. Most suck. Some are okay. But good programs are the ones you never hear about because they keep them within the business and don't want their competitors to have access to them.

If that content was released to the public by a former employee, it can cause damage to the company. Not to mention the legal nightmare that would ensue for the employee giving away trade secrets.

Just to be clear, NDA's are not meant to hide a company's evil deeds. If a business is breaking the law, they can't cover it up with an NDA. The law supersedes the NDA in those situations.

Businesses are within their right to create, use, and issue NDA's as they see fit. When I worked for GameStop, I had a 5 year ban on being able to discuss anything involving the company's business practices once I left. And being in my position, I had a ton of knowledge about what happened behind the scenes at the corporate level. Bad customer stories were allowed to be shared as long as the employee followed GameStop's policies and I didn't mention customer names or any data that would allow one to easily locate said customer.

I've been a really good egg about the GameStop stuff. And as much as I despise working for them, I get it. They have a business model that other gaming retailers have not been able to replicate, and they don't want that creative content to be out there for people to exploit and put them out of business. While yes, there are some things that I think GameStop needs to improve to ensure a better lifestyle for their employees, less turnover rate, and happier customers, they are not doing anything illegally. Technically. They just do things half-assed or have crap services for their employees. They don't take care of their people - in turn their people don't take care of the business. But I didn't break the NDA. I knew it was to keep myself safe just as much as GameStop.

I'm also of the belief that if one leaves their job, it's their decision. Don't harp on them for more details. That's a private matter. Leave it alone. I guess this is just one long blog post about business is business. When you're an adult with a job like this, it's what you've got to do. Don't hate on the gaming companies that follow this practice.

Wherever Gaider goes from here, he has a historical legacy of RPG's that follow him. Best of luck to him on his journey!


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