Soon, another batch of beta testers will be heading into The Elder Scrolls Online and will do stuff. What stuff it is, we can’t be particularly sure of because the content of the beta’s NDA apparently says that participants can’t talk about what they experience in the beta version of the game (though you can ask ZeniMax for permission to write content about it if you agree to them vetting it). While concerning at this stage in the game’s development (it’s meant to be seeing a PC release in April), fair play to ZeniMax and Bethesda for not wanting the guts of their product spilled for everyone to see before they’ve had the chance to make a buck back from it.

But not far from the bit that basically says you can’t talk (write, vlog, etc) about what you experience in the beta, the NDA also suggests that you’re not meant to publicly talk about even being invited to be a beta tester, highlighted by a user of the official forums here. You can find the original NDA here, section four is the main part I’m referring to.

Now, I’m pretty sure we’re all guilty of “sometimes” skimming over agreements to various bits of software and online accounts or services while we try to gain access to them. I know that there are people who have recently been selected as beta testers for The Elder Scrolls Online who have gone on to say so on social media, and it seems like they have either skipped reading through the agreement or don’t care. And while the wanton ignorance of legal agreements by many of us is something that others will probably, at some point, delight in during scenes that are hopefully reasonably far removed from the events of the South Park episode “HUMANCENTiPAD”… there is, I think, an argument for clear and concise agreements, be they non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or the end user license agreement for accessing the PlayStation Network.

I know that when I look at the kinds of agreements we’re presented with when agreeing to install some software, I come away with the opinion that the only people who benefit from these agreements are lawyers. And as someone who works at a copywriting agency… a sort of copywriter’s gut instinct kicks in and makes me want to redraft the whole thing and have meetings with clients about how to drop jargon.

If things like end user license agreements were a few, short paragraphs with some summary bullet points and free of legalese, then I think there’s a chance that people would truly realise what their rights are and that of the company/companies the agreement is with. The benefit of this? Hopefully fewer customers getting all indignant at companies and trying to start legal action, and fewer companies getting all indignant with customers and trying to start legal action, and in general: customers act as intended with services or products. And rule breakers can still face legal action.

(There are other places in media production where “plain English” would be of benefit, as the Nerds Assemble team found out last month in episode 69.)

Not that all tech and games companies are participating in the confuzzlement of their customers. Last year, Microsoft noticeably tried to use plain language in the EULAs for Windows 8. I say tried, there is perhaps still a need for them to be more concise, but they made a really good go of it.

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be NDAs for things like the beta version of The Elder Scrolls Online, but it’s not exactly reassuring when someone who is invited potentially can’t text their girlfriend or boyfriend to say that they can’t hang out one weekend, because they’re going to be up to their arses in Clanfears. And that’s just one interpretation.