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4 Feb 2014

Writing Airtight Terms of Service Agreements

There’s nothing sexy about writing strong and concise terms of service conditions, yet your indie game deserves it. It’s an afterthought for a lot of indie developers, yet to avoid legal problems and avoidable problems in general, you need to write proper terms of service conditions to avoid any headache down the road. While I’m not a attorney, attorney, or anything remotely resembling an individual of legal authority, there are tips you need to follow in order to write the best terms of service conditions for your game.

But first: be sure to consult an attorney (if applicable) so they can read over your terms of service conditions for your indie game and provide any edits that may be needed for your situation. Expensive? It can be, but necessary. If you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg paying for legal advice, consult a past post on free legal resources every indie developer should know about.

 

Ensure the player understands what your terms of service actually says

Have you ever read a terms of service agreement that sounds more like a Shakespearean play rather than something that was written in this century? Attorneys love using their legalese, and while there’s something satisfying about writing ‘henceforth’ in a document, it’s confusing to the reader. The entire point of a terms of service agreement is to inform the reader what they are agreeing to by using your service/product (in this case, your game). If the terms of service is confusing, they will have no idea what they are agreeing to, making it counterproductive to anything other than saving your buttocks legally.

Now you may be saying to yourself, “nobody reads those things anyway.” Most people don’t, but should they? In a perfect world, yes. Besides, that excuse doesn’t hold up in the court of law anyway. If your terms of service agreement is confusing, the reader has no clue what they are getting into, selects agree, then has a problem with your game and takes you to court (a stretch I know, but it’s a possibility), they could have an argument that your terms of service agreement was confusingly written, in their confusion they selected ‘Agree,’ and here they are taking you to court. What will your defense be? That you didn’t bother to make your terms of service agreement more clear because you didn’t think anybody bothers to read them anyway?

Is this a wild stretch? Yes it is, but it’s possible. Ensure your terms of service agreement is written clearly and articulately in a way that the average player will understand what it is saying. Will 99.99% of players even bother reading it? No. But for that minuscule percentage that actually do read the terms of service agreements, they will understand what they are agreeing to before they play your game.

 

Explain your privacy policy

You’re going to find that every tip also points back to tip number one, yet a few dimensions of your terms of service agreement warrant further explanation. The privacy policy of your game is certainly one of these dimensions, and you need to explain in detail how your player’s privacy is being protected. For instance, do any third-party systems access their data within the game? If so, then you want to detail this as much as possible to avoid any legal trouble. You need to explain every facet of your privacy policy and how personal information (if any) is being used to improve the experience of the game itself. By avoiding this, you are setting yourself up for a lawsuit, so take this dimension especially seriously!

Of course, if you have any questions about detailing your game’s privacy policy consult an attorney or use free legal resources as linked above.

 

Structure of billing

Does your indie game feature in-app purchases? Perhaps it costs a monthly rate in order for the player to play. Whatever the case may be, you need to describe your rates, how often you bill the player, and so on. In addition, you need to explain what will happen if a payment ‘bounces.’ For example, if your game costs a monthly payment in order to pay and it is renewed automatically yet the player cancels his/her credit card your company has on file, what happens then? Will they be charged an additional processing fee? A late fee? Will their account be ‘frozen’ until they update their billing information?

You need to have an answer to these questions and more like them. And from there? Detail them in your terms of service agreement. If you don’t have a solid answer? Again, consult an attorney or the free legal resource linked above.

 

This is the first steps in creating an airtight terms of service agreement, and believe me: it isn’t easy. This is why consulting an attorney is vital, yet if you want to do it on your own, it’s possible. By using the tips above, you will hopefully start thinking more critically about what is detailed in your terms of service agreement, thus helping you to create a solid TOS that will leave zero doubt in the minds of players regarding what they are agreeing to.

And believe me: by having a solid TOS, you are going to avoid the bulk of legal problems that will come your way (if any do). Time is money, and with an airtight TOS, you won’t waste either.

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