Reading the Fine Print – by “Michael C”

Handcuffed by the EULA
"Handcuffed" by the EULA

A few weeks ago, the highly anticipated video game Borderlands was released on video game consoles. Many PC gamers were also eagerly awaiting the release, but were forced to wait a little longer when the PC version was delayed for a week. Despite the delay, some industrious gamers were able to purchase copies from stores selling the boxed PC version ahead of its release date. These gamers excitedly returned home, popped in the disc, and installed the game. However, when they tried to play, the online servers refused to authenticate their copies before the release date, so the game did not work.

Why did this happen? According to Hal Halpin of the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA), unlike console copies of the game, where a purchaser is buying the actual product, purchasers of the PC game are buying a license. The disc that a gamer purchases is only a means of providing the game’s data, not a product in itself. In purchasing a license, one is restricted to the terms that the publisher includes in the End-User License Agreement, or EULA. In this case, the EULA states that the game requires activation, and that the activation will not be made available until the release date. By agreeing to the EULA, consumers are agreeing to these conditions.

Inevitably, early purchasers of the PC version of Borderlands were quite surprised that their copies were temporarily useless. According to 2K Games, the publisher of Borderlands, they shouldn’t have been—the restrictions on activation were outlined in the game’s EULA, presented to the player during the installation process. Then again, who actually reads the EULA? This particular case speaks to a larger problem involving EULAs. They tend to be long, complicated documents that most people skip right over in their eagerness to install and try out the new application or game that they’ve just purchased. However, these documents are important to the consumer, as they outline the terms of the legally binding license that the consumer is entering into by clicking “yes” (hence the term clickwrap).

Publishers should make these EULAs more user-friendly, by simplifying the language used in them, putting the most important parts at the top (where users are most likely to see them without scrolling), and possibly moving towards some type of standardized EULA. Fortunately, the ECA is working to push publishers to create more open, standardized EULAs. If the EULA is made more accessible to the average consumer, then he or she will be more likely to spend a few moments reading it to understand the terms of the license, rather than automatically hitting “yes” to avoid the complicated and lengthy document.

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