Making terms and conditions more accessible to users

Terms and conditions are the legal agreements between a service provider and the person who uses that service. They must be agreed by the user prior to accessing and using the service. If you’ve used a browser or updated a mobile or desktop device any time in the past 20+ years, you’ve almost certainly encountered what are usually long texts, packed with complex legal terms.

Then, like most people, you’ve probably at best skimmed the document and ticked ‘agree’ at the bottom without giving much thought to what you’re actually agreeing to.

This is a universal issue, as terms and conditions are generally long and boring and pretty much just seen as the last hurdle between you and the service you want to access. So how can you make something that almost everyone ignores more interesting and accessible so that the important information inside is understood and absorbed?

As customer experience director at Sulake, developer of the free-to-play online virtual community platform Habbo, I decided to tackle this issue as a project for Sulake’s involvement in the Youth Pledge. The project aims to create a safer internet experience for young people specifically, but for other netizens around the world.

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The T&C nightmare: Zeroing in on the specific issues

As this project started with our commitment to make internet usage safer for young people through the Youth Pledge and the European Commission’s Safer Internet Day, we started our research by organizing a group of ten users from the Habbo community, between the ages of 14 and 24.

We then split the feedback sessions into a series of short online meetings to make it easier for users to participate and remain focused on the project. Unsurprisingly, the feedback we received from users about our T&C agreements was that they were:

  • Too repetitive
  • Too long (“like reading Don Quixote or Shakespeare”)
  • Too complex in terminology
  • Too many paragraphs
  • Laborious to access, as you just had to keep clicking through a bunch of walls of text to get to the accept button
  • Too legal (“If I read it, I don’t understand what it means, and I wouldn’t be able to put it into my own words either”)
  • Too boring, which presents a hurdle to the play experience they are looking for, so they just click through as quickly as possible without reading anything
  • Does not fit into the look and feel of the game (they are used to other types of communications within our communities with images, short texts and more interactivity)
  • Too much text (they want more bullet points to make the information easier to digest)
  • Not engaging (they want it to not only be easy to understand but also well embedded into the product so that it gains their attention and they are interested in learning about it)
  • All T&Cs look the same (“if I read it from one service I don’t need to read it anywhere else, because they all look the same and say the same thing all over the internet, right?”)
  • Useless (“you don’t get anything from it, so what’s the point of reading them?”)

Ideas and solutions: making T&C engaging, clear and “friendly”

Since we do have a number of important rules for use in the T&C we realized we needed to rethink how to help users understand what they are agreeing to. As well as this, they also need to understand what the rules are in terms of online behavior such as trading, chatting and interacting with other players.

So we again turned to our community focus group for ideas on what would help make this information more engaging and clear. After combing through feedback from our focus group and brainstorming with them and with staff internally about how to solve these very reasonable issues, we came up with the following ideas and implementations:

“We realized we needed to rethink how to help users understand what they are agreeing to”

  • Create a condensed version of the T&C with images and clear, short and simple texts in bullet points that outline the key topics in clear and digestible terms.
  • Embed the T&C into the game’s tutorial and achievements so it feels like an extension of the game instead of a completely separate and superfluous distraction from the user experience.
  • Create a game where users can learn about the T&C hot topics while playing and winning something special such as a badge or other cosmetic item and/or extra activity points, for example.

Lesson learned: An online fun experience should be… fun!

Incentivizing players to complete the T&C through gamification, rewards and more visuals was such an obvious solution that we just hadn’t really thought about before. We had kind of fallen into a T&C standardization “trap” that was annoying and distracting our users, while at the same time impeding their experience.

In truth, we have put a lot of effort into educating our community on the T&C of Habbo with in-game activities to explain how to play safely, the core values and what differentiates us from other services — but what we were missing was to simplify other terms of service that are also important in the game. So we were close, but not quite there. And some of those terms of service are not as easy to communicate in simplistic terms.

We continue to run the standard T&C texts in their full, complex and “boring” glory, and any user can easily access those with the click of an easy-to-find button at any point during the interactive T&C process — those texts are drafted the way they are for legal reasons and are legally binding. All we did was pull out the most important points that users really need to know and integrate them into the Habbo experience rather than detracting from it.

Implementation and tips

You need to create a more interactive approach to your T&C, that fits your product and your community

Habbo is a specific type of online multiplayer experience with a specific type of community and player base. So precisely what works for us in terms of T&C gamification may not be appropriate for your product, but you can still use some general tips in adopting this approach for your players:

  • Make a condensed list of the most important legal and conduct rules for your product and figure out how to simplify them for easier accessibility
  • Work with your community. Choose some representatives from your audience — ask them how they want this information communicated and then give them what they want or as close to it as possible.
  • Ensure you have an ongoing dialogue with them during the whole process — not only in the design phase, but during the prototyping and the beta testing phase too.
  • Choose the format that fits your audience better. Should it be a video? Would a mini-game be appropriate?
  • Create an internal team including people from different units. Whereas the legal and compliance teams are key contributors for the project, people from other parts of the company or organisation such as developers or designers might have some really significant and helpful perspectives and opinions to offer.
  • Blend the right amount of fun and formal info into your T&Cs.
  • I wouldn’t recommend using legal translators or copywriters.
  • Don’t be afraid to have things in plain text — if your audience understands the terms better, it may cause less issues in the future.
  • Think outside of the box: the most expensive solution is not always the best one. There are many approaches.
  • Provide an incentive to read the T&Cs. Define which are the right rewards in your case, paying close attention to the type of audience you have.

We hope that this article will help us all progress toward more accessible terms & conditions for players.We also hope that it will polish the tarnished reputation of standard T&C agreements to make the most important information in them shiny, fun, interesting and easier to follow and adhere to.

Raquel Alvarez is Sulake’s customer experience & user safety director. She works to define the policy framework for end-user safety and to develop age-appropriate customer experiences. Prior to her current job, Alvarez worked with children and teenagers in NGOs such as Red Cross, Unicef and Save the Children. GamesIndustry.biz recently talked to Sulake about Habbo’s troubled migration from Flash to Unity.

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