One of the things I love about the board game hobby is the community. How so many of the publishers and people that make the hobby tick are just regular people. Small family run business working from their homes, with a few obvious exceptions. Recently I had an interaction with Ravensburger, one of the biggest and oldest publishers in the hobby that showed me that even the exceptions care about the community.
I had a bit of an issue with their Terms of Service that went along with their boilerplate Instagram message being sent out to users posting content with Ravensburger images. At first, I was a bit upset so I found an email address and contacted them, not really expecting much. Then they surprised me by not only listening, and making me feel heard, but by taking action and rebuilding their message and their Terms of Service to be more community oriented and transparent. I was surprised, to say the least and came away with a new respect for Ravensburger.
The long version
I think we can all agree that it feels pretty nice when you post a game picture on Instagram and the publisher sends you a comment saying they liked the image and were wondering if they could repost or use the image. Usually, it feels nice and then you forget about it.
Until it happens again.
A while back I noticed it was happening every time I put up an image for a Ravensburger game. Which I didn’t think much of. Their message would compliment the image and say that they wanted to reuse the image – how nice! It asked that if I were in agreement all I need do is reply with a hashtag #yesravensburger and this would “allow us to store the data connected to the picture”. Easy-peasy. Also here are some terms and conditions followed by a long convoluted URL. Whatever, who reads those right?
“Nice shot! We’d like to share it on our website and other marketing materials. If we may feature your photo, please reply #yesravensburger to allow us to store the data connected to this picture. T&Cs: https://www.ravensburger.us/start/terms-and-conditions-olapic/index.html
You have probably received this note yourself if you have uploaded an image with a Ravensburger game in it. As I mentioned earlier, it is a pretty good feeling to have your post noticed by a publisher.
After having received several of these notices across a few different accounts I started breezing through the #yesravensburger images, there were a lot. Over 5000. Then I decided to search out #noravensburger to see if anyone ever said no. There was only one. A single post by @spielama. The conversation was in German (I think) and I had to use the auto-translate to see what was what. Spielama’s reply mentioned giving non-exclusive, indefinite rights for free and that Ravensburger was not guaranteeing a credit for the work even. Ravensburger’s’ reply was that, of course you may refuse but we assure you that we would give you credit. I grew curious, and a little worried.
After a few missteps I managed to get to the right page and it was pretty brutal. It consisted of the same typical cold legalese that you would expect from any global business entity, which was expected, no trouble there, but some of the content gave me chills.
Some of the more troubling clauses included wording that gave Ravensburger complete and total control of your content, you retained your rights but Ravensburger could do whatever they wanted, forever. Those rights would even be sublicensable so Ravensburger could pass your work along. While this being a perfectly legal way to do business it felt very much against the community, against the fans who they were relying on.
“4. You grant Ravensburger a non-exclusive, assignable, sublicensable, perpetual, royalty-free permission to use your Content throughout the world in all and any media for PR and advertising purposes. This includes non-digital channels such as posters and printed publications as well as digital channels such as our websites, newsletter and social media accounts (and may include channels owned or controlled by our customers such as retailer websites).”
-Ravensburger TOS (Mar 6 2019)
When I got to the bottom of the page I read that they had an email address you could send a message to if you wanted to revoke your consent and that you could ask to have your content deleted. I did. I did want that.
So I wrote a letter. I felt very much at that point like I was sending an email not to the warm and colorful Ravensburger that lived in my mind but to a new cold and grey Ravensburger that I had not known existed. I was disappointed and I wanted to let someone know.
Big fan, love your games. I am however a little disappointed in your social media practice of trolling for images and, somewhat shadily, tricking people into essentially giving up their rights to their images. Your policy seems disingenuous at best and I find it goes against the nature of the board game community.”
I went on to explain myself a little more and to point out some of the concerns I had.
“Reading the T&C was a bit chilling. My image of a family-friendly, game community company was shadowed by a cold legal document that people were unwittingly consenting too with a simple hashtag that granted Ravensburger endless rights to their content without credit, that grants Ravensburger to distribute their content without credit or compensation. Which goes so far as to mention that Ravensburger is not responsible if these practices damages said contents value or if it damages the value of the creators business or reputation even.
This is a cold and cruel document that does not reflect the spirit of the community that Ravensburger thrives in. It is disappointing to say the least.”
I mentioned I was revoking my consent, but not my love of their games, and that I hoped the issue would be considered, that somehow Ravensburger’ corporate side could soften a little to align itself better with the board game community that loved them.
I may have gotten a bit sappy, but not too much. What did it matter when you were sending an email into a corporate void ( I thought).
Surprisingly, within a few hours, I got a response. From a human. Lucie from Ravensburger’ Social Media Team emailed back to say that, yes they would be happy to delete my content and that they would make a note of my removal of consent. She then went on to try and answer my concerns.
Lucie explained that Ravensburger apologizes for anything I felt was misleading and that they try to be as transparent as possible. She explained that they are only trying to get permission to reuse the content and that they will always give credit.
It was a very nice response and it countered almost every point I had brought up. Unfortunately it also went against what I had read in their Terms and Conditions so I responded with a more thorough email and cited examples from their IG messages and paragraphs from their T&Cs and I made a few suggestions on how things might be reworded so that people would be, at the very least, aware that there where Terms & Conditions they were agreeing to when they used the #yesravensburger hashtag.
This prompted a much shorter response where Lucie, with much more guarded wording, deflected a little, but ultimately said she would take things up with their legal team and see what could be done. The line she used that made me feel valuable, that made me feel like maybe I had been heard was this:
“…I think this is important enough that we do take the time to take a look at the process in order to improve.”
-Lucie (Ravensburger Social Media Team)
Weeks passed and I began to feel like maybe I had been successfully deflected after all and that my email, while not having gone to the void had been about as effective.
Weeks passed again.
A month later, almost to the day, I received an update from Lucie. I was honestly surprised. Pleasantly surprised. Lucie explained that she was working with the Ravensburger legal team to reword their Terms of Service and were also trying to make sure that their message to users would be more transparent. She mentioned that Ravensburger had temporarily suspended the practice of asking users for usage rights until everything had been sorted out.
Wow. It is sometimes fantastic to be heard. I told Lucie that my complete respect for Ravensburger had been restored by that one email.
Today, not quite two weeks after that, Lucie emailed again to let me know that they have finalized their new TOS. She shared their new wording for the message they will use to ask people for consent. The new message, while still sounding stilted and lawyery, at least points out that your consent is directly linked to their TOS. The new TOS, Lucie assures me, has many of the trouble spots completely deleted and at the same time, the language of other problem areas has been cleaned up and clarified to make things much more straightforward.
Some of our Ravensburger Games / Photo: Mitch
One of my absolute favorite things in board games is how small the community feels. How some of your favorite games and publishing companies are just a few people working out of their home. The community is thriving and that community feels like one enormous family. Ravensburger is one of the giants in the board game hobby. The company was founded in 1883, its recognizable blue triangle has been a fixture since it was trademarked in 1900. Ravensburger is a global company and about as big as they get in this hobby, yet when somebody pointed out something that may have been trivial they took the time to consider it and put the effort in to change things so the community as a whole would be just that tiny bit better for it.
The new TOS is now up on the Ravensburger site, and while there is still a bit of the unavoidable legalese you get with any TOS, the whole of it has been simplified and streamlined. Things feel much clearer now, you no longer get the sense that your work is being snatched away from you. It is, for as much as it can be, a much friendlier document.
Read the new TOS: https://www.ravensburger.us/start/tos-o/index.html
I did not expect that. I was a fan of Ravensburger before and now that they have proven themselves to be a company willing to make the effort to stay connected to their community and a company who are willing to make changes when necessary even though they are as big as they are, well I am impressed to say the very least.
P.S. Thanks Lucie!