About a month ago Zwift quietly updated their Terms of Service. Then, a day or two later they (properly) sent out an e-mail to customers saying things had changed, and to check them out. For some reason, at the time, a little voice in the back of my head said ‘You should check these, really, you should’. But I didn’t initially because I got distracted. Probably eating ice cream or something.
However, a few DCR readers reminded me a few days later, and woah, that was a can of worms. I tweeted about it, causing a minor crapstorm, and then Zwift went back to the table. I also had some private discussions with Zwift about my specific concerns. Since then a lot has happened, and as of today, Zwift has made some notable changes to the terms and also added a big (helpful) FAQ. But first, what went wrong.
Essentially, my concerns centered on a handful of core issues with the updated terms of service. Specifically, the following:
A) They disallowed any sort of recording or uploading of Zwift, even for news/review purposes
B) They disallowed streaming recordings of Zwift, no matter the purpose
C) They disallowed operating Zwift in *any* commercial setting. That includes my office, or your local bike shop
D) They disallowed running your own event in Zwift, even a local bike club doing a winter event at a high school gym, or someone’s basement
E) They said people would only be permitted to wear orange socks in the game, else face negative XP earnings
Ok, all but the last one is true. And actually, there’s a lot of other questionable stuff in there, primarily around esports and prohibiting companies from running esports events on Zwift. And while I don’t think that’s awesome and contradicts with Zwift’s stated intentions of becoming the defacto planform for cycling esports in the 2028 Olympics (or sooner) , it’s also not top of my priority list…for today. We’ll deal with that a different day (or, listen to this week’s podcast episode on it for a handful of deeper thoughts).
Instead, I really wanted to focus on what I saw as two basic categories:
A) Inability to record/stream/transmit/whatever Zwift
B) Inability for anyone to run Zwift in any commercial/office setting
To me, those frankly seemed stupid and overly legal-like. And sure, a few people said that ultimately it was unlikely to enforce these rules for people like myself or others. But the reality is that’s precisely what these terms of service are for, to protect against edge cases. To pretend the ToS doesn’t exist from a business standpoint (even if that ‘business’ is a single person wanting to start streaming their cycling on Twitch), is foolhardy.
Secondly, while streaming/recording/uploading is something that Zwift should ideally be promoting in every possible way (after all, that’s the whole point of their huge esports push), the other concern was around commercial setting usage. This impacts bike shops that often have Zwift on display, or even trainer companies trying to test their trainers (which, maybe explains why it seems almost none of them do properly). And, it of course impacts me. The line item was crystal clear:
5. Prohibited Conduct and Content: A: Further, you will not: …”Displaying the platform in a commercial setting (like a cyber café, gaming center or other commercial establishment…Using the platform for any esports or group competition sponsored, promoted or facilitated by any commercial or non-profit…”
Yup, even non-profits. Your local triathlon or bike club is not permitted to get together on a cold miserable rainy winter day and have a group race. For realz.
For the average person that just wanted to ride solo in their living room – then most of these rule changes wouldn’t likely impact you. But I think there’s a growing interest from clubs/teams in setting up ad hoc events, just as their is for bike shops using Zwift to sell trainers.
And while Zwift does have a program specifically for bike shops to sell Zwift in a ‘supported’ way, almost nobody uses it. For proof of that, look at my city of Amsterdam, which has more bike shops than Starbucks in Seattle (there’s a bike shop on almost every block). Only a single bike shop in the city is a member of the program, and not even the bike shop that hosted Zwift’s Amsterdam event this past December that I visited.
One of the core things I talked to Zwift about was around the streaming/recording/uploading bits, but also that it needed to be clear to people that was permitted. For example, if you look at Steam, you’ll see they’ve got a page dedicated to it, saying it’s permitted. Sure, it also says it in the ToS, but having it clear-cut elsewhere is key.
So Zwift did two key things:
In my most recent discussion about these changes, Chris Snook, PR manager at Zwift noted the following:
“Having taken on the feedback from yourself and the community, we decided the best course of action was to revise some of the wording in our terms. The aim is to make them easier to understand. We want to empower our community to be able to use the platform for streaming, and for bike shops to use the platform to sell trainers. There must of course be rules for this.
The resulting revision to the language in the ToS seeks to address some of the feedback we received, and to make clearer our intent – to protect against those bad apples. Legal speak can often be confusing to understand, so we’ve also produced an FAQ sheet to help clarify some of the questions people have had (and may further have) relating to using Zwift under our ToS.”
The FAQ is frankly the more pleasant of the two to read, but the ToS mirrors it for the most part
To start with my first concern, for streaming/recording/uploading, they made the following key change:
“Copy, reproduce, distribute, publicly perform or publicly display all or portions of our Platform, except as expressly permitted by us or our licensors. In spite of the foregoing, you are welcome to capture or stream videos of you and other users (if you have their consent) participating in Zwift races or events, and to share those videos through video sharing services like Twitch, YouTube and other similar services…”
I’ve bolded the important parts above, also, which are new to the ToS. The slightly odd wording around ‘if you have their consent’, doesn’t make a ton of sense here however, unless they assume we’re talking about consent in a real-life world. If we’re talking the online world, then that’s confusing and darn near impossible with thousands of Zwifters active in the game at any one point in time.
I presume they’re talking the actual streamed video of yourself. In any case, that resolves much of the uploading/etc bits. Their FAQ page also covers this:
“What if my streams are monetized? Can I still stream Zwift?
Yes, it’s okay to stream your races so long as you aren’t charging anyone to access the stream, such as by selling tickets or charging for subscriptions, and you’re not otherwise commercializing the stream in a way that might compete with our eSports initiatives.”
However, back in the ToS there is a ‘but’ involved here, and it’s below:
“…subject to the following limitations: (I) you may not do so in such a way that is: (1) inaccessible to the general public behind a paywall, (2) subject to viewing only with a subscription separate and apart from Zwift or (3) that requires the purchase by a third party of tickets or other redeemable vouchers, either in person or online; and (ii) you may not create, host, promote, participate in, sponsor, engage other sponsors in, or otherwise encourage competitions between Zwift racers (e.g., eSports) that use the Platform for any commercial purpose. Zwift may allow some individuals to engage in these activities upon request made to Zwift and following our prior written authorization or in conformity with other written guidelines provided by Zwift or through a separate agreement with Zwift;”
I’ve bolded the two important ones. For a platform like Twitch or YouTube, the vast majority of streaming takes place in a public setting for all to see. You watch a YouTube ad for a few seconds, and then you’re good to go.
However, YouTube and companies like Patreon allow creators to do members only live streams – which are becoming a core way to encourage community growth and making sustainable business for creators. It ensures they aren’t wholly dependent on ad revenue, and the random whims of YouTube advertisers (a very legit problem). The way the wording is written today, this would prohibit that. There are many YouTube channels that save livestreams purely for paying ‘Members’, as a perk. Still, it’s better than before – and hopefully a minor tweak they can figure out how to make reasonably.
So what about the second area of concern – commercial settings? Well, in that area it’s a bit muddier. At least in the official Terms of Service. The core prohibition lines are still there:
“Further, you will not: Sell, resell or otherwise commercially use our Platform by (I) displaying the Platform in a commercial setting (like a cyber café, gaming center or other commercial establishment) (which is encouraged with the right display and synergies and with Zwift’s prior written authorization)…”
However, as you shift over to the FAQ, it helps illuminate a few things. First, for bike shops – they still really want them to join the ZED (Zwift Experience Dealer) program, which helps bike shops and dealers pitch Zwift to consumers. So that isn’t really changing here. However, they did at least clarify the general usage when you are in a commercial setting within the FAQ:
“What is considered a “commercial setting”?
Great question! The “commercial setting” definition centers around purpose of activity. If you are using Zwift for personal use and you just happen to be in a coffee shop or bike store, then you’re all good–Zwift for personal, non-commercial use is awesome in any setting. What you can’t do is “sell, resell or otherwise commercially use” Zwift in a place that is intended to make money–like selling tickets to watch a group of Zwifters race in a gaming center.”
And it’s within that where you find the epicenter of almost all of Zwift’s concerns, these handful of words: “selling tickets to watch a group of Zwifters race in a gaming center”.
Why you ask? I give you three words: CVR World Cup
While these days CVR is off busy doing their CVRCade thing, prior to that they ran a World Series style event where people raced on Zwift. It was big business with big cash prizes, and open to anyone. Arguably they did it better than Zwift did when it comes to allowing people to advance through the ranks in a tournament style and end up in a legit big event held in a cool location. Of course, they did it without Zwift’s love. And Zwift wants to prevent that from occurring again. There’s endless words in the legal agreement around that. Seriously, like, large chunks of the ToS are dedicated to killing anything like that from ever happening again.
Even ancillary things would be dead. Let’s say a local bike shop manages to get Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins to race against each other on Zwift and wants to sell tickets to the event. Nope, says the FAQ:
“Can I sell tickets to an event at my bike shop and have people race on Zwift?
No, this would not be permitted under our ToS without our consent. If you really want to do this, let us know and we’ll see if we can partner with you on the event.”
But…that’s all getting past the point of my primary concerns for now. I’m going to save that kinda stuff for a rainier day.
I’m glad to see Zwift respond to the community here with an update. While my tweets did garner attention, there was plenty more discussion on various (large) Zwift Facebook and Reddit groups about the original changes – and hopefully that larger community feedback played a big part in Zwift’s decisions here.
Of course, it’s still not perfect. As I said on the podcast, I think Zwift needs to kinda decide what they want to be in life. Do they want to be a software/product company that sells as many monthly subscriptions as possible and get as many people riding or interested in Zwift as possible in hopes of converting them to paying members. Or do they want to be an entertainment/event/media company that’s trying to corner the market on streaming indoor cycling.
If it’s the first, then any attempts at restricting people leveraging Zwift cuts into that goal, even if it’s their nemesis CVR. After all – it’s still people racing on paid Zwift memberships and exposing more people to Zwift (and heck, Zwift doesn’t even have to fund/support it). If it’s the second, then that’s perfectly fine too – and these larger legal esports focused changes make sense to support that. I’d just caution that rarely can companies do both of those things well in the long term.
With that – go forth and enjoy your weekend, be it indoors or outside. Thanks for reading!