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:
A) They added a bunch of clarity to the full legal Terms of Service (ToS)
B) They posted a new FAQ page that helps clarify a pile of situations around the Terms of Service
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!
The clarifications and small changes are very much welcome! I did a handful of live streaming (on freely available channels) during past winter (northern hemi), and we have had a couple group rides with local (Hungarian) Zwifters (with their consent 😉 ) livestreamed for the general public. When the new ToS landed, I’ve had my concerns, but held them back waiting for clarification(s) and examples.
I have to say I’M very glad that a lot of guys n gals reached out to Tzwift, and they responded they way they did!
They also added an anti-consumer binding arbitration clause, which still appears in this updated version.
I don’t like this, not one bit. And their clarifications, while making the whole thing a tiny bit less draconian, don’t assuage my concerns.
They’re going for the lock-in here. Much as when Strava decided it owned your data, and was going to start restricting which platforms they would allow you to link into your data.
No doubt Zwift is looking at the overall “e-sports” market size, and trying to figure out how to corner as much of that as possible, for themselves. I’m not a fan of that model. Zwift could be the de-facto platform, as they have the largest user-base and the best tech (for now). But the lesson from everyone (well, except Apple) who tries to control their walled garden is that they get beaten at their own game by the next person to offer an “open” solution.
To elaborate; I think it would be perfectly reasonable to offer a “race” package that would include additional features. Maybe the ability to “hide” everyone who isn’t in the race. Maybe the ability to control whether drafting is allowed or not. Etc… at a premium price. A race organizer could choose to pay for a nicer race experience. But to prohibit me from setting up and coordinating some Watopia Brevets with two dozen of my closest friends is ludicrous;.
Building features to make paying customers happy has never been a priority for Zwift, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.
“Building features to make paying customers happy has never been a priority” is an incredibly dumb statement. How could you not realize that, before typing it?
Zwift is wildly overfinanced, happy paying customers won’t be enough for them to survive two more summers if the investors are not happy as well. And to keep investors happy they need to be told a compelling story of how the future will be less financially disastrous than the present.
Apparently, the “story of a prosperous future du jour” is e-sports. And as shown by all that paranoid preemptive protection of monetization exclusivity, not just e-sports, but actual ticket sales and distribution licensing as a meaningful income stream. Which is utterly laughable, do they think they will become the new ASO?
I’m with USR on the wildly over-financed point. I don’t see this whole e-sports market catching on beyond a fringe. I get the e-gaming market. My kids spend an embarrassing amount of time on Youtube watching others play games. E-sports and specifically e-cycling, I just don’t see the draw. Zwift isn’t going to satisfy their investor base by doing what most of its customers want – “building” more roads, etc.
Meanwhile, over at the non-sweaty interpretation of e-sports, question marks arise:
link to kotaku.com
There is no federated sports that asks you to buy a product from just one vendor to compete on their tournaments.
Zwift has no future there.
Do we know how the ToS, specifically something like selling tickets to an event, compare to something like Fortnite?
A quick skim of the Fortnight ToS doesn’t reveal anything like it. Though, perhaps I missed something.
“you are welcome to capture or stream videos of you and other users (if you have their consent) participating in Zwift races or events,”
So it appears that if you world shift to an unused world, with no one else riding, you are free to live stream.
It would be impossible to live stream any Zwift event with more than one person in it if you need to get consent from everyone that might appear in the video.
This is more common than you think in the gaming world. The way that companies view it is that you don’t own the game, you just pay for the privilege to use it, and that privilege can be taken away at any moment. This is how companies permanent ban players who cheat. They revoke their privilege to play.
That being said, it suppresses the potential audience of the game. Take StarCraft for instance. It is not the biggest game in the world, but a lot of non-Blizzard tournaments are held, keeping the community alive. I used to hold a Zwift race on my channel. A few of us hosted Twitch races, where a bunch of us streamers would build a team with our subs (paid community members) and race it out. We would then cast games among our subs. It was a lot of fun. This now violates TOS since you had to be a sub to enter. We did this to prevent too many people from signing up. We promoted their mediocre game for free. Zwift didn’t pay me. I paid them to stream their game. They can still have their esports scene without suppressing the community. A lot of other games do it. This signals that something is going on behind the scenes. I only hope they rethink their decision.
“They can still have their esports scene without suppressing the community.”
Yup, agree 100%. It all goes back to my statement: Do they want to be an event company, or a software company?
Thanks for the overview DCR.
I did message some concern over some of Zwift’s intended ToS control extensions. While I understand, as I’m sure we all do, there have to be guidelines in place in order operate a successful business, Zwift did seem to be taking an overly autocratic approach, an approach, which in the long run, can only hurt their business model.
The number of users on Zwift is a case in point. The last northern hemisphere winter saw more than 10,000 users at any given time. The northern hemisphere summer, which has just begun, is seeing those figures drop to an average 1000 or 2000 if the ‘main’ world and satellite world numbers are combined. I would say 2000 users for what could be a six month period, could be problematic for potential Zwift sponsors.
This user number issue, I would have thought, could be filled by third parties holding any number of different events. Anyone promoting Zwift when user-numbers are low must surely be the default.
As an aside, I am not a fan of the term ‘bad apples’ in a ToS covering text. The ToS should stand for themselves without a derogatory dig at users not adhering to said ToS. There are legal reasons not to employ such wording too.
Thanks again DCR
Paul Graham – ZwiftZone –
Imagine the consumer and regulator outcry if Microsoft changed the terms of Windows so that consumers could only run Internet Explorer on the platform and prohibited Google Chrome.
Zwift is a platform – and they’re trying to constrain the use of the platform by other eSports competitions and broadcasters (which is currently a different market to the gaming platform). Why isn’t this anti-competitive?
Minor typo “just as their is for bike shops using Zwift to sell trainers.”
Thankfully in the UK this kind of TOS changing isn’t enforceable anyway so aside from being ejected from the platform and Zwift losing my subs I coulnd’t care less what they write in their document. I don’t need or want to read it anyway. I’m starting to wonder who Zwift consider their customers to be – as with Facebook it might very well not be the users and if that’s the case the platform should be free to use.
What does concern me, is if Zwift are getting US “patents” on any of this stuff. Due to the broken patent system in the US, they could patent “method for displaying bikes on screen” or other such generic things. When they eventually go too far on the monetisation (looking at you Facebook!) and users all leave Zwift will shut down and become patent trolls. This will effectively make the cycling e-sports scene die since nobody else will be able to afford to run a platform and pay the patent trolls.
If Zwift are reading this – what you’re saying is similar to my TV manufacturer demanding that I don’t let friends watch my TV or throw parties. You’re looking like morons and I suggest you get rid of the lawyers who are actively working against your customers.
just my 5 cent on the ‘if you have their consent’.
I assume this is consent in the sense of GDRP as even the virtual picture together with the name can be seen as private data and the Zwift want to clarify that use of those recordings is not covered by their own consent recording (and right to remove the data) but need to be ensured by the person using the material for each individual whose private data rights might be touched.
So imho the statement just moves GDPR accountability away from Zwift for this usecase and that makes sense to me.
This is definitely not a GDPR issue. Players consent to their name being on screen and shown to the world by playing the game – this is a part of the system and therefore doesn’t require consent explicitly. This, from a privacy perspective, works the same way as me filming in public and is absolutely fine.
American companies don’t seem to understand GDPR at all though (see the whole Internet for proof of this!) so I wouldn’t be surprised if they think it is an issue and needs more pop ups to annoy users.
“American companies don’t seem to understand GDPR at all though”
To be fair, I don’t even think European regulators understand half of GDPR either. 😉
it’s really not a complex regulation (or law, once implemented), have a read it’s only a few hundred pages of pretty straightforward stuff. Basically if it’s not obvious why you need the data you need to ask permission. If you have to ask, the answer should be no by default and you shouldn’t try to coerce people into saying yes or you’ll be spanked so hard you won’t have a business.
If you’d like some pointers give me a shout, although I doubt anyone would complain about this site!
Yeah, I think most of my comments were around enforcement, where we’re starting to see the reality of ‘We made this big book of rules, but aren’t super clear on how exactly to enforce it’.
And I think how it plays across boards is also still fuzzy. At least in reality. And I think that’s the main concern around American companies. How exactly it applies to them if they do no business in the EU, but someone happens to visit their site. It’s why we’ve seen major US entities simply block all access attempts from the EU. One example being Southwest Airlines would refuse a connection. Appeared like site was offline. Only semi-recently did that start working again.
Don’t get me wrong – I love GDPR in terms of what it does for consumers. And I really hope the US can find a way to get somewhere there (though, it’ll never happen due to the political system in the US). The only real hope for it happening is a California law being passed that basically forces the hand of the tech companies with respect to privacy (and thus all US companies that do business with people in California…which is almost any meaningful company).
As others have said, this smells like pleasing investors. This is not a user-centric effort. This appears to be about big money. Do enough of this and the user growth with stall, leaving Zwift with some dancing to do at the next investor “how we doin’?” meet and greet.
Basically, Zwift has zero idea what its core function is and wants to set up a Terms of Service to strangle said core function.
Only few words: Screw Zwift and e-racing and British Cycling