The Amazon Personal Games policy was revealed by James Liu, a man who was getting ready to work at Amazon. This policy is so restrictive, in fact, that he turned down the job because of it.
Amazon is best known for shipping a variety of products worldwide, but that's not all that it has going on. Amazon Web Services provides data centers and other services to game developers and websites around the world. The company has been involved in game development, too, most recently announcing the Amazon Lumberyard engine successor Open 3D Engine just two days ago.
As one might expect, working at Amazon comes with some restrictions. Prospective employee James Liu had a job all lined up and ready to go in 2018 — that is, until he learned about the Amazon Personal Games policy that was a part of his contract. While some of the restrictions are sensible, others are so bad that he ultimately turned down the job because of them.
What is the Amazon 'Personal Games' Policy?
Software Engineer James Liu shared the Amazon Personal Games Policy in a now-deleted tweet, highlighting the "draconian rules" that would have impacted his hobby as an indie game developer.
Here is the Amazon Personal Games policy he shared on Twitter in full:
To develop or release a Personal Game you must read and agree to the following terms prior to beginning any work or continuing any unapproved work.
By submitting the trouble ticket linked below, you agree to each of the following terms.
- My Personal Game will not be based on, conflict with, or disclose, Amazon confidential information or current or future business activities.
- I will not use or incorporate Amazon resources or information in the development, release, or marketing of my Personal Game. This includes Amazon equipment, network connections, confidential information, know how, or facilities.
- All work on my Personal Game will be performed outside of my regular working hours.
- Amazon is not responsible for any legal obligations or liabilities arising from my Personal Game.
- To help Amazon improve its platforms, I will make my Personal Game available via Amazon wherever possible (e.g.: if it's a mobile game, I will submit it to the Amazon Appstore; if its a PC game made available for sale, I will submit it for sate on the Amazon platform) and provide feedback on these platforms where practicable. The extent to which Amazon distributes my Personal Game through its platforms remains within Amazon's sole discretion.
- To help Amazon improve its products and services, I will use Amazon's publicly available products and services in the development and release of my Personal Game wherever possible (e.g.: if I am running a service in the cloud as part of my Personal Game, I will use AWS; if I am using an identity broker for my Personal Game, I will use Amazon Cognito; etc.) and provide feedback on these products and services where practicable. I am responsible for the fees associated with the use of those products and services.
- I will own my Personal Game. However, Amazon will not be constrained in its development of games or incur any liabilities by allowing me to develop and release Personal Games. Accordingly, I hereby grant the following license to Amazon to ensure that Amazon will never be liable to me for any Amazon work on games: I grant to Amazon a royalty free, worldwide, fully paid-up, perpetual, transferrable license to any and all of my intellectual property rights associated with the Personal Game and my Personal Game development.
- This agreement provides me with an opportunity for personal development and creative expression and not a means for competing with Amazon Games Studio or operating a meaningful commercial endeavor. As such, under this agreement I may collaborate on Personal Games only with other Amazon Employees who are eligible under this policy and who have accepted the terms of this agreement, or with minor dependents in my household. I will not work on Personal Games with anyone else.
Let's go point by point here. Items 1–4 are pretty standard as far as employment contracts go. It's the fifth and sixth points where things start to get a bit weird: Amazon mandates that you will use Amazon Web Services, the Amazon Web Store, or any of its services if you publish a game on your own time — even if you work on it entirely on your own free time.
That's unusual, but item 7 is where things take a turn from bad to worse. Developing an indie game while working at Amazon means that you will have to grant the company a "[royalty-free], worldwide, fully paid-up, perpetual, transferrable license to any and all of my intellectual property rights associated with the Personal Game and my Personal Game development."
Finally, we come to the pièce de résistance with the eighth and final point: anyone making a "personal game" at Amazon is only permitted to work on it with Amazon employees. Making a fun indie game with your buddy over at Microsoft? Nope, you can't do that. Arguably, you couldn't work on a game with your spouse, at home, and in your own time if they weren't also an Amazon employee.
"If I work on machine learning at my day job, it should be fine to ask for patent rights on any ML related work I do outside of it, but asking for copyright ownership of a video game I make on the side is absurd." – James Liu
We reached out to James Liu about this policy. According to him, he learned about the policy from a friend who worked on Amazon Web Services. Once he saw this policy, he attempted to get it waived by Amazon's legal department as he found it overly restrictive. Amazon wouldn't give him an exception to the policy, so James ultimately turned down the job. According to him, this policy was "the only condition that prevented me from actually accepting the position."
As a point of comparison, James currently works at a different large software company as a Software Engineer. James says that his new employer has some similar policies for using company resources or relating to ownership of patents, but it's much less restrictive than the Amazon Personal Games policy.
"My employment contract with [my employer] has an invention assignment clause typical of any job with a software engineering firm that has no explicit mention of video games, and predates [my employers] ownership or management of any game studio," James Liu explained in an e-mail conversation. "I had gotten an explicit exception for the hobby game I work on the side via an internal process, which waives [my employer's] claim on the copyright of the work I do for the project, but does not waive their claim to patents on the code I write."
"Separately, since the game I am working on is free and [open-source] software, [my new employer's] [open-source] policy applies, which typically gives blanket approval for anything with permissive enough FOSS licenses," he continued. "There is a clause saying I should not use [company] resources or knowledge, but no clause stating I must distribute on [my employer's] provided channels, use publicly available [company] services, nor give [my employer] a permanent worldwide [royalty-free] license to sell/redistribute my hobby work. That said I'm not sure if any of this has changed since I joined [my new employer], which is when I got the exception."
While James noted that he applied for a job at Amazon in 2018, the Amazon Personal Games policy remains in effect today to the best of our knowledge. Going by James' interaction with Amazon's legal department and their unwillingness to grant a waiver, it's likely that there are quite a few employees who can only develop games under these restrictive rules.
We reached out to Amazon about this policy. It did not respond to our request for comment in time for publication.
As for James' career, he ultimately ended up working at [his current place of employment], partly because their policies on developing hobbyist games were nowhere near as restrictive and because it was willing to grant waivers that allowed him to continue working on games in his free time — and without the kind of restrictions that Amazon apparently places on its employees.
What do you think of the Amazon Personal Games policy? Do any of the restrictions seem particularly unreasonable to you? Let us know in the comments below!
Edit: Per the request of James Liu we have removed any mentions of his employer's name.
Edit 2: James Liu took down the tweets, so we have linked to an archive and updated the language around that segment.