GDPR Decision Analysis With Ragnarok Online

Did you ever think you would read about GDPR, risk analysis and a 16-year old MMORPG in the same place? You can stop dreaming, because here it is!

First: GDPR, tl;dr

General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR) is a massive overhaul of privacy on the Internet that applies to all European Union (EU) persons. Any company outside of the EU needs to comply with GDPR if they store personal data of any EU person. On May 25, 2018 GDPR becomes enforceable, and many companies — including US-based companies with data on EU persons — have been making changes to become compliant. (This explains why you have been receiving so many privacy notice updates lately.)

The cost of GDPR compliance is not cheap or easy, and the price of non-compliance can involve hefty fines and litigation. Every company that stores personal data has most likely spent the last two years performing analysis on whether GDPR applies to them, and if so, what the cost of compliance is.

What Happened with Ragnarok Online?

This leads to a story that took the gaming world by surprise: On April 25, 2018, the online gaming company Gravity Interactive announced they are shutting down all games and services in the EU, effective May 25th– the day GDPR takes effect. All EU-based IP-addresses will be blocked. Understandably, there’s an uproar, especially from EU-based players of Ragnarok Online, one of Gravity Interactive’s most popular games. Gravity Interactive has operated EU-based servers for 14 years and to many, the sudden decision to pull out of the market entirely seems unfair and unexpected. It’s understandable that people would be upset. The company has been the subject of much derision over the decision. But clearly there’s more to the story disappointed gamers.

This is an interesting case study because it illustrates several points in the decision-making process:

  • How a quantitative risk analysis can be used to help with strategic business decisions;
  • Every sound risk analysis starts with a clearly defined question; and
  • Avoidance can be an appropriate way to eliminate risk exposure.

Let’s analyse this problem with, first, forming a question that articulates the decision being made, then identifying possible choices, and last, estimating costs for each choice.

The Question

Every company faces strategic decisions. Sound, informed, decision making requires information about benefits and risk exposure. Risk analysis always needs to answer a question, in other words, a decision that someone needs to make. In our case, the decision for Gravity Interactive is whether to invest the time, money and resources to achieve GDPR compliance. GDPR introduces data privacy, security, compliance and legal requirements that are new for most US-based companies, therefore the cost of compliance can be significant. Most companies, US-based or otherwise, spent the last two years performing analyses of GDPR compliance: the cost of complying with the regulations from many perspectives, including technological. Companies can comply with GDPR, ignore GDPR or pull out of the EU market and analysis will help find the best course of action to take.

Decision: should we invest in GDPR compliance?

The Decisions

A company faces three options when deciding whether to invest in GDPR compliance. First, they need to price out the cost of compliance. This can be an upfront cost, as well as ongoing. Compliance involves funding and starting projects to align people, processes and technologies with applicable regulations. The analysis in this area would include a survey of all changes the company needs to make, estimating the cost, and performing a cost-benefit analysis.

The next option is to ignore compliance. This is where risk analyses are most useful to help a company. Ignoring compliance is always an option — and as risky as it may sound, many companies choose to ignore laws and regulations; some unintentionally, some wilfully. This happens more often than most of us should be comfortable with. We typically find out about this when companies are caught, regulators levy penalties and the story is splashed all over the news. At the same time, many companies successfully fly under the regulatory radar for years without being caught. A risk analysis on compliance risk would involve the length of time it would take for regulatory action to take place (if it takes place), what the regulators would force the company to do and, penance projects to achieve compliance.

Lastly, they can choose to withdraw from the market altogether. In the risk management world, we call this risk avoidance.This is the elimination of risk by choosing not to pursue a potentially risk generating activity. In this case, a company can avoid non-compliance risk by exiting the EU market.

The box below contains sample output of these different analyses. I obviously don’t know any of the costs or risk associated with Gravity Interactive’s decision, so I created a sample Company A with example values.

Company A: Projected Costs of GDPR Compliance Options

It’s clear that the company should not ignore compliance. This activity creates significant risk exposure. It’s likely they would have to pay fines, face litigation and be forced to make changes to comply with GDPR anyway.

Based on the two remaining options — comply with GDPR or exit the market, we can perform a cost/benefit analysis of current EU market share, projected EU growth and balance it against the cost of GDPR compliance. Based on my analysis of Company A, it should exit the EU market.

If I were responsible for risk management at either Company A or Gravity Interactive, I would want to perform additional risk analyses on the current state of data privacy and security. If compliance with GDPR is too costly, does the company currently comply with US privacy and security regulations?

In the case of Gravity Interactive, the company clearly decided that forgoing a portion of its customer base, losing the loyalty of its EU fans and risking the ire of gamers worldwide was worth the potential costs of compliance or non-compliance with GDPR. Or in short, to avoid being stuck between Ragnarok and a hard place.