After a Twitter spat erupted into a mob of fans going after a narrative designer for Guild Wars 2 studio ArenaNet, the developer said that it has fired two employees: Jessica Price and Peter Fries.
On July 3, Price, a writer on Guild Wars 2, published a Twitter thread on the challenges of creating a personality for an MMO player character and how ArenaNet’s narrative team approaches things internally. She explained that if ArenaNet gave the player character too much personality, it might clash with players’ understanding of who their character is. In response, a fan and YouTuber going by Deroir spoke up, saying that while he appreciated the “insightful thread,” he disagreed with her assessment of the situation. He said he felt like the problem could be addressed with more dialogue options that let players choose how to express themselves.
Price felt like Deroir overstepped his bounds. “Today in being a female game dev: ‘Allow me—a person who does not work with you—explain to you how you do your job,’” she tweeted, adding that she’d been working in narrative for a decade and didn’t need the concept of branching dialogue explained to her.
It was, Price told Kotaku in an email, a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back moment. “By the time that guy came along, I was so tired of having random people explain my job to me in company spaces where I had to just smile and nod that it was like, ‘No. Not here. Not in my space,’” she said.
Guild Wars 2 fans did not take this kindly. In the following days, the MMO’s subreddit exploded with threads about the incident, with many calling for Price to be punished or fired. Some even threatened to stop spending money on the game until the situation was “resolved” in a way they found suitable. The issue also found its way onto Gamergate subreddit Kotaku In Action, a community that’s gone after Price in the past. All the while, people rained down insults on Price, accusing her of being an “SJW screaming child,” playing “the vagina card,” and other nastiness of the like.
The mob also went after Peter Fries, a writer who stuck up for Price in a couple now-deleted tweets. “Here’s a bit of insight that I legitimately hope he reflects on: she never asked for his feedback,” Fries wrote.
Yesterday, ArenaNet fired both Price and Fries. “Recently two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players,” ArenaNet president Mike O’Brien said in a Guild Wars 2 forum post. “Their attacks on the community were unacceptable. As a result, they’re no longer with the company.” When reached by Kotaku, ArenaNet sent a follow-up statement that echoed what O’Brien wrote but would not comment further.
The Guild Wars 2 subreddit erupted again, this time in celebration. Some fans also encouraged people to give positive feedback to ArenaNet and hoped that developers won’t be afraid of interacting with the community in the future. Other people, however, were surprised by ArenaNet’s decision to fire developers instead of standing by them.
“Here I thought being indie meant I was on-the-clock 24/7, but apparently AAA means just that but also being forced to take whatever shit people fling at you because ‘standards of communicating with our community’ and ‘we make the game for you (so feel free to give our devs shit),’” wrote Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail on Twitter.
Others drew comparisons to Gamergate and the precedent it set with its use of mob tactics.
“The industry didn’t condemn what goobergate was doing, because goobergate closed ranks around the industry and set their sights on critics and indie developers,” said activist and streamer Casey Explosion on Twitter. “It is in this context that the actions of the company make the most sense, that they ultimately benefit from throwing their employees to the wolves in this manner.”
Despite all this, Price characterized ArenaNet as largely supportive and “full of genuinely empathetic people who want to create an environment of trust and teamwork.”
“I warned people in my interview that I was loud about these issues on social media and had no intention of shutting up,” she told Kotaku of when she first got hired at ArenaNet. “They reassured me that they ‘admired [my] willingness to speak truth to power.’”
“[CEO Mike O’Brien] told me I was going to look back and regret this because we were doing amazing work and I ruined it,” Price said. “The only regrets I’ve ever had, however, have been in situations where I didn’t stand up for myself, not ones in which I did, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. My only real regret here is that I encouraged other women to come on board and promised them it was a safe company for them.”
She said that the Guild Wars 2 community was mostly supportive. The problem, in her eyes, is that studios tend to structure themselves around the small percentage that isn’t.
“I want to preface this by saying that 9 out of 10 fans are fine, and that I’ve had a lot of genuinely beautiful interactions with individual fans in which the affection I expressed is genuine,” Price said. “But 10% of your fandom being toxic is still a really high percentage.”
She went on to say that, in her experience, developers—especially women developers—often have to act as customer service, and this puts strain on them that most people don’t notice. “It doesn’t get talked about publicly, much, but it’s one of the biggest factors in the high burnout rate among game devs,” she said. “You’re working really hard to create content for people who hate you... It extends into attempting to exert control over our personal lives and personal space. A few months ago, I watched one of the community people get mobbed because she wouldn’t answer customer support questions during off hours from her personal social media.”
Despite the fact that Price and Fries got fired, the umbrage directed toward them has yet to die down. Both continue to receive barrages of insults on Twitter, with some seemingly galvanized by ArenaNet’s decision to the let the pair go.
“We can probably fire anyone on the GW2 dev team as long we make a big enough stink,” wrote GW2 subreddit member 5NightsAtUndert413 in a now-deleted post. “Nobody at Arenanet is safe from the hand of Reddit... The moment a dev steps out of line or try to talk back to a player, guess what, they’ll know we got their hands on their throat and we can squeeze any time we like.” (Update - 1:00 PM, 7/9/18: Redditor 5NightsAtUndert413 now claims that their post was insincere, and that they made it to try and hold a mirror up to GW 2's community. However, they made no indication of that in the original, now-deleted post.)
Price is worried about the precedent the firings set. “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you,” she said. “Get out there and make sure the players have a good time. And make sure you smile while they hit you.”