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ArenaNet sends all the wrong messages

Guild Wars 2 studio terminating employees after backlash discourages fan interaction, encourages player outrage

Earlier this week, Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet parted ways with two of its employees. Co-founder Mike O'Brien released a statement strongly implying that the employees in question, Jessica Price and Peter Fries, had been fired.

"Recently two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players," O'Brien said. "Their attacks on the community were unacceptable. As a result, they're no longer with the company. I want to be clear that the statements they made do not reflect the views of ArenaNet at all. As a company we always strive to have a collaborative relationship with the Guild Wars community. We value your input. We make this game for you."

Those statements stemmed from a Twitter exchange where Price lamented the difficulty of making a compelling MMORPG character because every player has their own expectations of what that character should be. A Guild Wars 2 YouTuber then replied to suggest branching dialog options, and Price took exception to someone she doesn't work with telling her how to do her job (by many accounts, a common experience for women in the industry).

O'Brien didn't specify which of Price's tweets specifically constituted "attacks on the community," but without spending the entire editorial recounting Twitter posts, here's possibly the most contentious one:

"Like, the next rando asshat who attempts to explain the concept of branching dialogue to me--as if, you know, having worked in game narrative for a fucking DECADE, I have never heard of it--is getting instablocked. PSA," Price tweeted.

ArenaNet's firings send a message to players, developers, and hate groups alike.

ArenaNet's firings send a message to players, developers, and hate groups alike.

As for Fries, he had a number of less confrontational tweets (since deleted) supporting Price. There was backlash to the pair on the Guild Wars 2 Reddit page and Twitter, with many posters upset that a developer would address a player in such fashion.

For additional context, Price has been a vocal feminist, as well as a critic and target of misogynist hate groups and those who oppose the very concept of a more inclusive industry.

"ArenaNet will not hesitate to throw you under the bus for having the audacity to be annoyed by people telling you how to do your job, or for simply sticking up for a co-worker who does the same"

It's difficult to parse out how much of the backlash stemmed from players genuinely upset with how a developer addressed a fellow fan, and how much was rooted in opposition to Price's personal beliefs. (Even at an individual level, separating one's feelings about a person's past or politics from their actions in the present can be tricky.) Regardless, the backlash was not exclusively the work of Guild Wars 2 fans or misogynists, even if they both got what they wanted by working together.

We also don't know the possible circumstances within ArenaNet that may have been at play here, so there's only so much we can say for sure about the actual decisions made. Whatever extenuating circumstances there might have been behind their departures, they cannot be inferred from O'Brien's statement, which made a causal link between the pair's "attacks" and their employment status. However, not knowing the specifics doesn't stop us from assessing what people will take from the situation given the optics, and the following clear messages ArenaNet has sent through its actions.

First, to ArenaNet developers and would-be applicants: The company will not go to bat for you against the fanbase if they decide they don't like you. Your employment with the company will always be precarious. ArenaNet will not hesitate to throw you under the bus for having the audacity to be annoyed by people telling you how to do your job, or for simply sticking up for a co-worker who does the same.

To misogynist trolls: Guild Wars 2 is a welcoming place for you. Your tactics are valid and effective. Please continue harassing women and minorities out of the industry because ArenaNet doesn't want them here enough to support them when it is in any way inconvenient.

To Guild Wars 2 players: You are the most important thing to ArenaNet. What you say, goes. ArenaNet doesn't particularly care if your anger will embolden an internet hate campaign, or what horrible repercussions might come from unconditional subservience to your apparent whims. Just please stop yelling.

That last message may seem like a perfectly reasonable way to run a games-as-a-service business. And in the short run, maybe the numbers do turn out better for ArenaNet. Perhaps the number of Guild Wars 2 players who'll drop the game upset about Price and Fries being fired really is smaller than the number who would drop the game because a developer responded harshly to a player on her personal Twitter account.

But in the long run, holding Price and Fries up as sacrifices to quell the outrage discourages developers from having opinions, social media accounts, or interactions of any kind with fans. It encourages more of the same outrage from fans and hate groups (whose celebrations of this decision across Reddit and social media aren't hard to spot), because it clearly gets results. But perhaps most damaging of all, it discourages women from believing they have a place in games, and it discourages men from supporting those already here.

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Latest comments (14)

Ian Griffiths Product Owner, Hutch4 months ago
Price took exception to someone she doesn't work with telling her how to do her job
This seems like you haven't read the tweets from Deroir, or at least you haven't taken them on their own terms. He doesn't tell Price how to do her job, he posits an idea on how one might make branching dialogue in MMOs more compelling. He wasn't rude, he didn't attack her personally, he thanked her for the thread and added a comment to a debate in a public forum. The idea that because you've done something for a long time or are an expert and thus can't be criticised is a ridiculous argument from authority, your work is not immune from criticism.

But in the long run, holding Price and Fries up as sacrifices to quell the outrage discourages developers from having opinions, social media accounts, or interactions of any kind with fans.
No it doesn't and this is an absurd summary. If you work in games, GaaS or otherwise you can have opinions but your employer isn't going to look kindly on you calling a perfectly reasonable, and engaging fan who has done nothing wrong an 'asshat'. Not insulting fans who are nothing but polite isn't a high bar for engagement with your community, so please don't reframe any of this as Price engaging in a reasonable response, she was lashing out because she didn't like being critised.

Now, I don't think that Price should have been fired, a conversation or disciplinary would probably have sufficed. However, a developer is completely right not to stand by and do nothing if a staff member is actively antagonising and insulting customers who have done nothing to provoke them.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ian Griffiths on 7th July 2018 4:50pm

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Nick McCrea Gentleman, Pocket Starship4 months ago
A collection of observations I hold to be true:

Deroir's comments were totally polite, reasonable, and can't remotely be classed as criticism based on gender.

Price has undoubtedly suffered from prior harassment.

You should have sympathy if someone overreacts, if you know there is some mitigating context or prior history.

You shouldn't mistreat a person purely on the basis that you've been mistreated by others you place in a similar identity category.

Companies have the right to discipline employees if they treat customers badly in a way which reflects on their brand.

Companies have a duty of care to employees who are in public view.

I hold all these views, simultaneously. I wish we could deal with these situations with more wisdom and compassion.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 months ago
It is just as easy to tell Mike O'Brien how to do his job, as it is to tell Price how to do hers and walk into similar fallacies. As long as he does not dip his feet into public character assassination (#notgonnahappen), the only explanation he can offer for firing two of his staff is what's already out there in public and everybody is assuming anyway should he fire them without an explanation. We do not know what happened internally, making it impossible to judge what really happened after the tweets.

Sure, we have the reasonable adult expectation of Derior and Price ending their Twitter fit with a short verbal shakehands and move on with their lives, but at the end of the day it is everybody's decision whether they want to live in a culture where apologies are both accepted and conceded, or apologies are sacrificed at the altar of a cultural war fought without giving any quarter. You can argue for and against the entire list of arguments in this article, but that is the one bad taste in your mouth that will not go away. A judge, two people not shaking hands and an online mob.

To that end, never listen to the mob, it will always push people towards the extreme, just to see what happens. The mob faces no consequences, it is doing it for the lolz of witnessing your social media implosion at your costs. ArenaNet did not cave in to unreasonable online mobs of their fans before (and there have been much more wilder ones before), so I doubt they have here. This ordeal just hit the industry mainstream because it touches on a popular topic and narrative. A topic that only exists because the people most connected to all the tools of the communication age, practice the art of communication the least.
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Show all comments (14)
Tommy Roekkum Freelancer 4 months ago
Arena did the right thing, its as obvious as day an night!
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David Canela Game & Audio Designer 4 months ago
The merits of a decision are not decided by who applauds that decision, but by the quality of the decision itself. Therefore the correct question to ask is whether Price's online behavior justifies her firing, not what internet trolls' opinions are of this firing.

With the little context I'm aware of, which includes a very calluous and dehumanizing tweet Price made some time ago about the demise of Totalbiscuit (meaning she's not a first offender who happened to be involved in a twitter shitstorm), I find ArenaNet's reaction understandable, as much as I'm not a fan of "fire him/her"-online mobs and the culture of firing employees for PR purposes .

A big part of it is how I consider the following some "Kelly-Anne Conway"-level spin and misrepresentation of what actually transpired:
and Price took exception to someone she doesn't work with telling her how to do her job
I would encourage people to just go read the original twitter conversation.

While "mansplaining" is a real phenomenon, the accusation of it often becomes itself sexist when used as weapon to discredit men voicing their opinions. In this case here, there was nothing but politeness, there was no condescension to in sight, and no indication the dissenting opinion is based on a gender-based feeling of superiority. And it happened in a public forum where by no means it can be construed as an invasion to respond with slightly dissenting thoughts to an original tweet. There apparently were other tweets including some sarcastic ones about hurt "manfeels", I'm not sure at which point in the conversation they happened, though. The general impression, however, is of somebody how believes it's ok to use "man-" as a pejorative or belittling prefix and drags conflict into a gender battle arena where the original behavior is irrelevant and what matters is what group you belong to, with some groups being assigned the victim role and others the perpetrator role.

Now I've been lucky never to have been at the center of an online mob's rage but I can empathize and imagine it does things to you and can make you more calluous and combative in turn ( I recommend John Ronson's book "So you've been publicly shamed"). There's a big difference, though, between not taking any shit and fighting for what's right, and just lashing out at random people in an ultimately sexist manner because they happen to have the same gender (race, nationality, whatever) as other people with whom you had a fight. Other people being a jerk to you never justifies you being a jerk to other other people.
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Collin Sparling Studying Communication in Digital Media, University of Washington4 months ago
I can understand why ArenaNet did what they did, and based on what I get from this article, it sounds like a case of context collapse. The fact of the matter is, it's never a good idea to insult the customer base of a company you work for, especially in such a public forum. From what I gather, Price would have been better off leaving well enough alone or discussing matters like this privately. We'll never know what goes on behind closed doors, however.
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Terence Jenkins Freelance Writer 4 months ago
I can almost believe that JP asked for her termination just because it would've been rather sexist to not fire her simply because she was a woman-- unfortunately firing her meant firing Fries too who didn't seem to be the aggressor in this situation. In any case be careful before jumping into a situation to blindly defend a coworker lest you end up unemployed or worse (shamed by the internet being the worst case for both former employees).
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Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 4 months ago
This is why a lot of female devs maintain a private account alongside or instead of a public-facing one. So that you can vent and bitch to your friends without doing it in the same place as your company's customers.

The tweets that got her fired were most likely not the ones between her and Deroir or even those complaining about his post, but the post she made in response to the number of posters who complained about her referring to it as a gendered issue, who she told "don't expect me to pretend to like you here."

But it's worth being clear on what her original complaint actually was, as many of the people here seem eager to point out that the poster didn't do a bunch of things that weren't actually the issue.

Basically, you don't see posts like this on male Narrative Designers' feeds. They don't get the same volume and frequency of "I think you're wrong there, it's actually this" explanations from random people.

Deroir's initial post was polite, yes. It was well-meaning, clearly. It made no overt reference to Price's gender or gender at all. But nonetheless, the poster had never felt the urge to make a similar post on a male narrative designer's twitter.

That could well be because the only game he cares enough to post about has a female ND. It's completely plausible.

But then the thread starts to flood with posters calling her sexist. It's them she blows up at.

But I don't understand at all why Fries was fired. All he did was politely explain how Price had perceived Deroir's tweet and why she was upset.

Now he's lost his job and is receiving messages like these:

“Your daddy is a bitch that defends cunts.”
“Ask your wife what time I should head over you damn cuck. Also tell her to put some salt in the spaghetti this time.”

But Arenanet's response does open up a big question. What exactly ARE you supposed to do when the customers (or at least presumed customers) are attacking you, outside areas of the company's control? Grin and bear it only works so long.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 months ago
@Bonnie Patterson:
What exactly ARE you supposed to do when the customers (or at least presumed customers) are attacking you, outside areas of the company's control?
This is not a definite answer, these are merely related counter questions on top of my head.

Do we assume everybody having the right to also being a public persona? (Not a pseudonym nobody knows about, full on public visibility)
Do you concede the rights to that public persona fully or in part to your employer?
A single Tweet can be @everyone @group and @specific_person at the same time, is that ok in the framework above?
Can a person be made by an employer to only use the non-public means of communication? i.e private messages and closed off groups only.
Does the bottom line of a company grant that company the right to infringe on an employee's choice of words in public?

I get that uninstalling Twitter is not the solution, since Twitter itself is a game of organizing and exerting social pressure between groups in a battle for perceived opinion leadership. To that end, it is similar to guilds in games going after each other. Uninstalling would be like intentionally going Game Over, nobody does that. Games these days do not even include a Game Over screen anymore, so why should Twitter? People who love Twitter will keep playing Twitter.

and if we do perceive Twitter as a massively multiplayer online opinion game, don't we owe it to ourselves to emotionally disconnect from any comments found there and lean even harder into multiplying arguments that stand the test of time, instead of pushing insults that last for five seconds worth of adrenaline? (just like people disabling textures in shooters to get an advantage spotting targets)

At which point therefore do we draw the line between healthy activism and ideological powergaming on a public platform?

No two people will have the same answers and hence no two people will have the same perspective on the events that transpired. That's why social networks make good Black Mirror episodes and gamification of social networks will continue.
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w1nter no job, IT Craft4 months ago
Klaus, you are wrong on so many levels that this article is completely backwards. Standing up for Jessica after what she did is ignorant at best, malicious at worst. She represents nothing of what the majority of gaming community is and instead what we despise and do no want to see anywhere near the industry.

The mob is often out of control and mad for no good reason. Not this time.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 4 months ago
@w1nter:
you are misreading my words, if you believe them to be a defense of Jessica Price.

There is also no reason to bow to the mob and there is no active winning move for the mob either. The mob only 'wins', if people make bad moves. The mob also has a very unique idea about what constitutes a winning state. It is like playing Chess with a deranged Richard Dawkins fan who declares the game over after removing all the Bishops, since without religious leaders all the other pieces on the board can live in peace and happiness.

Consider this, the mob is in place, Mike O'Brien is not happy, but asks Jessica Price to issue to smallest possible of apologies to Deroir. (e.g. Tweet: sorry I got angry the other day). Deroir answers back on Twitter with "no problem" and the mob is dissolved, there is nothing to see here. Go home everybody. This could be organized and locked down as a guaranteed outcome of the Twitter exchange without the mob ever knowing. Pick up the phone, realize that one of your core fans is far from resentful after being on the receiving end of some Twitter posts. Make your employee realize that it is time to gain a lot of ground by giving up a little ground.

Obviously though, there was no Chief Adultness Executive to oversee this process, so for whatever reason this most apparent winning move fell apart. I highly doubt Deroir is to blame. Who is then? Did Mike O'Brien not see and make a push towards that move like the new Jessica Price interviews suggests? Is Jessica Price to blame for not realizing where she moved the pieces on the board and conceding the most basic apology that did not even require any amount of real credibility?

Instead, the mob got what it really wanted, which was not some fake 'justice' but rather entertainment while observing destruction (as seen in movies). So Mike fires Jessica, the mob cheers both sides, Jessica swears revenge by exposing the truth, many websites smell the clicks in the air and are happy to oblige in spreading the story, blowing it out of proportion by selectively omitting details. ArenaNet might think of this as resolved because they did what the mob asked, made a stand, got some applause by the fans afterwards and chose to ignore the rest. But in reality, ArenaNet gave Jessica Price a lot of time on her hands to kick them where it really hurts and part of the mob will keep cheering her on to see more destruction.

So for as much as people seem to be concerned about being belittled because of their gender, their race, their religion, or the fact that they self identify as a 19th Century oil painting, they sure do everything in their power to isolate themselves with the most childish behavior ever seen and blaming it on how culture treats diverse genetic expressions.

Now ArenaNet and Jessica Price are in the position where both need to swallow their pride far more, rewind the clock by one week, if they ever hope to disperse the mob by behaving like adults on second attempt. But by now, the mob has reinforced on both sides that they were right, effectively splitting them in half. So instead of being the two adult alpha leaders they want to be, they will come off as quarreling children forever.

Don't call this mansplaining, call it adultsplaining.
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Bonnie Patterson Narrative Designer, Writer 4 months ago
@Klaus - just wanted to say that the reason I didn't reply to your post was that it was bloody excellent, as was the "adultsplaining" post (although technically it is only *-splaining when it is something the target could obviously be expected to know - what you said is stuff we all should have known but have obviously forgotten)
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Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, Ludia4 months ago
Would we see the same results if:

1) the "player" wasn't a famous Youtuber?
2) the "player" was a woman?
3) the "employee" was a man?

And to all guys commenting on this question: please just stop. Ask your female co-workers (or wives, girlfriends, whatever) what is their opinion on all of this. You will be surprised.
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Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, Ludia4 months ago
@Bonnie Patterson: Thanks for putting things this way.
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