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.
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.