ArenaNet and the Wisdom of Not Doing Anything
ArenaNet should be having a good time. The latest update to the Path of Fire expansion came out, it was universally acclaimed by media and players. They’ve scored a win, and regained momentum. But then… well, then an employee spoke out on Twitter. Then the President, Mike O’Brien made an example of her, and another employee. And now ArenaNet is in the middle of a PR blunder of its own creation. Instead of anyone talking about how good the game’s latest content is, the entire gaming world is talking about what a horrible thing it is for a company’s president to have fired an employee over Twitter conversations with players.
This is an opinion piece, so I’m sure not everyone will agree. But I don’t think Jessica Price, part of the narrative team on Guild Wars 2, should have been fired. And I certainly don’t think Peter Fries should have been fired. I do think that Ms. Price was being casually rude to people on Twitter who weren’t always being rude to her. Her Twitter did/does state her affiliation with ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2. Peter Fries, another member of that team, merely stated that he agreed with Jessica on the subject at hand.
What was the original subject? A user and GW2 player DeroirGaming, disagreed with Jessica’s assertion that it may not be possible to make an MMORPG character compelling. His response wasn’t antagonistic, and it was in reply to a public tweet on a service that’s meant to be used to engage conversation. Twitter is, by its very nature, a place for discourse. When a game developer is engaging on the platform to talk about their job it must be expected that players/fans/haters will engage back.
Since I spent all kinds of time saying it on a Reddit AMA, and I haven't talked about actual game dev on Twitter in a while, here's a thread about writing for the PC character in an MMO. — Jessica Price (@Delafina777) July 3, 2018
Does this mean Jessica is supposed to endure it without clapping back? Not at all. But I’m also not a woman in game design. I don’t know what she goes through day in, day out, just to be a part of this industry. I highly expect she puts up with a lot more shit than most of her male counterparts. Women are not equal in game dev yet, and there’s a long road to go before we’re there.
THAT SAID: she could have most definitely either a.) not replied to people who disagreed with her game design assertions or b.) done so in a more polite way. I suspect that Mike O’Brien feels he’s justified in firing Jessica because her tone on Twitter is one that’s fed up and dismissive of the GW2 community. And it is her personal Twitter, so she should be allowed to say what she feels in that space. But as of this writing, her profile still states she’s part of the ANet team, and that means her actions reflect on the company.
This is my long-winded way of saying perhaps Ms. Price should have been disciplined behind company doors, and instructed to either make her Twitter account private or stop using the platform with advertised ties to the company. She’s not wrong in her replies, but they could have been addressed better without creating such a stir in the community. But firing her, without knowing anything else about how or who she was at work, seems both callous and over the top and does nothing but make Mike O’Brien look bad, and ArenaNet look like the sort of place no one should want to work.
But people are often fired for how they act in public places. Twitter is a public place, when you don’t protect your profile. But there’s nothing about Jessica Price’s tweets or replies that look damaging to ArenaNet as a company. She’s not spouting Nazi Rhetoric, or spewing racists memes. She’s fervently disagreeing with people on her job and capabilities. She’s defending her work, just not in the best or most customer-facing way.
I’ve spoken with several former employees of ArenaNet and they’ve all told me the same thing: MO is not the hero Guild Wars fans make him out to be. Quite often, it’s the opposite: he’s a founder and the company president, but there’s a reason he’s the only founder left at the company. There’s a reason many of the people who were responsible for the sky-high dreams of Guild Wars 2 left for other studios. There’s a reason that MO’s the only founder left.
In all of this though, the real winner is no one. Everyone loses. Jessica Price lost a job she obviously cared about. Peter Fries, a 13-year employee got caught in the crossfire too. The rest of ArenaNet is left feeling like the spotlight is shining on them, arguably now worried about what they might say to get themselves sacked. Guild Wars 2’s lost its momentum as a game, and is now a side-topic in a greater discussion of worker rights and social media mores. And Mike O’Brien, who thought he was standing up for the customer and his players, has instead given his employees targets on their backs – a notice that says, “Go head, kick me and abuse me. I can’t do anything if I want to keep my job.”