Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet has fired two of its developers, following a disagreement with a streamer on Twitter. Narrative designer Jessica Price and Peter Fries, a writer who’d been with ArenaNet for more than 12 years, were dismissed for what ArenaNet is calling “a [failure] to uphold our standards of communicating” with the game’s players.
On July 3rd, narrative designer Price tweeted a 29-tweet thread dissecting the challenges of writing player characters in an MMORPG. A streamer who goes by Deroir responded, “Really interesting thread to read! However, allow me to disagree slightly,” and shared a three-tweet explanation of how narrative design influences player expression in the sort of games that Price narratively designs.
Price both replied directly to Deroir, tweeting “thanks for trying to tell me what we do internally, my dude,” and retweeted his response with the caption “today in being a female gave dev.”
“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,” she added. “PSA.” Price’s suggestion that Deroir was mansplaining game development — an area where he does not have the same knowledge or experience — sparked anger among the ArenaNet community. She subsequently responded to those criticizing her on Twitter that “I’m not on the clock here. I’m not your emotional courtesan just because I’m a dev. Don’t expect me to pretend to like you here.” Price was fired shortly after.
Although many fans are comparing this to something like working in a restaurant — be polite to the customer, or get fired — Price says it’s impossible to talk about this incident without larger context about systematic online harassment, particularly the sometimes abusive relationship between fans and game developers and the failure of game companies to address it. “Game companies are generally unwilling to be honest with themselves about how they’re complicit in creating and sustaining that environment,” she tells The Verge.
Many companies expect developers to have frequent contact with players, and “since creatives are perceived as being responsible for the way the game is more than customer support, companies are basically tying up their employees and setting them on the railroad tracks for angry people to run over,” says Price. This toxic relationship is one of the biggest factors in burnout among developers — and particularly for female developers, who experience more abuse and are “expected to perform more of this emotional labor and to do it with a smile on our faces (the sort of stuff that, from a male dev, gets dismissed as him being a bit prickly, or even lauded as him not suffering fools gladly, is a mortal sin coming from a female dev).”
This incident may have been the first time that particular streamer felt the need to jump in with his opinion, but for Price, it was just the latest in a long-running stream of interactions with the fan community that she felt consistently demeaned her expertise. “By the time that guy came along, I was so tired of having random people explain my job to me… where I had to just smile and nod that it was like, ‘No. Not here. Not in my space,’” she says.
Price adds that she believes her firing was an emotional reaction on the part of ArenaNet co-founder Mike O’Brien. “He fired me personally, and the meeting was mostly him venting his feelings at me,” she says. “I understand being afraid when you see the Reddit mob coming for you, but if people with less power can weather it — and we do, regularly — so can he.”
Price says that prior to being fired, the company had never discussed her social media presence with her or issued a warning for anything she had posted. “If it was covered in orientation, I wouldn’t know. I got pulled out of orientation to jump into rebreaking the story arc for this season of Living World.” Furthermore, ArenaNet was not only aware of her outspoken approach to discussing similar issues on social media but encouraging of it. During a job interview with the company, she had told them she was “loud about these issues on social media and had no intention of shutting up. They reassured me that they ‘admired [my] willingness to speak truth to power.’”
Fries, a 12-year veteran of the company was also fired, presumably for a now-deleted series of tweets where he came to the defense of his co-worker. “Here’s a bit of insight that I legitimately hope he reflects on: she never asked for his feedback,” he says. “These are our private social media accounts — imagine you’re an astronomer and you start sharing some things you’ve learned in the last few months since you began a research project observing Saturn, only to have observation techniques explained to you by a layman … Jessica is great at her job and deserves to be treated with respect.” Fries declined to comment further on the matter when contacted by The Verge.
ArenaNet and O’Brien have declined to comment further on their decision to fire Price and Fries. Instead, a spokesperson said O’Brien “would prefer to let his official statement on our forums stand for itself.”
“Their attacks on the community were unacceptable,” O’Brien’s forum statement reads. “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.”
Toxic members of its community are already counting Price and Fries’ firing as a win. “We can probably fire anyone on the GW2 dev team as long we make a big enough stink,” wrote one users on the Guild Wars 2 subreddit. “Nobody at Arenanet is safe from the hand of reddit. We’re literally running the company now, they’re in fear of the very users they seek to consort with… 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.”
Thousands of comments across multiple threads cheer Price’s firing, and both Price and Frises have subsequently been harassed on social media. On Twitter, Fries posted several screenshots of tweets he’s received since the incident. “Your daddy is a bitch that defends cunts,” tweeted one. “As [sic] your wife what time I should head over you damn cuck,” says another. “Also tell her to put some salt in the spaghetti this time.”
ArenaNet’s swift action to fire both Price and Fries sends a disturbing message to its fans, and especially its most toxic ones: that their power is directly correlated to how loud they yell. It’s a worrying precedent for anyone interested in working for ArenaNet, but especially those in marginalized communities that are more likely to face blowback and harassment from the worst parts of its fanbase.
The example being set for employees is also a bleak one. “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you,” Price says. “The quality of your work doesn’t matter. Your personal space, your personal social media, is not yours; you are on the clock 100 percent of the time. We own you. You’re not allowed to be yourself, you’re not allowed to get frustrated, and you’re not allowed to have your own space to breathe.
“Get out there and make sure the players have a good time. And make sure you smile while they hit you.”