Please note that this article has been heavily updated over the last week as this story has continued developing. New additions are at the bottom, but the beginning of the piece is a bit out of date. We recommend our recent Flameseeker Chronicles or Massively OP Podcast to help you get caught up.
The Guild Wars 2 team is short two narrative designers today after a pitched internet war of words on Twitter.
“Recently two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players,” ArenaNet’s Mike O’Brien wrote on the game’s forums. “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.”
We presume the employees are Jessica Price and Peter Fries, who have been the subject of a heated Reddit-and-forum flamewar that’s long since passed 10,000 comments and upvotes across its many threads for the last two days.
Price, it appears, seriously overreacted to an influencer’s well-intentioned but clumsy advice on narrative design on her personal Twitter feed. When she insinuated the influencer was mansplaining and referred to “hurt manfeels” and “rando asshats,” what should have been a simple misunderstanding escalated as a mob of angry
players Redditors then flocked to raid her Twitter for evidence, harass her on social media, and riot on Reddit to effectively call for her head across thousands of vitriolic comments. While we were developing this story, one member of our writing team characterized the ensuing “avalanche of openly misogynistic hatred,” far out of proportion with the original offense.
Worth pointing out is that there are plenty of people on ArenaNet’s forums who disagree with the decision to fire anyone over this [also now deleted]. It is not entirely clear that Fries was the second employee sacked, but he was also involved in the fracas, having defended Price on Twitter. Fries has worked for ArenaNet for years, all the way back to classic Guild Wars Factions. [Update: It is now clear he was.]
ArenaNet has not commented on any possible impact to upcoming content, but you can probably assume the developers won’t be so eager to interact with the community anymore.
She does have kind words for most of her former ArenaNet colleagues as well as the community, suggesting that it’s a small portion of the community that is a problem. “But 10% of your fandom being toxic is still a really high percentage.” Ultimately, she echos other industry developers and journalists in arguing the precedent is deeply troubling: “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you. Get out there and make sure the players have a good time. And make sure you smile while they hit you.”
Worth pointing out is that a few days before the incident, Deroir had said on his stream that he considered Price a “god” in her field.
“[O’Brien] spent some time insisting that developers must be friends with the company’s customers, and that it was unacceptable to say that we aren’t, even when we’re not on the clock. […] There was zero reason for him to be there. He wanted to vent his anger, and he had the power to command a woman to stand there while he took his feelings out on her, so he did. Then he walked out, [the manager] got my stuff from my desk and the HR person asked for my key card.”
She also reiterates that ArenaNet promised she “wouldn’t have to check [her] identity at the door” and that ArenaNet executives promised “they wanted [devs] to speak up about the ugly things, the harmful things, and that [devs] wouldn’t be punished for doing so. […] And so it’s devastating that a company talking all that talk folded like a cheap card table the first time their values were actually tested.” As for the impact on the industry, she has harsh words:
“Let’s be clear: In 2018, it’s absurd to pretend ignorance of what would happen to a woman fired for speaking about sexism, because he feels she got too uppity. […] He painted a target on everyone’s back. He didn’t just fail Peter and me, or even the employees for which he was responsible. He failed the entire industry. […] He caved to a handful of people and an army of bots and sock puppets. […] Now he’s got almost every female developer I know — as well as some men — furious with him. I’ve got recruiters pinging me promising they’ll steer candidates away from ArenaNet, and game design professors saying they’re going to warn their students away. I’ve also had a lot of ArenaNet co-workers and other industry colleagues contacting me to express how afraid this has made them.”
Price expresses her adoration for Fries; she said she didn’t know he would step in. “He deserves none of this crap.” And she also says while she doesn’t regret her original snark to Deroir, she does wish she had “moderated her language” given that “rando asshat” seems to have upset ArenaNet so much. Apparently, she’s still under extreme bot harassment, so she’s got a “security team handling [her] social media.”
Polygon also got Mike O’Brien to issue a statement; he essentially says the duo were fired for “attacking” community members and that he had already decided on that course of action before the flames of Reddit began licking at his doorstep on July 5th. Here it is in full:
Jessica had identified herself as an ArenaNet employee on Reddit and Twitter, had been discussing Episode 3 storytelling with fans on Reddit, then had written a 25-part tweet about how we tell stories in MMOs, relating it back to Episode 3. She was representing the company. The expectation was to behave professionally and respectfully, or at least walk away. Instead, she attacked.
Concerns have been publicly raised that she was responding to harassment. It’s not my place to tell employees when they should or shouldn’t feel harassed. In this case, however, our employees could have chosen not to engage, and they could have brought the issue to the company, whereby we would have done everything we could to protect them.
We won’t tolerate harassment. When an employee feels harassed, we want them to bring the issue to us, so that we can protect the employee, deal with the issue, and use it to speak to the larger issue of harassment.
Whatever Jessica and Peter felt internally about the situation, this was objectively a customer engaging us respectfully and professionally, presenting a suggestion for our game. Any response from our company needed to be respectful and professional. A perceived slight doesn’t give us license to attack.
We’ve all dedicated our careers to entertaining people, to making games for the purpose of delighting those who play them. We generally have a wonderful relationship with our community, and that’s a point of pride for us. We want to hear from our players. It’s not acceptable that an attempted interaction with our company — in this case a polite game suggestion — would be met with open hostility and derision from us. That sets a chilling precedent.
The tweets were made on July 4, when the studio was closed for the holiday. We were aware of them that day, and decided we’d need to take action in the morning. The fact that the community’s anger was escalating on July 5 could make it look like our action was a response to the community’s anger. But that wasn’t the case. We took action as soon as we practicably could.
I hate to let an employee go, and I wish the best for Jessica and Peter, as for any former employee, in whatever they choose to do next.
Whatever you thought of the tweets, Jessica and Peter were also part of the team that brought you the kidnapping scene in Episode 1, which was a wonderfully well-executed scene. That’s how I want to remember their time at ArenaNet.
- Massively OP Guild Wars 2 columnist Tina Lauro Pollock has explored ArenaNet’s latest PR nightmare in the latest edition of the long-running Flameseeker Chronicles.
- MOP Podcast hosts Justin Olivetti and Bree Royce have a detailed chronology and takeaway discussion on the fallout in this week’s Massively OP Podcast (link should be live at 4 p.m. EDT Tuesday).
- And the IGDA has called for greater transparency among video game studios specifically in regard to their social media policies and harassment management plans – yes, this is directly influenced by the ArenaNet dust-up.
- We have inquired with ArenaNet about its own formal social media policies and will report on that if the studio responds.
“Regardless of how one feels about Price’s actions and regardless of where one draws the line between rudeness and exasperation in Price’s tweets, the fact of the matter is that there is an entire spectrum of responses ArenaNet could have taken, but chose not to. The company could have done anything from pulling their employee aside and discussing their behavior, to giving them an internal reprimand and offered them additional training. Instead, ArenaNet, under the clearly inadequate leadership of Mike O’Brien, made the knee-jerk reaction to fire a member of their team. No dialogue, no nuance, no empathy. […] The unethical firings of Price and Fries, together with the reactions of toxic individuals inside and outside of the Guild Wars player community, have had a chilling effect across the industry. Countless workers have been harassed over social media and many are concerned about the implications of this event, some going so far as to delete their personal social media accounts in fear of similar retaliation from hostile players and bosses. ArenaNet has signaled to the entire industry that our job security can be, and almost certainly will be, imperiled by the most vitriolic and volatile players. This event carries echoes of Gamergate, and will only embolden harassers further.”
From Kate Welch, a well-known developer and former web and UI designer for ArenaNet on Guild Wars 2: “not sure if all y’all know this but i was at ArenaNet for four years, shipped GW2, and loved so much of my time there. […] but this shitty executive approach to dev/player relations existed back then, too. and I’m so sad to see that it seems to have gotten worse. […] it’s ALMOST like there’s someone there who loves throwing people under the bus to get some fucking Reddit attention, and who has done it with alarming regularity.”
From Angel McCoy, former narrative designer for Guild Wars 2: “These firings feel like a heavy-handed, knee-jerk reaction in an effort to assuage player discontent. Especially when you consider Peter has put his soul, blood, and sweat into that company for 12+ years and has been a great social media voice for GW2 for almost as long. […] Add to that how little they value company loyalty… well… it’s not pretty. They’ll probably be able to hire 2 or 3 young, inexperienced writers with the money that just went back in the pool from Peter’s salary. They forget the cost of ramp-up time. Peter was an expert. […] When Peter left, he walked out with a lot of knowledge that they will miss. […] Ultimately, players will pay the price.”
“The announcement was an escalation. The company could have chosen to say “their remarks don’t represent the company, we don’t agree with what they said, and they’re no longer with the company,” she writes. “That’s not what they did. They framed an interaction on my personal social media in which I told a few individuals who (I thought) were being assholes that I wasn’t on the clock and wasn’t going to feign affection for people who are being assholes as ‘attacks on the community.'” Consequently, she argues, O’Brien effectively provoked the mob, knowing what harassment would follow after she and Fries had been painted as “enemies of the community”; she calls it “active solicitation of harassment,” using the mob as punishment and then maintaining “silence in condemning the harassment,” which she says is “profoundly telling.” Also worth noting here is that Price appears to be acknowledging error in assuming that the initial comments from Deroir (and others) were intentionally malicious.
Price also criticizes O’Brien for “[reducing her] contribution to GW2 to one scene from one episode,” which she believed is an example of “women’s work [being] erased or minimized.” She is here responding to O’Brien’s statement to Polygon, which he ended by saying, “Whatever you thought of the tweets, Jessica and Peter were also part of the team that brought you the kidnapping scene in Episode 1, which was a wonderfully well-executed scene. That’s how I want to remember their time at ArenaNet.” So, she corrects the record:
“In terms of *influence*: the entire season is mine. I led the season story breaking meetings, I led the episode outlining meetings, and every line of dialogue went through me. Everything you’ve seen of the story so far this season is my work, and you’re going to be seeing my work in it for a long time. A bunch of the content you’ll be seeing is also work led by women: female team and game design leads, female writing leads, female cinematics leads. It’s the best content GW2 has produced. Women in this industry lead, and aren’t going anywhere.”
Her final takeaway? “If you’re a dev in this industry, take a very careful look at what ArenaNet has done, and get a guarantee from your management that they’re not going to do it to you.”
We reached out to ArenaNet in light of Price’s latest statements; ArenaNet has once again declined to comment. (We had previously inquired about the company’s social media policies.)
“The facts are clear: when ArenaNet fired two of its employees, a new wave of harassment was unleashed. All the while, ArenaNet has remained silent about this, seemingly content to watch their former employees and industry peers suffer. […] It is sobering to consider that if ArenaNet had chosen to say nothing, Price and Fries would have been better off than they are presently. This is not merely a case of workers losing their jobs and being abandoned by their studio. It is a case in which an employer has escalated and effectively encouraged further harassment of their former employees, through deliberate silence about the attacks suffered by their workers combined with an extraordinary choice of words in a public statement.”
“The damage from ArenaNet’s decision isn’t just being done to the women who are being harassed. It’s being done to everyone who is now afraid to speak out on Twitter. The damage is in the pause, the moment where marginalized people will now hesitate before sharing their stories. It renders people’s struggles invisible, because the people who are struggling are often the ones who can suffer the most if their livelihoods are taken away.”
“This idea that an angry mob can get people fired because publishers like ArenaNet are scared to take some heat on behalf of their employees? It’s shameful,” Hinterland founder Raphael van Lierop wrote. “Who do they think is going to make the games once all the developers have been fired? The angry internet mob? We need to find a better balance, because this entitlement culture is burning people out.”
“This level of openness is quite rare in our industry, and because we ask our team to be part of that, it’s essential for them to know that if they somehow ended up the target of a hate mob, then we would absolutely have their back,” vowed Double Fine’s James Spafford.
Further reading on the incident and ensuing fallout: