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ArenaNet throw two Guild Wars 2 writers to the wolves

A wrong move

ArenaNet have fired two Guild Wars 2 writers for tweets they made this past week. In doing so, they've thrown their lot in with players and harassers who make unreasonable demands of game developers. Good work, ArenaNet. Let's start at the beginning.

On July 3rd, Jessica Price wrote an interesting Twitter thread about the challenges of writing compelling player characters in MMORPGs. In response to one of those tweets, Guild Wars 2 YouTuber and ArenaNet content partner 'Deroir' responded to disagree and argue in favour of branching dialogue. On July 4th, Price quote-tweeted Deroir's response, correctly connecting it to the all-too common situation of women game developers being condescended on Twitter.

Price followed up immediately by tweeting that "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." The reaction to those on Twitter was negative, prompting Price to elaborate further a couple of hours later by further tweeting, "lemme make something clear: this is my feed. 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." and "The attempts of fans to exert ownership over our personal lives and times are something I am hardcore about stopping. You don't own me, and I don't owe you."

Fellow ArenaNet writer Peter Fries defended Price on Twitter with a short set of Twitter replies that have since been deleted but which are currently archived here. Those tweets say nothing other than reiterating that these are personal Twitter accounts, and argue that Price should be treated with more respect. By this point, users were tweeting Price in their droves to argue against her comments, with a lot of ugly name-calling. Deroir for his part defended his initial tweets and backed out of the conversation.

Posts about the Twitter exchange and both writers had by then been created on Reddit and to a thread on the official Guild Wars 2 forum. In the latter on July 5th, ArenaNet co-founder Mike O'Brien posted to say that both employees had been fired:

Recently two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players. 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.

Which is a failure to understand the context of the situation and to stand by your employees.

For further context, Jessica Price joined ArenaNet around a year ago and the r/Guildwars2 post announcing her arrival was eventually locked by moderators because some posters took instant umbrage with Price's Twitter account, fearing that the game might be affected by "SJW agendas." Price worked previously at Paizo Inc, makers of the Pathfinder pen-and-paper RPG, and had been open on Twitter, in interviews and in PAX panels about sexism in the tabletop industry, including specific instances of harassment she had experienced.

Price's tweets on July 4th were clearly responding not to a single tweet but explicitly addressing the broader reality of "being a female game dev" today. By this point, it's no secret that women in online spaces are frequently condescended, bombarded with criticism not levied at male peers, and often held to a standard that requires them to be silent or play nice.

ArenaNet's decision to fire both Price and Fries re-inforces that standard: if you are a game developer and you are regularly patronised and harassed, then you should stay silent. If you speak out against that treatment - or even simply defend a colleague who is speaking out and asking that they be treated with respect - then that constitutes "attacks on the community" and you will be fired, because ArenaNet value the community more than their developers no matter how that community acts.

Even if you disagree with the tweets, ArenaNet's statement is poor. By stating that Price's and Fries' tweets "do not reflect the views of ArenaNet at all," they've written a blank check to Guild Wars 2 players who believe they should, as Price put it, be able to exert ownership over developer's personal lives. By stating uniformly that they "value your input," they're saying that the when, where and how of that input does not matter; developers must always be polite, always be "collaborative", always be on. Price's Twitter mentions are currently a wall of gloating and abuse from the usual suspects, who have just been told that their actions are justified.

Update: ArenaNet gave a follow-up statement to Eurogamer. "We strive to cultivate an atmosphere of transparency around the making of our games and encourage our teams to be involved in open, positive discussion with our community. Earlier this week, two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communication with our players and fans, and they are no longer with the company."

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