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Guild Wars 2 writer Jessica Price and developer ArenaNet break silence on recent firings

Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet stirred up a fuss last week after it fired two of its employees following a verbal altercation with one of its partnered YouTubers on Twitter. It seems as though ArenaNet has damaged its reputation according to Price, who claims that recruiters and game design professors will be steering prospective developers away from the company as a result.

The Twitter Exhange

On July 3rd, 2018, Jessica Price wrote a thread on Twitter discussing the process of writing PC characters in an MMO, particularly the balance between their ability to be engaging while giving each player room to make the character their own. “The dirty secret is I’m not sure it’s possible to make an MMORPG (or CRPG) character compelling, because people have different expectations about what that character will be, as opposed to a pre-designed character in a single-player game.

“Whereas in an RPG, where the player chooses all kinds of character options and names their character and designs their face and so on, they feel more ownership over that character. They’re not playing a character YOU designed–they’re playing a character THEY designed,” continues Price. “So if Jack or Lara or Corvo says or does something the player doesn’t feel that THEY would say or do, the player’s more forgiving, because they have the expectation that they’re piloting a character someone else created.”

Guild Wars 2 streamer Deroir chimed in after Price had finished, stating that it was a “really interesting thread to read. However, allow me to disagree slightly. I dont believe the issue lies in the MMORPG genre itself (as your wording seemingly suggest). I believe the issue lies in the contraints of the Living Story’s narrative design.”

Instead, Deroir believes that branching dialogue options could be a solution to the plight that Price describes, claiming it to be a thoughtful way for each player to “express their character” rather than just relying on the reactions of non-playable characters (NPCs) to make a character feel like it has personality.

Price did not take kindly to the comment, claiming that Deroir was trying to tell her “what we do internally” through mansplaining and that she never asked for opinions despite tweeting it out publicly to her followers, of which Deroir was one. She quoted Deroir’s replies specifically, captioned: “today in being a female game dev: ‘Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.’”

“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,” continues Price. PSA. Since we’ve got a lot of hurt manfeels today, 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.”

Throughout this exchange, Deroir continuously apologised, claiming that he was trying to create a “dialogue and discussion” with her and that he was “sorry if it offended.” ArenaNet colleague and writer Peter Fries spoke up on behalf of her, arguing with fans that Price’s actions were justifiable, resulting in both Fries and Price being fired by ArenaNet.

ArenaNet and Price’s Response

The press has bombarded ArenaNet for its harsh reaction, worrying about the precedent it sets when a company doesn’t back its developers and instead reacts out of fear of backlash. The company has remained notably silent, as has Price even though her tweets remain. Both have since spoken up about the issue in an interview with Polygon.

“I was told during my interview and subsequent hiring communications that ArenaNet respected my willingness to speak up on issues in the industry and had no desire to muzzle me,” she said. “I had, in my time there, zero warnings about my social media use. Everything I said on Twitter was consistent with what I’ve been saying for years and how I’ve been saying it.”

It is particularly interesting that ArenaNet would not have confronted Price for her use of social media in the past, considering Price landed herself in controversy with comments on internet personality Total Biscuit’s death to cancer. “The kindest thing I can say is ‘I’m glad he’s no longer around to keep doing harm.’” With Fries also being caught in the crossfire of the recent firings, however, it’s uncertain how much this could have affected Price’s own outcome.

“It’s devastating that a company talking all that talk folded like a cheap card table the first time their values were actually tested. Doing the right thing is hard, sure, but doing it regularly makes it easier to keep doing it. And the corollary to that is that capitulating makes it harder to stop capitulating,” adds Price in her interview. This has since “painted a target on everyone’s back” at ArenaNet, according to Price, causing potential game developers to avoid the company.

ArenaNet president Mike O’Brien stands by the decision, stating that “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.”

Social media policies are enforced by almost every company out there to a degree, and while it might not have been verbalised according to Price, her approach to expressing her controversial opinions was always risky as ArenaNet’s name sat directly next to her picture.

“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,” continues O’Brien. “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.”

KitGuru Says: I disagree that this was an instance of mansplaining, with Deroir simply approaching Price as the originator of the conversation and someone who could truly make a difference with his suggestions. This sadly blurs the line between true mansplaining, which devalues a woman’s skills particularly because of their gender and an in-depth conversation. What is your take on the story?

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