In the middle of last week, a series of firings shook the industry. ArenaNet, the company behind the popular MMO Guild Wars 2, let go two of its writers after a heated exchange on Twitter. Jessica Price, one of the writers, along with Peter Fries, who defended Price on Twitter, were fired from their jobs, drawing ire and celebration in equal measure from opposite ends of the industry and wider Guild Wars 2 community.
In a new interview with Polygon, Price describes what immediately followed the incident, including the meeting that led to her firing. "I was given no opportunity to argue my case,” Price told the site. “My manager was on vacation. [ArenaNet president Mike 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. He told me I’d look back and regret this, because we were doing great work and I’d ruined it."
Price called the meeting "highly unprofessional," as she felt positioned as a vehicle for O'Brien to "vent his anger" before she was promptly fired, emptied her desk, and returned her key card to HR. It's a far cry from what Price recalled working for ArenaNet up to that point had been like, citing her hiring interview where ArenaNet "respected [her] willingness to speak up on issues in the industry and had no desire to muzzle [her]." But after last week's tweets detailing the differences between writing for an MMO compared to a linear, narrative game, and a popular Guild Wars 2 streamer Deroir publicly disagreed with her, things got hairy.
"I had, in my time there, zero warnings about my social media use," Price told Polygon. "Everything I said on Twitter [last week] was consistent with what I’ve been saying for years and how I’ve been saying it." Price went on to note that after O'Brien fired her and her colleague, former co-workers and other industry colleagues have been contacting her to let her know how "afraid this has made them." For Price and many others, it's shaping as a possible terrifying precedent: where Reddit and other communities can mobilize against anyone they don't like, effectively tone-policing and costing jobs. Or as Price said in an interview with The Verge last week, "The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you."
O'Brien also provided an expanded statement from ArenaNet's last week, which you can read in its entirety on Polygon. "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," O'Brien's statement begins.
"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."
O'Brien goes on to praise the work of Jessica and Peter on Guild Wars 2, citing one "wonderfully well-executed scene" from Episode 1, and wishes them the best in their future endeavors. While Price doesn't regret her actions, as she's always been vocal on Twitter, she does believe she could have reeled in saying "asshat" into something more like "condescending jerk."
The firings have been a hot button issue since last week, with Vlambeer's Rami Ismail, 80 Days writer Meg Jayanth, Night in the Woods developer Scott Benson being among those to condemn ArenaNet for the handling of the situation. It's proving to be another flashpoint in the neverending culture war that's enveloped gaming over the years.