Former Guild Wars 2 writer Jessica Price was fired last week without, she has said, any warning.
“I was given no opportunity to argue my case,” Price told Polygon. “[Studio co-founder and 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.
“The whole thing was highly unprofessional. 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.”
Price, and fellow writer Peter Fries, were fired for their reactions to a Guild Wars 2 YouTuber, and the wider community, on Twitter. Price took offence at what she felt was the condescending tone of YouTuber Deroir when responding to her thread about writing player-characters for online games. “Men pop up in my mentions to tell me how to do my job all the time,” she told Polygon, and this provoked her reaction.
“There were meetings in which executives promised us that they wanted us to speak up about the ugly things, the harmful things, and that we wouldn’t be punished for doing so.” -Jessica Price
Fries, for his part, jumped in with a now-deleted tweet to say he, as a man, never received the treatment she currently was. He didn’t say much else and hasn’t since (although Fries did write an emotional thank you to the community for the support they had given him and the game for many years).
Jessica Price’s reaction was in keeping with her persona on Twitter, where she is vocal about issues impacting the games industry (and world) – issues like sexism. She said ArenaNet was well aware of this before she joined and seemed to be encouraged by it. “I had, in my time there, zero warnings about my social media use,” she said – which means ArenaNet said nothing about her TotalBiscuit tweet in the aftermath of his death.
“There were meetings in which executives promised us that they wanted us to speak up about the ugly things, the harmful things, and that we wouldn’t be punished for doing so,” Price told Polygon. “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.”
Mike O’Brien, leader of Guild Wars 2 maker ArenaNet, issued a second, longer statement in response to Polygon’s piece. “She was representing the company,” he said – and for brevity I have chosen a few quotes rather than replicate the whole statement. “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.
“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.”
“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.” -Mike O’Brien
O’Brien insisted ArenaNet’s reaction wasn’t a response to community anger but a response delayed by virtue of the tweets being made on a US national holiday, 4th July, which made the earliest possible time for action the next day. He wished Price and Fries the best in whatever they chose to do next.
Incidentally, employment works slightly differently in America to the UK, and staff can be let go without any warning if there’s cause. It’s called “at-will” employment and clears up one of the questions I had about this situation. Another was – and still is – what did Peter Fries do to warrant being fired? Price told Polygon she hadn’t spoken to Fries since her dismissal and only learned he was let go after she had been given her marching orders. Remember, Fries’ dismissal ended more than 13 years of employment at ArenaNet, whereas Price had only been there there a year.
Not that employment length makes Price’s dismissal any less troubling. What she said on Twitter was antagonistic, yes, and did poorly reflect upon ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2 – but it also poorly reflected upon what – and who – developers are exposed to on Twitter, especially developers of games with large communities. Especially female developers.
In his statement, Mike O’Brien stressed: “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.”
Price said her manager was on vacation so wasn’t present at her termination meeting, although an HR “person” and manager from the narrative department were. Why wasn’t anyone cooling the situation down? Why wasn’t this a chance to take Price aside and talk about the company’s expectations of their staff, which apparently weren’t explicit however implied they might have been?
More importantly, what does O’Brien and ArenaNet not protecting an employee mean for the expectations of the 400-odd other people working there?