Our Take: ArenaNet Fires Price

It's all about Twitter...

Jessica Price, a game producer/writer/editor, was recently fired from ArenaNet for violating the company communication policy.  Sounds simple right?  Break the rules, get fired.  The truth is that’s exactly what happened and that should have been the end of it.

What’s this all about?

I wasn’t going to do an “Our Take” on this story as I originally felt like it simply wasn’t worth the effort (since I am working on multiple articles right now).  But, as things go, I started looking into it and I felt compelled to explain the situation from the view of a corporate entity (such as ArenaNet).  When I was researching the story, I found that many people (both for and against her firing) don’t completely understand what is happening at the corporate level, and subsequently why Price’s firing was the only logical outcome.  What follows is my attempt to elaborate on a simple yet important piece of the story: The Company Code of Conduct.

I’ve been working in corporate America for nearly fourteen years.  I’ve held various roles that required different skill sets.  I’ve worked with a lot of different people with unique attitudes and backgrounds.  I’ve worked with several managers and unique management styles.  I think I’ve seen at least five different HR manuals in my career.  In ALL of this, there is one constant:

Never disrespect a potential/paying customer (or give cause to be viewed as disrespectful) when acting (or viewed) as a representative of the company.  We’ll come back to this statement.

Let’s start at the beginning…

Jessica Price was an employee of ArenaNet where she worked on the narrative team for Guild Wars 2 (hereafter referred to as GW2).  Before this story broke, I wasn’t aware of Jessica Price, her Twitter account, or her past work in the gaming industry.  I played GW2 for about a year or so back in 2014, but I didn’t stick with it and eventually I uninstalled it.  I’m coming into this story with a completely neutral perspective as I know nothing about Price and I have no particular love (or dislike) of GW2.

On July 3rd, 2018, Jessica Price posted a long series of tweets talking about writing for the player character in GW2.  You can find that post here.  It’s a good explanation of the challenges that writers run into when trying to write dialog for an MMO player character.  The entire series of tweets is non-inflammatory and rather educational.  To put it simply, “it’s fine.”  A GW2 streamer, Deroir (@DeroirGaming) posted a reply to Price’s tweets.  His reply was direct, but respectful and non-inflammatory.  In a nutshell, he postulates that player characters can be given more meaningful expression through branching dialog options.  Price then responds to his statements with a dismissive tweet about her job.  In case these tweets are ever deleted, I’ve capture the image here:

Let’s pause here and examine Deroir’s comments thus far.  (For the record, when I first read this series of Tweets, I had no idea who Deroir was, including his gender.)  I don’t know any other way to put this: There is absolutely nothing wrong with Deroir’s statements.  There are some in the industry that have tried to say this was “man-splaining” or that his comments “don’t exist in a vacuum” (thank you Polygon) and to that I say: That’s ridiculous – of course his comments don’t exist in a vacuum.  They exist right here in the real world where it’s expected that two people can have a respectful conversation about dialog options regardless of their gender.  I didn’t even know who Deroir was when I read this interaction and the only thing that jumps out at me is Price’s overly defensive position to a respectful suggestion.  Deroir even went so far as to thank Price for the insightful thread and a few minutes later explains he just wanted to open a dialog with her:

At this point, all of this could have ended here.  While Price’s response tweet is a bit over-defensive, it would have been swept away into the oceans of the internet.

At 12:59pm EDT, on July 4th, 2018, Jessica Price tweets this:

A few minutes later, she follows it up with this:

A bit later, Deroir responds with this:

 

Breaking it down…

There is a lot to dissect here, including her broad assumptions and Deroir’s response.  First and foremost, it is very disappointing to see Price insinuate that Deroir was trying to “explain” branching dialog because she’s a woman (aka “man-splaining”).  First, he was simply suggesting that branching dialog might help players feel more vested in the character and allow for more role play.  Second, go take a look at ANY game forum where the developers/producers are active (male and female).  Every single time a developer makes a post about a game mechanic, there are dozens upon dozens of responses, many of which include people suggesting their own ideas.  That’s how a discussion works, regardless of gender.  I’ve seen blatant sexism in a few gaming communities and this is most certainly not (sexism).

When Price finally drops the “rando asshat” comment, that’s where this whole thing falls apart.  To understand why, we need to look at her Twitter bio:

Why is her Twitter bio important?  It’s important because it publicly identifies her as an employee of ArenaNet.  Any why does that matter?  It matters because everything she says on Twitter is now attributable to ArenaNet, regardless of her intention or intended audience.

Nearly all companies, large and small, have some type of communication policy (aka code of conduct, external communication policy, etc.).  That communication policy is designed to give guidance, to employees, regarding interactions with the general public (customers, reporters, emails, etc.).  There are obviously variations from company to company but generally speaking most say something like this:

  • If you are approached by the press, give them our media email and phone number (insert email/phone # here).
  • Don’t speak for the company or divulge private information.
  • Treat all customers, employees, and other people with respect.  If you feel attacked or violated, use this form, email, phone number, etc.
  • If using social media, and you identify as a company employee, all words/actions can be attributed to the company.

In the specific case of ArenaNet, they also have a special policy called the Standards of Communications with Players.  I am sure you can imagine why ArenaNet has such a policy – gaming and social platforms (such as Twitter) are ripe with direct customer interaction.  It doesn’t matter if someone is answering a support ticket or interacting on social media, proper customer interaction must be defined.  In the age on the internet, a single negative interaction with a customer can mean the loss of thousands, if not millions of dollars in revenue (depending on the situation) and destruction of the brand.  Profit loss leads to layoffs, less jobs mean less people working, etc.

The bottom line is this: Jessica Price’s Twitter tirade and blatant disrespect for a paying customer was in clear violation of company policy because at the time it took place, she openly identified as an employee of ArenaNet.  In other words, when Price wrote these words on Twitter, they were directly attributable to ArenaNet.  In corporate legalese, these were the words of ArenaNet, even if Price had physically typed them out.  On top of all this, when she started the original tweet (about writing for the player character) she did so as an agent of the company, since she was directly referencing her experience working on GW2.  No matter what angle one might approach this discussion, Jessica Price did so as an employee of ArenaNet.

On July 5th, 2018, Mike O’Brien took to the GW2 forums to announce that two employees had been let go due to their failure to uphold the Standards of Communications with Players:

As you probably know by now, one of the employees was Jessica Price.  While I did not look at the underlying details, my understanding is another employee (Peter Fries) openly defender her on Twitter, thus causing his removal as well.  I won’t get into it here but that’s relatively standard in a situation like this because, as I talked about earlier, those words can be attributed back to ArenaNet.

Price’s firing is the only logical conclusion given several factors:

  1. The entire Twitter conversation, including the original post, was done so as an agent of the company.
  2. Ignoring this inflammatory conversation would force ArenaNet into an impossible situation because…
    • It would create a double standard by protecting certain employees and not others.
    • It would affect revenue (people will leave the game when they believe they are treated with disrespect)
    • It would affect company image/brand.

Let me be clear, firing employees who break the rules, is protecting the company.  There is nothing wrong with that.  There are discussions among certain communities that ArenaNet simply rolled over and let the “mob” fire Price.  While that isn’t the case directly (she broke policy), the “mob” represents a paying customer base.  If that paying customer base is upset because they viewed this interaction as negative, that shouldn’t become special protection for the person who broke the rules.  Just because a “mob” of people viewed something negatively (or hurtful) does not mean the person who committed the act is no longer responsible for said act  The reason a large number of people were upset (and thus flooded Reddit and the GW2 forums) was because Price treated someone with blatant disrespect in a public manner, as an agent of the company.

Before we jump into the conclusion of all this, I need take a moment and point out that anyone out there making sexist jokes out of this whole thing, or is glad a woman lost her job in the video game industry, is a useless asshole and not worth talking to.  Demeaning women, because they are women (or any other group for that matter), is wrong.  Period.  End of discussion.

The Aftermath

Polygon (the media critic group), gave Price an outlet to voice her side of the story on July 9th, 2018.  It’s a fairly lengthy article, but the majority of it contains long form quotes from Price blaming ArenaNet for caving to “…an army of bots and sock puppets…” and constant reference to what she deals with as a woman.  As I said above, there is absolutely no room for demeaning women, sexism, or any other kind of “-ism” in this industry.  That said, Price (at least when this article was written) completely and utterly fails to understand why she was fired.  There is a lot of deflection on her part to turn the conversation back to the fact that she is a woman and that fact (being a woman) should allow her to lash out at customers.  She goes on to explain:

“Men pop up in my mentions to tell me how to do my job all the time. They pop up to explain my female colleagues’ own jokes to them.  Male game devs deal with it too. Gamers don’t seem to believe expertise exists. But it’s not the constant deluge it is for women. Which was the point of the tweets that Peter made that got him fired: He was saying, ‘Hey, this is about gender, because I’m out here talking about the same stuff she’s talking about, and this doesn’t happen to me.’”

I hate to sound like a broken record but Jessica Price doesn’t seem to understand that fact that she was fired for breaking company policy.  Anyone else who did the same thing she did, would have been fired for the same reason.  Isn’t that the point of equality?  Furthermore, I could begin to understand her point IF she was approached on Twitter in a way that was demeaning towards women.  If Deroir had said something like “women just don’t understand game design” or “why don’t you people get it,” then she might be able to build a case that she was attacked and demeaned because of her gender.  Instead, that simply isn’t the case.

The other troubling part about her side of the story is that she expected ArenaNet to act differently.  She mentions: “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.”

Companies and organizations, generally speaking, stay away from any kind of strict commands that dictate how employees act on social media, with a few exceptions.  Those few exceptions are usually: 1) Don’t speak for the company or act as a company agent 2) Remember that what you say is “forever” and your behavior online can be considered grounds for termination if it’s extreme (sexism, racism, homophobia) or hostile.  ArenaNet was never going to tell Price that she had to tone down her viewpoints or become apolitical.  That’s not really their concern as long as those online comments fall within a certain, rather wide, boundary.  Step outside that boundary, or act as an agent of the company in a hostile manner, and a person will find themselves out of a job.  It’s that simple.

To give Polygon some credit, they did give Mike O’Brien a chance to explain ArenaNet’s actions and unsurprisingly, he explains that she [Price] acted as an agent of the company.  Here is his opening statement:

“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.”

And if there wasn’t enough fuel on the fire, Polygon responded by running an opinion piece on July 10th, 2018.

Polygon’s “opinion” piece is, for the most part, critical of ArenaNet.  I have been a critic of Polygon in the past and that particular opinion article reinforces a general view of have of their outlet: Many of their writers (not all) lack a basic understanding of how things work in the “real world” (particularly corporate).  That’s pretty much all I am going to say on that article in particular, considering everything to rebuke it would simply be a rehash of what’s above (copy, paste, copy, paste, copy, paste).

I’ve nearly exhausted everything that I want to say about this situation but let me sum it all up in a couple statements:

  • Find a job you enjoy, do it well, and have some fun.
  • Don’t be an asshole, on Twitter or elsewhere.

The End

 

Do you have any thoughts on the matter?  Did Deroir step over the line?  Did Price deserve to be fired?  Do you agree with the communication policy?  Let us know in the comments here or on Twitter.