Tuesday, July 10, 2018

ArenaNet Firings May Have Unfortunate Longstanding Consequences

I've wanted to discuss the Guild Wars 2 fiasco since it happened, but after the heat had cooled down a little. Too many hot heads were setting everything on fire and it was difficult to ascertain fact from fiction. Or facts of the situation versus facts of the what people say/do in their private lives.

Last week, Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet Jessica Price and Peter Fries for failing "to uphold our standards of communicating with players," in a short statement posted to the game's site by CEO CEO Mike O’Brien.

The situation unfolded on Twitter on July 3rd on Price's non-work Twitter account during her non-working hours. At that time she was not representing the company. She began talking about what it's like to write player characters' for MMO's. The thread is quite an interesting read, since one has to take into account the need for the player to come up with their own character story while allowing it to seamlessly work into the game world and that narrative. However a YouTuber going by the name Deroir disagreed with some of Price's commentary, stating that he believed that players could better develop their own story if there were more "choice-based" in-game options.

Given the volatility of gaming and the internet these days, Price took the comments to be along the lines of mansplaining. 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." her tweet reads. Not long after, people came in defense of Price's response to Deroir, as well as against her on Reddit and in the Guild Wars official forum for not responding appropriately to a customer. Writer Peter Fries came to Price's defense (on his day off too) he too began to receive the ire of "fans."

Unfortunately, the lesson to be learned here is that if you're out of line on your personal social media accounts that have 0 affiliation with the company you work for, you can be fired. Price and Fries had no warning. If there were other incidents leading up to this firing, we do not know, nor should we ask as both employees have a right to privacy.

Now if this all went down on ArenaNet's company social accounts, then the firings might be justified. Still extreme, but more plausible. However that is not what happened. Instead ArenaNet policed their employee's personal social accounts and consider them under their "communications" umbrella. It's appalling, to put it bluntly. How is their fairness in this system? If someone can be fired for holding a discussion on their Twitter feed because customers demand it, then it's asking people to always be "on" the job even during their time off. This isn't the first time that a Guild Wars developer has been flamed and asked to be fired: one of the community moderators was harassed and shamed to work on her personal Twitter to answer ArenaNet questions during her time off. She wasn't going to be paid. She wasn't going to receive any type of compensation. But some gamers wanted answers and she wasn't responding fast enough to their liking.

This is the world that we live in now? Where we can't turn off work and have to be "on" 24/7?

That is not realistic. We all know this. We have to separate ourselves from our working lives in order to maintain some sense of sanity. Particularly when you are not being paid to work (never, ever, ever work for free - you deserve a right to a be paid for your work). And in gaming development having so much focus on burnout and stress, they need to relax and step away from the job during time off.

Another way to look at it: Imagine that you work at a GameStop retail location. You are walking through the grocery store on your day off to buy food because you are a human and you need to eat to survive. You don't have any identifying marks on you that you are a GameStop employee. It's you, your t-shirt, jeans, sneakers, and a basket of food. You see a man approach you - it turns out to be a customer you recognize. He asks if you know the trade in value of several games that he rattles off. You respond politely that it's your day off and you are not at work/at a register to provide info. You ask the man to call the store since you couldn't help at that moment. The customer gets mad and says you are being a bad employee by not helping. "Sir. It's my day off. I'm not at work. I can't help you from here." The customer leaves in a huff and stops away. You hope that's the last of it.

Next day rolls around - you walk into your store to start your shift, but the manager stops you from entering the back room. "We received a complaint about you," he begins. You wonder what the complaint could have been while your manager continues with "a customer said you wouldn't help him while you were at XYZ grocery store. You have to always help the customer no matter what." And just like that you are fired. You turn in your uniform, your keys, and you'll be mailed your last paycheck. No chances to defend yourself. No time to reason with you manager about how you shouldn't be working off the clock during your personal time. You are fired and walked out the door. Your livelihood now in jeopardy because one customer wanted you to work on your day off when you couldn't help them. (Sadly, I have seen these type of complaints cross my desk at GameStop and sometimes employees were fired. Welcome to corporate culture, where you bend at the whims of customers and you are fired for trying to be human.)

What happened to Price and Fries is no different. Bottom line. Was Price heated in the conversation? Sure. Was it a fire-able offense? No. Actions have consequences, but the results should not have been so severe. Particularly for writing veterans whom have more experience in the industry than a handful of gamers who may not understand the difference between an adjective and an adverb.

The response has been polarizing, and some gamers are cheering ArenaNet's decision to the level of "we can get anyone fired." We should never praise someone losing their job in this type of situation. Instead, we should look at why this happened, why it was allowed to happen, and what we can do to help improve gamer/developer communications. ArenaNet may have started an unfortunate precedence.

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