Female game developers report new wave of harassment following ArenaNet firings

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Jul 12, 2018, 6:15 PM EDT

As any female game developer trying to make their living in the male-dominated profession will tell you, harassment from fans has become part of their day-to-day lives. But following the firing of two developers for ArenaNet, the parent company behind the popular Guild Wars series, many such developers are reporting an increase in gamers actively attempting to end their careers.

The inciting incidence occurred back on July 4, when ArenaNet developer Jessica Price tweeted a response to a popular Twitch streamer. Price had written a thread on the social media platform outlining what she saw as the challenges of creating Player Characters (PCs) in Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs) when Deroir (@DeroirGaming) jumped in with his own thoughts on the subject. Price then shared his response with the comment “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.’”

Price followed up that comment by Tweeting: “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.”

Price’s comments were innocuous enough, largely expressing frustration over what she perceived to be a fan who does not work in her industry explaining how to do a job for which she has relevant experience, something all too common for women on the internet, but fellow ArenaNet players did not see her comments as such. They reportedly flooded ArenaNet with complaints, including starting two separate threads on the company’s message board regarding the comment. Most commenters referred to the comments as “sexist,” while many called for Price to be fired. Others wanted punishments varying from suspension to complete blacklisting in the industry.

The following day, Price, along with fellow ArenaNet writer Peter Fries, were fired for their online interactions. Fries had later come to Price’s defense in a now-deleted series of tweets. ArenaNet co-founder Mike Brown announced the firings in a post to the very forum thread in which members were discussing the original tweets. Brown referred to the comments as “attacks on the community.”

Speaking with The Verge, Price says she believes the firings were an emotional reaction from Brown, as he faced direct backlash from the online masses. “He fired me personally, and the meeting was mostly him venting his feelings at me,” she said in her interview. “I understand being afraid when you see the Reddit mob coming for you, but if people with less power can weather it — and we do, regularly — so can he.”

Price was quick to point out that, while the company does have a social media policy for its employees, it does not outline what repercussions they might face for any perceived infraction, nor was she ever made aware that her social media posting was an issue previously, even claiming that in her interview with the company they had lauded her online voice.

In light of these firings, other ArenaNet developers, speaking with The Verge in a follow-up to the initial report, are now saying they fear for their own careers when posting online. The company, meanwhile, is looking to update its seven-year-old social media policy.

Meanwhile, female developers from other companies are now coming forward to share what they see as an increased effort to similarly destroy their careers in the wake of the ArenaNet firings. Some have shared form e-mails sent to their companies which included the phrase “%FEMALENAME”, an indication that the sender had forgotten to remove placeholder language and was likely targeting more than one female developer based entirely on their gender and chosen profession.

Jennifer Scheurle, a designer at Opaque, tweeted a series of DMs the company had received regarding her own work in the industry, saying, “I usually don't directly share these but I need y'all to see how stories such as Jessica Price's and her firing from ArenaNet have serious consequences beyond just one company and instead spread like poison through our entire industry. ”

After sharing those messages, Scheurle reportedly received a slew of comments from readers claiming she must have made them up, despite the fact that her story is so similar to others.

Following The Verge’s piece, Scheurle added that she was lucky to be able to personally share her story with her name attached, pointing out how difficult it is for women to speak up about these issues for fear of becoming the next Jessica Price.

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