UPDATE 2.30PM BST: I've received an official ArenaNet statement. It reads: "We strive to cultivate an atmosphere of transparency around the making of our games and encourage our teams to be involved in open, positive discussion with our community. Earlier this week, two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communication with our players and fans, and they are no longer with the company."
ORIGINAL STORY 1.30PM BST: ArenaNet has fired two writers ostensibly for their reactions to Twitter comments from a partnered Guild Wars 2 YouTuber.
"Recently two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players," announced ArenaNet co-founder and president Mike O'Brien in the Guild Wars 2 forum. "Their attacks on the community were unacceptable. As a result, they're no longer with the company.
"I want to be clear that the statements they made do not reflect the views of ArenaNet at all. As a company we always strive to have a collaborative relationship with the Guild Wars community. We value your input. We make this game for you."
The writers in question are Jessica Price, who had been with ArenaNet nearly a year, and Peter Fries, who had been with ArenaNet for more than 13 years.
Price expanded on a Reddit Ask Me Anything on her popular Twitter account, on 3rd July, sharing an insightful thread about writing blank-canvas player-characters for online (and offline) role-playing games.
Partnered Guild Wars 2 YouTuber Deroir - ArenaNet runs a Partner Program to help Guild Wars 2 content creators gain visibility - replied to Price's thread, disagreeing and offering his opinion on how it could be done better in Guild Wars 2.
Really interesting thread to read! ?— Deroir (@DeroirGaming) July 3, 2018
However, allow me to disagree *slightly*. I dont believe the issue lies in the MMORPG genre itself (as your wording seemingly suggest). I believe the issue lies in the contraints of the Living Story's narrative design; (1 of 3)
It was how Price responded to Deroir's tweets the next day - Independence Day, a national holiday in the US where ArenaNet is based - at the core of the issue.
"Thanks for trying to tell me what we do internally, my dude 9_9," she replied. She then retweeted Deroir's remarks to her larger Twitter following, saying: "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.'"
Minutes later, she added: "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. PSA."
The discussion spread wider and people waded in from all sides. Peter Fries - the other writer fired by ArenaNet - jumped in at this point. His tweet has since been removed but a cached version was saved.
Fries, in response to someone complaining Price was "playing the gender card", said: "Here's a bit of insight that I legitimately hope he reflects on: she never asked for his feedback. These are our *private* social media accounts - imagine you're an astronomer and you start sharing some things you've learned in the last few months since you began a research project observing Saturn, only to have observation techniques explained to you by a layman."
Later, he added: "Today is a national holiday. It is our day off, after working hard for months on our most recent content release. If I'm being embarrassing and unprofessional, it's because I'm enjoying a beverage in the sun in my backyard and this nonsense is being directed at someone I respect. Jessica is great at her job and deserves to be treated with respect, was the gist of what I was reacting to."
Since we've got a lot of hurt manfeels today, lemme make something clear: this is my feed. I'm not on the clock here. I'm not your emotional courtesan just because I'm a dev. Don't expect me to pretend to like you here.— Jessica Price (@Delafina777) July 4, 2018
Price made one more comment further into the evening. "Since we've got a lot of hurt manfeels today, lemme make something clear: this is my feed. I'm not on the clock here. I'm not your emotional courtesan just because I'm a dev. Don't expect me to pretend to like you here. The attempts of fans to exert ownership over our personal lives and times are something I am hardcore about stopping. You don't own me, and I don't owe you."
Deroir, meanwhile, had posted: "In a world where discussions should be encouraged, and not belittled, yet the opposite becomes reality, I've apparently found myself in the midst of a war I never intended to partake in. Disappointed. That's all. #IAmAFeminist".
Neither Price, Fries or Deroir have responded to Mike O'Brien's announcement, which was posted 5th July.
But why fire them at all? Why not give them a warning first? Were Price's comments really so strong as to warrant automatic removal? And what about Fries? Were his remarks really enough to bring more than 13 years of employment abruptly to an end?
We don't know what happened behind the scenes, of course - whether ArenaNet asked Price to delete her tweets and apologise, and she refused, and the situation escalated from there. Or both employees might have had warnings already - Price had controversially tweeted about the death of TotalBiscuit in May, for instance.
All we have to go by is O'Brien's statement - "Recently two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players. As a result, they're no longer with the company" - which, in the complicated world of social media, where the separation between being a person and an employee is blurry, could be a worrying precedent to set.