It surprises me how much I continue to lie to myself about the games industry. Take ArenaNet for example. I’m not a Guild Wars player, but they had a writer named Jessica Price on their team. She is known on Twitter for talking about sexism in the tech industry, which is a tough gig if you’re not a white male. I could look at that arrangement and think, you know, the video games industry has its problems, but there are islands of free thought where workplace diversity is appreciated and strong employee opinions were at least tolerated.
This lovely vision was dashed out of existence when ArenaNet fired her over a disagreement with a twitch streamer on twitter. A developer who had worked there for 12 years was also fired for defending her. If it wasn’t obvious before, the games industry, and by extension the entire tech industry at large displays a shocking disregard for the dignity of their employees. This all could have been solved by a simple apology, but ArenaNet caved to a harassment campaign and set the worst possible precedent.
The Guild Wars players that were hurt by Jessica’s posts are gloating right now. It’s like they expect every game developer to do double duty as a customer service punching bag. One post on a community forum said, “they’ll know we got their hands around their throat and we can squeeze any time we like”
What’s even more chilling is how viciously they defend the company’s “right” to fire people. This is the voice of beaten people. They’ve gotten so used to so-called “right to work” laws and contract jobs that they resent anybody who has it slightly better than they do.
It all just makes my heart sink. The worst part is that this overbearing hyperconsumer behavior is actively cultivated by the game companies. They want people to invest their entire identities into these games. They want the kind of fans that will harass, steal, and kill for their products. That’s why they’re willing to throw employees under the bus for these customers.
After all, that’s where they get the most revenue, right? Those are the whales, the hardcore fans, the 5% of the audience that pays for other 95%. It makes sense that they cater to their most profitable customer base. Or does it? ArenaNet now has to deal with a fanbase that thinks it can strongarm anything they want from the company. The Guildwars IP is going to stagnate, since any changes are going to be met with the same kind of force they saw here. And every game developer out there is going to know what kind of loyalty they can expect from ArenaNet.
The firings at ArenaNet do not make any sense from a moral or business standpoint, as if those 2 things are separate. Game developers should not wait for ArenaNet or any other company to learn this lesson. The industry is long overdue for a union, and organizations like Game Workers Unite are stepping up to the plate. Consumers don’t have to wait either. We have to speak out against this kind of toxic behavior, and if we don’t, the loud vocal minority is here to stay.