The ArenaNet situation is but a glimpse of a bigger trend in the gaming industry.
Just yesterday, two employees were fired from ArenaNet that stemmed from a Twitter altercation. The long of short of it is, a group of Redditors saw a relatively mild, if slightly rude, comment from a game developer, and saw it as a great opportunity to attack the developer and ArenaNet in general. Of course, this is regardless of the feelings of the person whom the developer’s original comment was aimed at. As a result, Jessica Price and Peter Fries lost their positions at ArenaNet, the first for the comment itself and the second for defending her.
Regardless on anyone’s opinion on Price, Fries, GamerGate, or anything else about the situation, the decision of ArenaNet to skip any sort of private solution and go straight for a public dismissal is a sign of a much more troubling trend for the game industry. A company valuing a toxic minority in a gaming community over their own employees only incites the toxic minority to throw a fit over any perceived slight, and that ArenaNet and others will bend to their whims. But honestly, this mindset isn’t unique to gaming–in fact, it’s something that’s intrinsically embedded to the core of US consumer society.
Any retail or food worker has heard and dreaded those words. The slogan that corporations love shoving down everyone’s throat can be taken a lot of different ways, not any of them particularly great. “The customer is always right” basically means that the customer can treat employees in however manner they feel, and employees risk their jobs if they violate that sacred rule.
It’s a consistently problematic mindset, one that leads to unhappy workers, customers that will abuse this forced goodwill, and a blatant lack of respect for those that make the company money. Regardless of this, it’s still a shockingly common mindset in the US, and combined with many other anti-worker sentiments such as at-will employment and the lack of unions the odds are stacked against the employee.
Arguably, having such a mindset manifesting in a creative industry such as game development is even worse. Most developers have to deal with a barrage of unhappy gamers, people telling them how to do their job without understanding the intricacies, and more on a daily basis, and this is only tenfold for women and minority developers. It would seem unreasonable for a company that deals in a creative field to bend to the will of a toxic online minority that only exists to cause strife, but… well I’m writing this piece aren’t I?
In a creative field, “the customer is always right” stifles the creative process. Employees will have to question every decision–will this design choice make fans mad? What will happen to my boss thinks their anger will lead to less sales?–and wonder if their jobs are on the line if they decide to break the norm. Companies send a very clear message to current and future employees… that they’re expendable. The gaming industry is volatile enough as is, companies don’t need to add “made a person on the Internet mad” to the list of reasons to fire a developer.
Granted, this doesn’t mean that gamers and customers should be ignored all the time. After all, it’s because of people speaking their displeasure of the gambling nature of loot boxes that EA lightened up the predatory nature of their Battlefront II boxes. But any company that serves customers needs to carefully review complaints to determine which are legitimate and widespread, and which are just a couple angry people looking to ruin someone else’s life for a little vindication.
So the next time ArenaNet decides to charge too much for a mount, or makes some new content not everyone like, I hope they’re ready, as the angry internet mob will be looking for another employee’s head… and if they keep firing whoever unlucky employee in the hate box to placate a toxic minority, they soon won’t have any workers left.