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Responsible Use of Social Media

As reported by PCGamer, the International Game Developer Association (IGDA) is using the ArenaNet firing of Jessica Price as an opportunity to question game companies about their social media policies. Specifically, they have a list of a few dozen questions that game devs should be asking their employers. These are good questions to ask. My suspicion though, is that – much like anyone employed anywhere in the last 20+ years – these policies are already on the books.

So, experiment time. Next time you are at work, please look up your own company’s Responsible Use of Social Media policy. It might be listed under Professionalism/Code of Ethics, and/or Professional Code of Conduct instead. A lot of the time these documents are internal-use only, but here is a refreshingly plain-language example from Adidas (PDF). Relevant bullet-points:

  • Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the adidas Group’s workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory (like religion or politics). If you are in a virtual world please behave accordingly. We all appreciate respect.
  • Think about consequences. Imagine you are sitting in a sales meeting and your client brings out a printout of a colleague’s post that states that the product you were about to sell “completely sucks”. Talk about a tough pitch. So, please remember: Using your public voice either internally or externally to trash or embarrass your employer, your customers, your co-workers or even yourself is not okay – and not very smart.

Here’s a page from 2009 talking about the the LA Times’ policy. Relevant:

SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES
Social media networks – Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others – provide useful reporting and promotional tools for Los Angeles Times journalists. The Times’ Ethics Guidelines will largely cover issues that arise when using social media, but this brief document should provide additional guidance on specific questions.

Basic Principles

• Integrity is our most important commodity: Avoid writing or posting anything that would embarrass The Times or compromise your ability to do your job.

• Assume that your professional life and your personal life will merge online regardless of your care in separating them.

• Even if you use privacy tools (determining who can view your page or profile, for instance), assume that everything you write, exchange or receive on a social media site is public.

• Just as political bumper stickers and lawn signs are to be avoided in the offline world, so too are partisan expressions online.

Now, Jessica Price has been quoted many a time as saying that she brought up her social activism during the hiring process at ArenaNet, and that they supported and encouraged her to continue. I will believe that on face value, as I can certainly imagine ArenaNet doing so.

Here’s the one, crucially important detail: Price was not fired for expressing feminist views or activism. She was fired for the much more mundane reason of insulting her employer’s customers.

Polygon has another article up lamenting Price’s firing as “reinforcing gaming culture’s worst impulses.” Considering it was Price who called a completely harmless, inoffensive streamer a “rando asshat” for daring to question her expertise – on top of specifically stating she does not have to pretend to like anyone – you’d be excused if you originally thought the article was defending Deroir.

Actually, you wouldn’t be excused, because the article is such poorly written garbage that any editor should be embarrassed for having it published:

[…] ArenaNet’s president, Mike O’Brien, issued a statement on Guild Wars 2’s forums stating that “two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players.”

O’Brien’s statement is actively dangerous; it takes at face value bad-faith arguments made by aggrieved people online who may or may not be players. “Their attacks on the community were unacceptable,” O’Brien wrote of Fries and Price. “As a result, they’re no longer with the company.”

It’s not an accurate statement, and the precedent it sets is a bad one for gaming. Fans and developers bristling at each other on social media is a common fact of gaming, but what makes this situation so unique is O’Brien’s inability to act like an adult.

Ah, so it was O’Brien’s inability to act like an adult that is the real problem here? Next paragraph:

It might be a controversial thing to say right now, but Deroir’s original tweet wasn’t overtly offensive. Players who think they know more than they actually do about development are common, and the belief isn’t always rooted in sexism. But Deroir’s lack of empathy for what happened throughout this controversy is notable, as is his claim that he’s a feminist. For that to be more than a word in a tweet, he should have understood how his tweet came off, and where Price’s anger came from.

The root of Price’s anger is completely immaterial to anything. Again, check your own company’s Responsible Use of Social Media policy. Is there any provision in there for “long history of systemic oppression?” I doubt it. That’s not because there isn’t a long history of systemic oppression, mansplaining, or microaggressions. It’s because they don’t matter in context. An explanation of a behavior is not an excuse for it. Price berated a customer, and she was fired for doing so.

The fundamental error from the Polygon article though, is this buried sentence:

Price’s response makes perfect sense in that context, and is the sort of social media venting that is hardly seen as scandalous in 2018.

People lose their jobs for less all the goddamn time, especially in 2018.

I’m bringing this all up again because I legitimately believe nearly every other company would have done the same thing as ArenaNet in this scenario. In fact, I reached out to Polygon to get a copy of their own policies on the matter. If they respond, I will either update this post or write another one. In the meantime, you can look at their Community Guidelines, which includes:

Personal attacks: Don’t attack or insult another user. It’s not helpful and it doesn’t make Polygon a friendly place. This includes referring to other people as trolls, fanboys, sheep, white knights, etc. If you’re thinking of using a specific term such as a racial or derogatory insult, think again about why that’s a bad idea, and don’t do it

Maybe Polygon would be fine with one of their editors talking about “hurt manfeels” and “rando asshats” when responding to their readers, industry sources, or business partners. Perhaps they would have let it slide, or gave Price the opportunity to apologize or retract her statements (assuming she would).

I guess we will just have to wait and see, because this sort of thing is more a matter of when, not if.

Employees always represent the company they work for, 100% of the time. Right now, most of us skate through life just fine either because of anonymity or because companies lack the resources to constantly monitor our social media activity until and unless it shows up in the papers. Polygon can blame “toxic fandom” and GamerGate for increasing awareness of Jessica Price’s tweets, but none of that actually accounts for why the story caught fire in the first place: Price’s words being legitimately outrageous overreaction. That’s why the calls of concern over a scary future in which GamerGate can get anyone fired are so ridiculous. She wasn’t fired because of social justice or feminism, she was fired for publicly berating customers.

When your brand is dependent upon transactional relationships with dedicated fans, belittling one who has his own in-game NPC is probably not the best of ideas.

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The Price is Wrong

It’s been a few days since the drama, but I wanted to reserve a piece of internet real estate to talk about the Jessica Price fiasco. It’s fine if you don’t know who that is, or what the drama is about. All you really need to know is the following sequence of events:

  1. Jessica Price talks about the challenges with narrative storytelling in MMOs.
  2. Popular streamer and GW2 content creator, Deroir, suggests that solutions can be found doing things a different way.
  3. Jessica Price responds with the following:

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.”

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.

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.

Within the day, she was fired.

The reason I wanted to lay this all out is because the reality-distortion fields are being engaged and the entire debacle is being framed as a new Feminism vs GamerGate front. And that’s incredibly dumb, and sad, and arguably dangerous. Jessica Price was fired because she was behaving as a noxious asshole in an official capacity. Full stop. We don’t even have to examine whether it was “mansplaining” to interact with Jessica’s social media post, because there isn’t a scenario in which her response is ever appropriate.

And instead of talking about that, we’re talking about this:

Price is worried about the precedent the firings set. “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you,” she said. “Get out there and make sure the players have a good time. And make sure you smile while they hit you.”

That’s a Kotaku link, but the framing of the debate is also being set by Polygon (emphasis mine):

Jessica Price, who was fired by ArenaNet last week for arguing with fans of the company’s Guild Wars 2 MMO, said she feels betrayed by how the company “folded like a cheap card table” when confronted by toxic fandom. In an interview with Polygon, she talked about the meeting in which she was fired, and castigated ArenaNet managers for their “highly unprofessional” reaction to a social media controversy.

That kinda makes it sound like Price was heroically standing up to the school bully, and unfortunately got caught in the Zero Tolerance policy for fighting back.

Instead of, you know, reading literally this:

Really interesting thread to read! 👌 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)

When you want the outcome to be the same across the board for all players’ experiences, then yes, by design you are extremely limited in how you can contruct the personality of the PC. (2 of 3)

But, if instead players were given the option to meaningfully express *their* character through branching dialogue options (which also aren’t just on the checklist for an achievement that forces you through all dialogue options), (3 of 4 cause I count seemingly…)

then perhaps players would be more invested in the roleplaying aspect of that particular MMORPG. Nonetheless, I appreciate the insightful thread! (End)

And responding with:

Jessica Price:

thanks for trying to tell me what we do internally, my dude 9_9

Deroir:

You getting mad at my obvious attempt at creating dialogue and discussion with you, instead of just replying that I am wrong or otherwise correct me in my false assumptions, is really just disheartening for me. You do you though. I’m sorry if it offended. I’ll leave you to it.

Jessica Price:

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.”

And yet this is somehow Reddit’s fault, as if the notoriety of the thread detailing Price’s behavior was spontaneously generated (or artificially manufactured), and not the natural result of her shockingly aggressive behavior. Suppose there were bots involved, perhaps unleashed by GamerGaters who are somehow huge GW2 fans and capable of mobilizing within hours. The most they could do is increase the thread’s visibility, after which it seems easy to imagine becoming self-perpetuating.

I don’t like anything about this entire scenario – it feels like a permanent loss to chaos and entropy. This unforced error gives those in GamerGate a free win, when their general philosophy is abhorrent nonsense. And here I am, also defending corporations and their ownership over the social media profiles of their employees, even when “off the clock.” Like when Price writes “make sure you smile while they hit you,” I want to ask if she has ever worked a goddamn day in customer service or retail in her entire life. Yeah, that’s the job. I’ve worked at places for years in which hanging up on a customer was a fireable offense the first time you did so.

I don’t know what the takeaway on all this is. I am not a culture warrior, but I do believe in social justice. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, but I can’t muster any sympathy for Price. Maybe I’m not as good as I imagine myself to be. But if that person has to read what was actually said and come to the “Reddit got me fired” conclusion? Then I don’t want to be that guy. Price deserved the boot.

Every Moment is a One-Time Event

Is something you never experience special to you?

Is something you experience only special when few other people experience it?

I have seen a lot of praise for ArenaNet’s one-time Halloween event. I cannot be sure whether said praise is coming from the same individuals that lament the obsolescence of last year’s raids, but nevermind. ArenaNet’s tortured logic is pretty well deconstructed elsewhere, so let us set that aside as well. What I am curious about is this fanciful notion that it is a good use of designer manpower to specifically construct one-off events.

To me, it’s redundant.

When I think about one-off content, I remember back to the plague event that lead into Wrath’s release. Players could get infected, eventually turn into zombies, and the go infect other players. The griefing in Shat was immense. As paladins, a friend and I decided to roleplay/grief the players actually trying to infect themselves and/or start those zombie raids against Stormwind. Never before has someone raged so hard at being targeted with Cleanse. “The power of the Light compels you!” Turn Evil was also liberally applied. Around this same time, there was a special boss in Kara that dropped the Arcanite Ripper, and I believe there was only the one reset where it was available. In any case, I was the only person to get it in my guild. I busted it out pretty regularly all the way up until I unsubbed.

Here’s the thing though: how different was any of that from, say, completing Ulduar when it was current?

The Wrath lead-up event was fun because it was fun, not because it was never going to happen again. Similarly, it would not bother me one iota if the Arcanite Ripper was mailed to every player that logged in once in the last four years – nor, incidentally, does it bother me that the Arcanite Ripper is now on the Black Market AH. In many ways, I consider Ulduar (or any raid) to be more “rare,” because while these places still exist, it will never been the same as when it was newly released. Even if Ulduar was still relevant to current endgame progression somehow, it would not be the same as it was when it was new.

It is not the item or the event that matters, it is the zeitgeist. And the people. ArenaNet could have looped the Mad King event like they loop everything else and it still would have been exactly as meaningful for those first players as it is now. Every moment is a one-time event. Ergo, I see little reason to layer artificial scarcity on top of temporal scarcity. The devs could have safely shared their work with a wider audience with no lack of impact to anyone worth caring about.

But, whatever. If you consider content you never see as content, then GW2 has enough content to keep you busy for quite some time.

Misleading Product Titles

Out of all the possible game launch issues, I find this one especially embarrassing:

Burn Level: Well-done

By the way, having to scan a Twitter feed for bug updates to a problem acknowledged on Facebook is perhaps the least responsible use of social media technology ever. I am talking 1998 Geocities auto-playing MIDIs level of ridiculousness.

Some people have said they can get in/make guilds. Good for you. It has not worked for my small band of players as of this posting, and it is still listed as a bug on the Guild Wars 2 webpage. The good news is that ArenaNet has a workaround!

Sounds eerily similar to how I got my CompSci 150 final project to compile.

I would almost be tempted to try that if WvW for my server had not been in a permanent queue since the pre-launch happened.

On a final note, I take back every good thing I said about one-server games. See, I enjoy(ed) the fact that you can have a name with spaces in Guild Wars 2; it gives you more options, allows for some creativity, naming-schemes, and so on. But the more I think about it, the more asinine it feels to require unique names across the entirety of the playerbase on every server everywhere. We already have the equivalent of “Battletags” for use on the forums and our accounts (e.g. Bob.4375), so why require unique names? The more successful the game is, the more annoying this problem becomes. And it is not as though this is some kind of technological problem: Blizzard has been doing this cross-realm shit for years, nevermind whoever did it before them.

This name thing is especially an annoyance to me in terms of guilds. I liked the name Invictus, in spite of it being a fairly common guild name and yet another “Ominous Latin Noun” (which is itself an ironically standard name). But, no. Some random guy in Wisconsin six servers away claimed ownership first, now and forever, leaving me with choices like The Invictus, XxInvictusxX, Invictus 2: First Blood, and a cavalcade of increasingly poor choices. Is it entitlement to simply desire the ability to title the group of friends you are hanging out with? Maybe.

Then again, the name of the goddamn game is Guild Wars 2, so you would assume that… well, nevermind.

P.S. While I was researching whether guild names are indeed unique across all servers, I came across this interview that I must have missed. It is somewhat topical given the raised eyebrows surrounding the news that some guy hit level 80 in GW2 before the official launch date:

Post: Guild Wars 2 has a maximum level cap of 80 — which is pretty damn high. And with high level caps, there’s always a feeling that players need to grind their butts off. Is there anything in place to prevent that urge or need to grind?

Eric Flannum: We regard leveling as a good measure of progress and not as the ultimate goal of the game. There is an amount of time at which a single level becomes useless as a measure of progress because you can’t make significant gains in a single play session. We are continuing to tweak and tune just how long we think that is but we currently put it at around 90 minutes. Since we aren’t interested in leveling as an end goal this allows us to cap our leveling time at around the 90 minute mark. This means that our leveling curve flattens out relatively early in the game. For example it currently takes about the same amount of time to progress from 79 to 80 as it does to go from 49 to 5o. This allows us to avoid the grind often associated with the later levels in an MMO. (source)

The flat leveling curve is not news, but I was not aware ArenaNet specifically put a 90-minute target down. That is about 120 hours until 80, or roughly 1.5 months if you play ~20 hours/week. Dunno if they revised those numbers since that interview, but it certainly feels a little bit faster than that. And that “we’re not interested in leveling as an end goal” certainly strikes me as a bit amusing since Diablo 3 very publicly turned an aboutface on that very issue just last week.

The Problem with GW2’s Questing

[Update: Please note the missing link photo]

Reading some of the positive comments about Guild Wars 2’s “Explorer-friendly” questing, I cannot help but feel… confused. I understand that there are people out there that do not like traditional questing. That is fine. The problem presents itself when ArenaNet decides to go through the motions and try and placate those of us who like our themeparks to have, you know, themes. And let’s not kid ourselves: Guild Wars 2 is a themepark. Maybe one with a few sandbox rides, but a themepark all the same.

Rather than attempt to explain the problem again, and why it is a problem how ArenaNet is handling it, I am going to simply show you. My apologies to those with 16.6k baud modems.

Step 1, Start doing the Personal Story.

Step 2, decide you want to help farmers for a while.

Step 3, Get a little ahead of the curve.

Step 4, Start getting worried.

_________________________

[Edit: The following picture was accidentally left out of the series, and provides some much needed context for the remainder]

Step Missing Link, I have done all that you asked.

If the above is not immediately clear, I was looking at my map to see if there were Renown Heart quests undone in my endeavor to finish level 7 and start the next step in the Personal Story quest. The only available quests were set for level 8 characters, although I never saw what was down in the South-West. While it is possible to quest above your level, GW2 makes it abundantly clear that it takes levels very seriously – as evidenced enough by the fact the game will de-level you down to the “appropriate” level for questing to be challenging. [end-edit]

_______________________

Step 5, Just do it.

Step 6, Back to doing what you want to do.

Step 7, Have some fun.

Step 8, Go play another game.

To be clear, I have nothing against an Explorer-based leveling game, or one that allows you to reach max level solely by PvP or chain-running Events or even grinding mobs. Hell, I do not have anything against strict sandboxes either, even if I do not play them all that much.

The problem here is one of coherency. The Personal Story thus far is perfectly serviceable, all the way up to the point where you choose to attend a dinner party and discover you need to go play outside for an hour for an entirely arbitrary reason, e.g. you haven’t leveled enough. As Keidot pointed out in the comments yesterday, it does make a certain amount of theoretical sense to structure the game this way. If you can level solely by the instanced Personal Story quests, what is the point of the outside world? Grouping them up better (instead of spacing each quest out by 2 levels) could potentially leave you performing nation-defining epic actions by level 10, diminishing the weight of your future exploits. Clustering them sounds good, e.g. 1-10 and then 15-25 (etc), until you realize that there had better be 5+ levels of interesting grinding/Event activities to participate in.

I do not have an easy solution to this problem. And believe me, it is a problem. It is one thing to be given a vague motivation to go out and do random Renown (aka Heart) quests, and be satisfied. It is quite another to be following a storyline and then be constantly interrupted to complete tasks that have nothing at all to do with the storyline itself. People talk about joys of not having to read quest text anymore, and maybe they even believe that, but this sort of textual background radiation is what differentiates the character and tone of one MMO against another.

And nevermind what this suggests more generally about the designers’ (future) abilities to pace their own content.