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ArenaNet Reviews

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ArenaNet Co-Founder & President Mike O'Brien
Mike O'Brien
42 Ratings
  • 3 people found this helpful

    Bright past, solid creatives, uncertain future

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    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee

    I worked at ArenaNet


    In my time at ArenaNet, I met a lot of talented and dedicated people: incredible artists, some really devoted designers, talented writers, clever programmers, & some of the best QA staff in the business. If you're really excited about sinking into the lore & mechanics of a world, Tyria (the source for both Guild Wars & GW2) is lush & fascinating, & the majority of the people working there are deeply devoted to that source material. Their interaction with their community is stunningly positive, it stands out as one of the best in the business.

    I was proud of how ArenaNet was really on the hunt for internal talent. I know many people there who climbed the ranks from QA to art, production, programming, and design. Such a practice is all too rare these days & I applaud them for their efforts to cultivate promising talent from within.


    The unfortunate part of working at ArenaNet really came after Guild Wars 2 shipped. The company folded into a lot of smaller teams, but refused to try to establish any kind of hierarchy. This led to a lot of "fake" titles, confusion, and jostling for position. Seniors felt undervalued & unable to advance to a leadership position, intermediates felt confused about how to develop their careers. Only juniors really benefited from an environment that emphasized generalist work. Shifting schedules & trying to adapt management led to weird positions where "coordinators" could be from an department, so suddenly a senior designer might find themselves answering to an animator, or a prop artist to a programmer, and so on. An interesting experiment on one level but mostly bewildering and frustrating.

    In addition to this, major focus started to be spent on developing the Chinese version of Guild Wars 2. In fact a recent patch, adapted to that system, caused major outcries in the GW2 community in the rest of the world due to it adding mandatory tutorials & mangling story content. It was a concern for me while I was there how a different country was essentially pushing around the design direction for the rest of the world (& I felt weird that all game content had to be approved by the Chinese government before being released). I understand how big of a market it is but it felt like it pushed an entirely separate agenda.

    If you're not an artist at ArenaNet, it is understood that your department is not the one in charge. I found many art assets were not even open for discussion, let alone debate, even when the community reaction against such was super negative. Don't get me wrong, ArenaNet has some of the best artists there that I've ever worked with, but the upper management has made the decisions of the art leads unimpeachable & very inflexible when it comes to adapting to feedback. This is a major departure from working on GW2 & even with individual artists on post-release content. It's a departmental issue not a cultural one.

    One thing I found out after the fact of working at ANet is that the salaries are below industry standard by a lot, even to the point when someone I knew outside the company called it a "local joke." Programmers will likely secure a more solid wage because of local competition, as will artists, but seniors of multiple departments will likely be disappointed at their offerings. I have heard since that upper management is trying hard to bring salaries up to industry standard. This is nice to hear but it is definitely something to consider.

    & although the new expansion is looking interesting it's not clear if ArenaNet will continue to be GW2-ONLY, or if they'll be able to open up development to other projects. The setting and game are cool, but without alternatives to offer, it's a fair bet that talented individuals suffering from thematic burnout will leave.

    Advice to ManagementAdvice

    There is such an unfortunate gap between the high-up decision makers & the actual creative team, it ranged from troubling to maddening. There are passionate people on both sides, but wild design switches in upper management's approach (esp. Mike O' Brien, the CEO) left a lot of people actually doing the work scrambling around. During the development of GW2, O'Brien actually backed off from getting too involved with the development of the game & it really helped the team as a whole focus and get things done. Post-ship, when departments were fragmented, the promotion-focused, monetization-driven attitude of upper management snuck in, & teams that had never had to do serious crunch during main development were squished into tiny schedules that damaged both work quality and quality-of-life. Workers found themselves reporting to "Points of Contact" who served less as leads & more as a sympathetic ear. And those who actually left the company had their exit interview with the office manager instead of an actual member of upper management.

    Draw it back in. Condense your focus, & actually empower people, create more stable teams and hierarchies. Get rid of those nonsense "principal" and "coordinator" and "POC" roles. Let seniors get attain lead positions & intermediates can both direct their career & help to mentor promising juniors. Make a point that every department is equal & should collaborate, not have policy dictated from one to the rest. & improve how you treat QA, esp. those embedded on your smaller teams. Without their dedicated help, fast-pitch content will go out buggy and slapdash.

    And make it so people can actually say "no" to Mike O'Brien. Not out of meanness (because he is not a bad man), but because currently there are no systems of checks and balances on him & every system needs that to flourish properly.

    Neutral Outlook

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