Activision Blizzard has walked back their boisterous comments regarding their Diversity Space Tool after outcry from social media and their own staff.
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As previously reported, on May 12th, Activision Blizzard subsidiary and Candy Crush developer King proudly unveiled the company’s new “Diversity Space Tool.”
Touted as “a leap forward for inclusion in gaming”, the tool was developed in response to an International Game Developers Association survey (IGDA) which received an overwhelming amount of replies stating that “the most important factor in the growth of the gaming industry” was “more diversity in content.”
When analyzed by the tool, video game characters are graded on such factors as their culture, race, facial features/beauty, gender identity, sexual orientation, and even socioeconomic background, with higher scores being given to characters possessing non-white, non-male, and non-straight traits.
According to the company, the tool is set to release “internally across Activision Blizzard starting this summer,” with their “ultimate goal” being its introduction and adoption industry-wide.
Suffice to say, the tool received plenty of backlash following its reveal – though, surprisingly, not just from the average player, but mainstream video game news outlets as well.
Kotaku, Game Rant, Goomba Stomp and even The Mary Sue were among the many publications who took issue with the tool, finding it to be aimed more at mechanically meeting token inclusion goals than providing any sort of useful information.
Another point of contention was how the tool defined diversity, as many saw it as fostering needless competition of ‘who was more diverse’ based solely on superficial features. Others still accused the tool of being an empty gesture from Activision Blizzard made to avoid taking any actual steps to diversify their workplace.
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Perhaps even more telling of its reception, however, was the fact that some of Activision Blizzard’s own staff also seemed to have little faith in the Diversity Space Tool.
Not only that, but they also pushed back against the company’s previous claims that the “The Overwatch 2 team at Blizzard has also had a chance to experiment with the tool, with equally enthusiastic first impressions.”
“Yes, we’re definitely using a tool that we all found out existed for the first time yesterday,” tweeted Overwatch 2 Senior Game Designer Dylan Snyder with dripping sarcasm. “For sure a real thing that’s happening.”
“In my time on Team 4, I’ve met nothing but genuine, wonderful people who not only want to make an amazing game, but are also incredibly open-minded and laser focused on making good on the inclusive world that Overwatch promises,” Snyder praised.
“This has been such a punch to the gut for us,” he added. Snyder would later clarify that he was speaking pure for himself, rather than on behalf of his whole team.
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Overwatch Character Artist Melissa Kelly gave similar condemnation, writing via her own personal Twitter account, “God I swear our own company tries so hard to slaughter any good will the actual devs who make the game have built.”
“Overwatch doesn’t even use this creepy distopian [sic] chart, our writers have eyes,” she asserted. “The artists: have eyes. Producers, directors, etc, as far as I know also all have eyes”
“You know what drives our diversity? The devs!” Kelly then exclaimed. “We have people who work on the game from these cultures. That’s it! That’s literally it. If this creepy chart was made for the executive team to let us do our thing, that might track.”
Kelly then shared an edited shot from Futurama featuring a sign reading “0 days since last our own studio ruining our reputation.”
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In response to this backlash, Activision Blizzard moved to distance themselves from their previous confidence in the tool, making an edit to their original post to address how “there has been conversation online regarding the Diversity Space Tool, particularly concerning its intent and our commitment to diversity.”
“We’ve edited this blog post to clarify that this prototype is not being used in active game development,” the company conceded.
Adding a “comment for additional context”, Activision Blizzard explained that “the Diversity Space Tool–currently in beta–was designed as an optional supplement to the hard work and focus our teams already place on telling diverse stories with diverse characters, but decisions regarding in-game content have been and will always be driven by development teams.”
“The objective of using the tool is to uncover unconscious bias by identifying existing norms in representation and acknowledging opportunities for growth in inclusion,” the company stated. “It is not a substitute for any other essential effort by our teams in this regard, nor will it alter our company’s diversity hiring goals.”
They also clarified that “over the past several years, the development of the tool was done with the support of all our employee DE&I networks, and we collaborated with external partners to create an even more robust tool.”
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“Activision Blizzard is committed to reflecting the diversity of its millions of players around the world through representation and inclusion in its games as well as its employees,” the company insisted. “Our intent with this blog entry was to share an in-progress piece of our journey in this endeavor.”
“We recognize and respect that all people may be on their own, unique point in their journey with DE&I,” Activision Blizzard concluded. “The Diversity Space Tool is not a definitive evaluation of diversity in game content; rather, it is a bridge in opening previously unspoken conversations into how thoughtful inclusion can happen – and thrive – in games.”
Other updates to the page compared to the original include the removal of an example image of the Diversity Space Tool from the top of the page, as well as a quote from Sledgehammer Games’ DE&I Manager Alayna Cole stating the tool had been tested by teams working on Call of Duty: Vanguard and would continue to be used in the development offuture games.
“We used [the Diversity Space Tool] to figure out what ‘more diversity’ looks like across all of our characters in both campaign multiplayer and Live seasons,” read her now-deleted quote, found originally under the Sharing and Caring section of the statement. “And now we’re going to use that data going forward into the next games that we’re working on.”
The updated version of the page now simply says that King allowed Activision and Blizzard developers beta test the tool, to which it was supposedly met by “immediate and enthusiastic” feedback.
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Offering his own thoughts on the tool, YouTuber The ArchCast said of its development, “All of this takes a lot of time to plan out, make, program, establish, and eventually ship to the customer particularly as well as this is IT work. This is going to have cost tens-at least- thousands of dollars, probably hundreds of thousands. Not millions, probably, but this wasn’t done in a weekend!”
“I mean, no matter how much of a [progressive] you are, as a writer, as a senior character artist, and someone who puts, I must assume, some pride into the creation of a character, to be shown this!” he said. “This corporate, cold, soulless, Excel spreadsheet, and be told ‘Hey, you should use this from now on! ‘”
Feigning a wince, he then speculated, “I imagine there are some mental middle fingers at the very least being raised at the idea.”
The greater focus on diversity comes as Activision Blizzard finds itself embroiled in a number of ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits, which in turn have sparked a number of workplace improvement demands from employees, including the supporting of more efforts towards improving Diversity, Equity & Inclusion recruiting.
Amidst these controversies, Activision Blizzard has sworn to increase the number of women and non-binary in their workforce to 50% over the next five years.
To this end, they have also hired Kristen Hines as their new Chief DE&I officer, who has since vowed to bring “diverse and inclusive perspectives” to various elements of the company’s game designs, including “storylines, character development, gameplay and community interaction”.
What do you make of Activision Blizzard backpedaling their promotion of their Diversity Space Tool? Let us know your thoughts on social media and in the comments down below!
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