Activision clarifies that the Diversity Tool is not used in “Active Game Development”. After explaining its use
Activision-Blizzard-King has updated its bizarre blog post outlining a tool that distills popular characters down to a series of ‘diverse’ metrics on a spider chart. Yesterday’s update was accompanied by a King blog post that claimed Blizzard’s Overwatch2 team had “had a chance” to try the tool. King has since added more information about the tool’s purpose.
Activision Blizzard’s Friday night update stated that King’s Diversity Space Tool was not being used in “active game development” and is only being “tested internally”. There is also a long note acknowledging the online conversations where industry voices pointed out an obvious solution for diversity, equity, and inclusion problems: Hire and listen to people who are marginalized.
King’s follow-up maintains its DE&I tool is meant to “uncover unconscious bias by identifying existing norms in representation and acknowledging opportunities for growth in inclusion.” The update explained King does not see this as a lone substitute for diversity initiatives; it’s an “optional supplement” to support diverse stories teams at Activision-Blizzard-King are working on. The additional comments raise more questions than any other. You can compare the original post with the edited blog. Although the images have been deleted, the archived post still contains screenshots of Ana, the character in the demonstration. The spider chart showed Ana with a zero for sexual orientation and seven for the race.
Although data on race and gender are important for understanding the ways that cis, heterosexuality, and whiteness shape stories, their presentation and interpretation is a disaster. Blog post praising initiatives taken by a company that is constantly in the news for making its employees suffer the most horrible shit possible,. This blog may have been influenced by the California governor who may have interfered with the lawsuits that followed. It seems unlikely that a PR campaign would allow a company to tut-tut a diversity tool. This is especially true when you look at the data presented and what it claims.
The blog’s unedited text pointed specifically to Overwatch, indicating that developers did “experiment” using the tool. These data were also mentioned in the quote as being used in Sledgehammer Games’ next project.
The company deleted its original quote, and the games mentioned, supposedly in order to clarify that it is not currently being used in development. The new paragraph reads:
King claims that the tool is being beta tested internally by someone. This doesn’t read like clarifying and a semantics argument won’t pass the smell testing. Let’s say that “experimenting” doesn’t mean it is in development at the moment. It’s the part about Overwatch2 liking it and the use of Sledgehammer’s data that doesn’t check. Sledgehammer’s next game is not in “active development”, okay, got it. However, if you plan to use the DE&I tool for its development, it can be reasonably assumed that it’s already playing some part in it.
King may have misrepresented King’s enthusiasm by presenting a broad portrayal of it from the Overwatch 2 group. Overwatch 2’s actual developers were surprised by yesterday’s blog. Overwatch 2’s senior game designer noted that yesterday’s blog surprised them. Melissa Kelly, the Overwatch character designer, also said that diversity is not what it seems.
This begs the question: Why bother testing the thing? If your quote suggests that data gathered during tests will play a part in future games, then I count that as use.
It sucks, and Activision-Blizzard-King throws its teams under the bus with these weird PR puffs. Imran Khan’s sentiments are mine in our original article on the ordeal. While it was not done with malice, we do have ways to make sure that marginalized people don’t get left out in stories about them. Hire them, listen to their opinions, and then put them in charge. The desire to use this blog to improve the company’s image, regardless of the intention was to make the diversity tool, is a sign of the insidious ways that we use diverse stories to shield us. We might have avoided much of this if the company had started listening to and hiring marginalized voices years ago.