Activision Blizzard has issued a statement via Twitter and updated the diversity space tool blog post to address the responses to the original announcement. The studio stated that the prototype tool had been “tested internally” but was “not in active usage” and that their “dev team have always and will continue driving in-game content.”
The statement also says that the original post has been updated to “clarify the purpose of this tool,” which the studio claims is “one small component of our broader DE&I efforts and is not intended to be a replacement for diverse perspectives.” The statement ends with an apology, stating that “we regret any offense caused by the original post.” “
The blog post has been significantly changed in this update. The blog post has been updated to remove all images, even those that show how the tool works. We explained this in our original story. Importantly, large sections of text were also removed, including the paragraphs in the “sharing and caring” section that initially described how the tool was used by Call of Duty: Vanguard’s team.
“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,” the original post reads. We’re now going to use this data in the next games we’re developing. It was stated in the original section that Overwatch 2 had used the tool, and that it was being released internally by Activision Blizzard beginning this summer and continuing into Q3. With an eye to what Chomatas calls “the ultimate goal”, the tool will be made available to all players. “
Activision Blizzard studio King has shared a bizarre “diversity space tool” meant to help its studios design more diverse characters by using… math.
In a blog post published on May 12, the studio lauds the tool as “a leap forward for inclusion in gaming” that was created alongside the MIT Game Lab for use in character development. This post shows characters from Overwatch as an example. It plots them on the graph using elements such as gender, body type and cognitive ability.
The tool is apparently meant to be used as a frame of reference for future character development. The blog states that the tool can establish a baseline for character traits and then it can weigh new designs against it to determine their diversity. The tool can also reveal unconscious biases, such as why certain traits have been labelled’male’ and ‘female’, or why characters of certain ethnic backgrounds display similar personalities or behavior.
While this is a noble idea on paper, the execution has raised more than a few questions. And given Activision Blizzard’s current controversies – including a sexual harassment lawsuit overseen by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleged union-busting efforts, and an NYC lawsuit against Activision CEO Bobby Kotick – as well as its alleged treatment of marginalized employees, the diversity space tool hasn’t landed well with everyone.
Many have argued that the company could instead hire more diverse employees who could directly inject diversity into character creation and design rather than create a tool that essentially assigns value to those identities. It is not clear how the tool assigns value to descriptors such as gender, sexuality, race, cognitive ability and physical ability.
The readout for Overwatch’s Ana, for instance, rates her Egyptian culture as a seven, her Arab race as a seven, her physical ability (“one-eyed”) as four, and her gender identity as a woman at five, just to pull out a few data points. This same tool appears to be used to assess Ana’s gameplay performance by judging her support role (three stars) and difficulty (four stars). This data is being used to evaluate Ana from a gameplay perspective. It is being compared with other characters and how it could be used to inform future and current character design.
Activision Blizzard claims that “by starting at the character conception stage, the tool allows King and others to ask these important questions at the earliest possible moment, to promote more thoughtful creative choices from the ground up.” But thus far we’ve only seen the tool evaluate finished characters, which goes back to its applications.
Would King and other studios run proposed or in-progress characters through this tool to determine how diverse they are? Instead of using the data provided by the tool to create new characters, would they use it? Is there enough information about a character to be able to grade it? Are the people who create that character more important than the tool that grades them? It is both confusing and difficult to understand.
Activision Blizzard says it’s planning to release the tool internally starting this summer, and “the ultimate goal” according to MIT’s Jacqueline Chomatas is to make it available to “the industry as a whole.” That being said, early reactions from many other game developers aren’t exactly overflowing with enthusiasm.
Alyssa Mercante is an editor and features writer at GamesRadar based out of Brooklyn, NY. Before entering the industry, she completed her Masters in Modern and Contemporary Literature from Newcastle University. Her dissertation was about contemporary indie games. She enjoys competitive shooting and in-depth RPGs. Alyssa was recently on a PAX Panel discussing the best bars in videogames. In her spare time Alyssa rescues cats, practi