Overwatch Diversity Tool Sparks Controversy Online

"We regret any offense that the original post may have caused."
"We regret any offense that the original post may have caused." / Image courtesy of Activision Blizzard

On May 12, Activision Blizzard released a blog post pulling back the curtains on its "Diversity Space Tool," a project that is said to have been in development by the company's Swedish/Maltese subsidiary King since 2016 as a way to guard against "unconscious bias and exclusion when it came to the creation of their games and characters."

In collaboration with the MIT Game Lab, members of King seemingly "spent the last few years honing and developing it, mostly as a volunteer effort" even on off-hours "simply because they believed in its potential so much."

Within moments of the blog being published, running down in both words and graphics showing Overwatch characters being scored on the software's supposed diversity guidelines for conception and creation, Activision Blizzard received plenty of backlash on social media.

"This is a really shitty way to view the world," @SimplyRagny replied to the Twitter announcement. "It looks built on the assumption that every character should be white, cis, straight, male until you add the diversity point. That's not how people work. Considered hiring marginalized artists and letting them create what they want."

On May 14, Overwatch character artist Melissa Kelly Quote Tweeted the Activision Blizzard post, writing, "God I swear our own company tries so hard to slaughter any goodwill the actual devs who make the game have built. Overwatch doesn't even use this creepy dystopian chart, our writers have eyes. The artists: have eyes. Producers, directors, etc, as far as I know also all have eyes."

A day after posting the Diversity Space Tool blog post, Activision Blizzard both removed all imagery and heavily edited the article, and Tweeted an apology in which it mentions the tool is not being used in active development.

"We recently shared a blog post that raised questions about how we approach diversity in our games," the Activision Blizzard statement reads. "While the prototype tool has been tested internally, it is not in active use. Our dev teams have always and will continue to drive in-game content.

"We have updated the post to clarify the purpose of this tool, which is one small component of our broader DE&I efforts and is not intended to be a replacement for diverse perspectives. We regret any offense that the original post may have caused."

Activision Blizzard, which accepted a proposal to be purchased by Microsoft in a $68.7 billion deal, remains to be investigated by the California DFEH and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a result of numerous harassment and misconduct allegations.

In March, a judge officially approved Activision Blizzard's $18 million sexual harassment and workplace misconduct settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Activision Blizzard remains engaged in at least two separate suits regarding the treatment of employees, one from a current employee who says she was sexually harassed, and another from the family of a former employee blaming the company's culture of harassment for that employee's suicide.