Activision Blizzard’s diversity tool has an even more embarrassing long history


Two protesting Activision Blizzard employees wearing face masks and holding white signs reading "Nerf Male Privilege" and "Fight villains in game, fight villains IRL."

Photo: David McNew (Getty Images)

Activision Blizzard touted its Diversity Space Tool in a blog post on May 12, in which he claimed that the two Call of Duty: Vanguard and Monitor 2 the development teams tested the tool with great enthusiasm, then quickly echoed that statement on May 13 and said the tool “is not used in active game development.” Ouch! My head was hurt in his confusion! But my head will have to endure more pain – a disastrous clip from the 2017 Game Developers Conference has resurfaced on Twitter and shows Activision Blizzard’s mobile acquisition King demonstrating the tool, which means the backlash tour continues.

The awkward GDC footage shows a visibly nervous speaker describing the results of the diversity tool when applied to Super Mario characters, which she determines as not being diverse based on their apparent straightness. (I dunno, doesn’t Princess Peach seem a little bisexual?) The clip’s absurdity, along with continued criticism from developers, keeps Activision Blizzard firmly trapped in its own hot water.

In their too-late blog edits, Activision Blizzard pointed out that the diversity tool was only in beta and claimed that they didn’t just say they were using it on current games. The tool “was designed as an optional add-on to hard work and already focuses our teams on telling diverse stories with diverse characters,” Activision Blizzard wrote, “but in-game content decisions have been and will be always taken by the development teams.” Activision Blizzard, however, did not specify what game developer beta testing entails, what results a beta test would yield, and how those results could be implemented in games in development like Monitor 2if at all.

If we had to guess based on this excerpt from Activision Blizzard’s GDC 2017 conference, we could say that the goal of a beta test is to confirm that Super Mario the games are varied because Mario is small and Italian, like a Caucasian meatball.

“What we noted here is that Mario is small,” said a speaker at the tool’s application conference at Super Mario“like he’s actually shorter than Peach, so we gave him a pretty high rating [body diversity] score for this. Hopefully the census bureau will act in kind and start collecting short data on the kings soon.

But while Activision Blizzard’s development teams are using the company’s tool to check for arbitrary diversity points as the company claims, not all of them seem to be currently aware of it. Melissa Kelly, a character artist at Blizzard who worked on Surveillancementioned on Twitter that “Surveillance don’t even use this scary [dystopian] graphics, our writers have eyes.

“You know what drives our diversity? Developers!” she continued in a thread. “We have people working on the game from those cultures. That’s it! That’s literally it. A senior engineer working on Monitor 2 confirmed the same day that the Surveillance the team didn’t use the tool and even “didn’t know it existed until yesterday”. No more Surveillance team member returned Kotakurequest for comment.

Activision Blizzard’s blog post section on “how it works” also leaves a lot unexplained – there are few details on how the tool works. Actually works. “Once it establishes a baseline for typical character traits (which is done by the creative team in close collaboration with [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] experts),” the post explains, “it can then weigh new character designs to gauge their diversity. The blog post doesn’t detail how a “baseline” is determined or what some “typical character traits might be,” but game designer Margaret Ó Dorchaidhe wrote his own post trying to dig in details from Activision Blizzard on May 14.

“How do you control ethnicity? How do you quantify it? More importantly, how do you quantify it without being horribly racist and introducing your own biases? Dorchaidhe also asked about the data connected to the diversity tool. “So what did they do? Well… as far as I can tell, they assigned random numbers that they thought were fair.

This claim seems backed up by King’s 2017 GDC conference, which is full of speakers referencing characters given high or low scores based on factors such as ethnicity and sexuality. “What does that even MEAN?” Dorchaidhe asks in her post. “What does it mean to have a distance of 7 between Arab and White? What does it mean for a cis woman to have gender 5? Well…nothing at all, really.

Stephane Totilo reports on Axios that MIT researcher Mikael Jakobsson, who helped create the tool until 2019, had planned for the project to be offered “in the context of a workshop, alongside readings, and to avoid putting trait statistics, lest it reduce diversity efforts to “a numbers game.” diversity will likely continue to receive backlash if Activision Blizzard focuses its project on numbers that provide reductive and totally unnecessary information. In the end, I hope to get at least an 8 for sex.


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