Overwatch dev reveals they don’t use “creepy” Activision diversity tool

Brad Norton
Overwatch gameplay

Activision Blizzard proudly revealed its new ‘Diversity Space Tool’ on May 12, detailing a new point-based system to help improve diversity across its games. This move instantly triggered another wave of backlash against the company as even Overwatch developers lashed out, criticizing the “dystopian” method.

King, a game development studio under Activision Blizzard, revealed its “innovative” approach to tackling inclusion in gaming on May 12. With a blog post that’s since been heavily edited to remove various assets, the studio disclosed a ‘Diversity Space Tool’ that had supposedly been in the works since 2016.

This tool was purpose-built to “guard against unconscious bias” in the character creation process. As a “measurement device,” it identified and ranked various traits like gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and more.

In just a matter of hours, the questionable tool caught fire on social media, with many quick to criticize its “degrading” methodology. Now, even developers under the Activision Blizzard banners are speaking out on the tool, criticizing its very existence and clarifying that select games do not employ its use.

Activision Blizzard diversity tool
One example featured in the blog post showed how points were attributed to Ana from Overwatch, with body type and sexual orientation both scoring zero.

Given the company’s string of well-documented legal issues, allegations of “rampant sexism,” and general mistreatment of employees, backlash over the new diversity tool was another bout of controversy in a rather extensive list.

Recognizing the reputation of Activision Blizzard, Overwatch Character Artist Melissa Kelly took to Twitter following the news, venting her frustrations as an insider working on one of the company’s flagship products.

“God I swear our own company tries so hard to slaughter any goodwill the actual devs who make the game have built,” she said in a May 15 thread.

“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.”

Pushing back against the tool, Kelly explained how unsurprisingly, diversity in games is driven directly by those on the dev team, not an algorithm.

“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.”

Describing what it’s like working for the publicly-scrutinized company, she compared it to “running a marathon through mud,” given Activision Blizzard’s penchant for controversy.

“Luckily Team 4 is incredible,” Kelly followed up. “The actual devs are passionate and kind and genuinely want to make a great game.”

Overwatch characters
While assets in the diversity tool blog post included characters from Overwatch, devs from Team 4 claim they’ve had nothing to do with it.

Activision Blizzard has since issued an apology for publicizing the tool.

“We regret any offense the original post may have caused,” the studio followed up on Twitter shortly after.

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About The Author

Brad Norton is the Australian Managing Editor at Dexerto. He graduated from Swinburne University with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and has been working full-time in the field for the past six years at the likes of Gamurs Group and now Dexerto. He loves all things single-player gaming (with Uncharted a personal favorite) but has a history on the competitive side having previously run Oceanic esports org Mindfreak. You can contact Brad at brad.norton@dexerto.com