Activision Blizzard introduces a tool to improve character diversity in its games

Activision Blizzard recently posted an article dedicated to King’s Diversity Space Tool. It is a software that should ensure a certain diversity of characters in the studio’s video games. Basically, you enter a whole lot of data about a character, and the tool tells you if it is well-balanced or if it has biases that may offend some of the players.

The company explains that King developers want to avoid certain stereotypes in this way. Since the beginning of development in 2016, the software has evolved a lot, and if it is still in beta, it has still been tested on Overwatch 2 and Call of Duty: Vanguard. Eventually, it will even be used by all Activision Blizzard studios.

As soon as the article was published, some voices were raised criticizing the fact of leaving the choice of diversity to a software as well as to the data that allows the latter to say whether a character is for this or not enough.

In an update, Activision Blizzard clarified that the software has not been actively used and that it “simply” is a tool to support teams responsible for diversity, equity of inclusion.

EDITOR’S NOTE (19:42 PT – 13 May 2022): There have been conversations online about the Diversity Space Tool, especially about its intent and our commitment to diversity. We have edited this blog post to clarify that this prototype is not used in active game development. We would like to add the following comment for further context:

Launched in 2016, the Diversity Space Tool – currently in beta – was designed as an optional addition to the hard work and focus our teams already have on telling different stories with different characters, but decisions about content in the game have been and always will be be taken by the development teams. The tool was developed by King, and has been beta tested by several developers in the company, all of whom have provided valuable input.

The goal of using the tool is to uncover unconscious biases by identifying existing standards of representation and recognizing opportunities for growth in inclusion. It does not replace any other significant efforts of our teams in this regard and will not change our company’s recruitment goals for diversity. In recent years, the development of the tool has taken place with the support of all our DE&I networks of employees, and we have worked with external partners to create an even more robust tool.

The tool is not intended to be used in isolation; teams meet with the company’s DE & I staff to identify existing standards, and then discuss, train, consult and collaborate on how a character’s portrayal is expressed beyond those standards. This process is intended to create a conversation in which our developers, aided by the tool, challenge assumptions, evaluate choices, and find opportunities to promote authentic representation in our games.

Activision Blizzard is committed to reflecting the diversity of its millions of players around the world through representation and inclusion in its games and in its employees. The purpose of this blog post was to share some of our journey in this area. We recognize and respect that each person can be at a unique time in their journey with DE&I. The Diversity Space Tool is not a definitive assessment of diversity in game content; rather, it is an entrance to open up to previously unspoken conversations about how thoughtful inclusion can happen – and thrive – in games.

We want to see ourselves represented in games, we want barriers to entry to be reduced, and we want games to be an inviting environment for everyone. Just look at the 2019 “Developer Satisfaction Survey” from the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), which asked the developers what they consider to be the most important factor for the growth of the gaming industry. The most common answer? “More diversity in content”. It’s not even an issue anymore.

The question that remains, however, is: How does one convert this return of collective desire into a tangible reality? As expected, the people at King already have a head start.

In 2016, King began developing a method to protect themselves from unconscious bias and exclusion when creating their games and characters. At the time, this idea existed as an intangible philosophy, but the potential was obvious.

This is where MIT Game Lab comes in. Together with King, MIT engineers helped transform a mission statement into tangible software that would create and control character design and creation guidelines, looking at all the basic elements such as gender, body type, roles (“heroes” versus ” villains “) and even such granular factors as posture or body movements can suggest strong things about a character in one way or another. According to Jacqueline Chomatas, King’s Globalization Project Manager, the King’s team spent the last few years refining and developing it as MIT handed over the basic software, mostly on a voluntary basis. People spent their free time working on the tool, simply because they believed in its potential.

“An important principle for us at King is that all players should feel welcome,” says Chomatas. “The goal is to inspire gaming teams, not just at King, but across Activision Blizzard’s King network, to think outside the box and challenge preconceptions about how people look and behave. Characters. As a result, we hope to create more characters who think outside the box and better represent women, non-binary and other under-represented minorities in the industry. “

How does it work

The idea of ​​a “tool” to make characters more diverse and inclusive can seem a little overwhelming. In practice, this must be more than just a reminder that between 2017 and 2021, nearly 80% of the best-selling games worldwide had white, male protagonists (according to Diamond Lobby research). It should be an integral part of the incubation process from the start, integrated into the pipeline as a consistent, unavoidable step – and that’s exactly what this tool is designed to be.

The Diversity Space tool is a measuring instrument that helps to identify the diversity of a set of character traits and therefore the diversity of this character and actors in relation to the “norm”, “explains Mr. Chomatas. Once he has established a baseline for typical traits (performed by the creative team in close collaboration with DE&I experts), he can then evaluate new character designs against this baseline to measure their diversity.During this process, the tool can also highlight unconscious biases, such as why certain traits considered “masculine” or “feminine”, or why characters with certain ethnic backgrounds have similar personalities or behaviors.

In this context, the Diversity Space tool makes it possible to clearly distinguish superficial characters from real representatives. “[L’outil] identifies what stereotypical characters look like in different genres, which are not always the most conducive or representative of diversity, “says Chomatas.” It helps identify these stereotypes, while helping creatives take a closer look at their creations, so they can dissect their own assumptions and preselections. It also helps identify storytelling opportunities for more diverse characters to ensure we do not create characters that are diverse only in appearance. “

By starting at the character design stage, the tool allows King and others to ask these important questions as early as possible, to promote more thoughtful creative choices from the start – which in turn leads to games that are more representative of their player base.

Sharing and care

Over the past few months, King has let the Activision and Blizzard development teams “test” the Diversity Space tool, and the results have been immediate and enthusiastic. The goal is to continue testing the tool internally to get initial feedback in Activision Blizzard this summer. “We strongly believe in the potential of this tool to change the landscape of video games,” says Chomatas.

In addition to the game

Although the Diversity Space tool is designed for use in game character design, Chomatas believes it has broader applications across all entertainment and media platforms. “Characteristics and measurements are applicable to broader entertainment verticals, including television, film, and literature. The only change required when used in these verticals would be the basic properties, which would have to be calibrated to be relevant to the genre and universe in which every character exists. ” Chomatas admits that the app is still evolving – and in fact it is designed to constantly evolve as “standards” change and platforms evolve. In the end, we get out of it what we put into it and what we choose to take out of it.

“Like anything else, it’s just a tool that provides information,” says Chomatas. “It’s up to the teams that create the characters and the games to apply them.”

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