Where did it all go wrong…again. Why Diversity box ticking is not the one in 2022
This is a story about Activision Blizzard called ....
As a team that has spent the last few years working in the gaming sector we’re way too familiar with the challenges Activision Blizzard has encountered and continues to face when it comes to fixing and healing from its history of toxic workplace culture, sexual harassment lawsuits and visible lack of diversity and inclusion in the company.
We’re not one for finger pointing or shaming but we’re strong believers in accountability for the sake of growth and in this case for the sake of representation and safe workplaces for all in 2022.
Any effort to advance diversity, equity and inclusion is a good thing, right?
Yes and No. Although effort is better than inaction, box ticking as a means to tackle lack of diversity is disappointing and inadequate at best.
When a couple of weeks ago Activision Blizzard announced their brand new Diversity Space Tool aimed at uncovering unconscious bias, guarding against exclusion in game character creation and helping developers create more diverse narratives and characters in game based on 7 simple criteria (sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, age, ability, body type, gender identity), it was no surprise that it was met with feelings of disappointment and frustration by both employees and the gaming community.
Good intentions aside, here’s why the announcement of the launch of Activision Blizzard’s Diversity Tool was met by the perfect storm:
Activision Blizzard is the 5th biggest gaming publisher in the world with 400 million active users making it pretty influential voice in the gaming community
Activision is also responsible for some of the most popular titles in recent years such as Candy Crush, Call of Duty, Overwatch and many more
It has engaged in union-busting campaign to stop Call of Duty developers amongst others from organising
Several pending lawsuits against the company incl. for sexual assault
Reports of toxic “frat boy” workplace culture including “constant sexual harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation”
Leadership that is out of touch and broken communication between leadership and employees given the response we’ve seen from various Activision Blizzard employees on social media since the Diversity Space Tool announcement describing the company’s efforts as dystopian
The tool raised questions as to how do you rank a disabled person higher or lower than another person that's disabled? What's the methodology behind certain racial backgrounds rating greater or less than others?
There’s a lot of talk about the diverse characters being scored against the norm also referred to as “baseline” with not enough clarification on what the actual norm is. Could it be that the baseline is a white heterosexual male? If so, then we are already implying everyone else is “other” and outside the norm when in reality society paints a pretty different picture - one full of diversity of genders, sexual orientations, races and so much more
We never got to learn more about who was involved in the development and the makeup of the developer team that created the Diversity tool itself
Between 2017 and 2021 nearly 80% of the highest selling games in the world featured white, male protagonists according to a study conducted by Diamond Lobby
In 2019 International Game Developers Association (IGDA) “Developer Satisfaction Survey” asked developers what they considered to be the most important factor in the growth of the gaming industry - the most common response was more diversity in content
Lessons to be learned
(or what your business can do to avoid making the same mistakes as Activision Blizzard):
The best way to uncover unconscious bias is to have diverse voices involved in the game development and decision making process aka increase representation and hire diverse game developers and management teams - lived experience can never be replaced by an algorithm. It really is that simple!
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