An invitation for an early look at Blizzard’s new game Hearthstone should have been a prized opportunity. Blogger Starcunning turned it down out of genuine concern for Blizzard’s commitment to diversity.
On July 4, Starcunning wrote an open letter to Blizzard cofounder and president Mike Morhaime, stating why she was turning down this invitation and had stopped playing Blizzard games altogether. She was concerned about Blizzard prioritizing gameplay over narrative, and how diverse representation in its games suffered as a result.
Starcunning then published Morhaime’s response.
“There have been times when we’ve been seen or painted as being uninterested in hearing feedback or making changes,” Morhaime said. “I want to be clear that this goes against the philosophies and core values on which Blizzard has been built and continues to operate. We will always listen, and we will always work hard to make games that appeal to as many people as possible.”
Blizzard’s voice on issues like diversity carries weight. Its World of Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft franchises largely defined the massively multiplayer online, dungeon crawler, and real-time strategy genres respectively. StarCraft is a pillar of the esports community. Blizzard’s online collectible card game Hearthstone is growing in popularity, and also working its way into esports leagues.
When Dustin Browder, the game director of StarCraft 2 and Blizzard’s upcoming MOBA Heroes of the Storm, dismisses concerns regarding oversexualized female characters, it’s news. Browder later apologized for his comments. When Rob Pardo, then chief creative officer at Blizzard, is reported as stating that diversity is not one of Blizzard’s values, it is not taken as a throwaway comment.
“What Pardo and Browder fail to recognize is that by not acknowledging these issues, they are in fact sending a message: that somehow, including a wider variety of portrayals of women or incorporating diversity in other aspects is politicizing their game,” wrote Starcunning in her letter to Morhaime. “I don’t think that’s true. I certainly don’t believe it’s truer than the notion that excluding these groups doesn’t send a message.”
In his response, Morhaime promises that Blizzard will not only focus on creating more diverse characters in their games, it will also tap into diverse voices within the company more often, and draw more diversity into the company.
Blizzard recently took steps to combat sexism in competitive gaming. It helped bring pressure on on the IeSF esports league to make its Hearthstone World Championship brackets unisex.