Tuesday 25 July 2017

Overwatch game director responds to pose controversy

Overwatch
Overwatch

Daniel Anderson

Overwatch is a new game on the way from Blizzard Entertainment and a characters pose has come under scrutiny and received a negative backlash

Here's a story that's starting to get quite convoluted. Blizzard, the company behind World of Warcraft and Diablo, is currently working on a new game called Overwatch. It's an over the top first person shooter with a cartoonish style which has been undergoing extensive beta testing since late 2015, gearing up for release in May 2016.

And the word so far has been good, complimenting the art style and the fast paced gameplay, as well as the much less grounded feel than most modern shooters. Many elements have been tweaked during the various betas, but the latest issue has become one of the most contentious yet. It all has to do with pose player can strike in game using the Tracer character. The move was added to the latest round of changes and is called 'over the shoulder' by the team. The internet in general reacted to it rather differently...

Here's the pose in question.

User feedback was that the pose was oversexualised, especially in the context of the games rather less mature tone in general and in terms of the character herself. It seems like an innocent enough thing, especially in a digital world where female characters are routinely sexualised to the point of ridiculousness, but the developers at Blizzard have listened to the feedback and determined that the move won't appear in the game again.

The game director Jeff Kaplan has released a full statement on their response, which is posted below:

"Well, that escalated quickly… While I stand by my previous comment, I realize I should have been more clear. As the game director, I have final creative say over what does or does not go into the game. With this particular decision, it was an easy one to make—not just for me, but for the art team as well. We actually already have an alternate pose that we love and we feel speaks more to the character of Tracer. We weren’t entirely happy with the original pose, it was always one that we wrestled with creatively. That the pose had been called into question from an appropriateness standpoint by players in our community did help influence our decision—getting that kind of feedback is part of the reason we’re holding a closed beta test—but it wasn’t the only factor. We made the decision to go with a different pose in part because we shared some of the same concerns, but also because we wanted to create something better. We wouldn’t do anything to sacrifice our creative vision for Overwatch, and we’re not going to remove something solely because someone may take issue with it. Our goal isn’t to water down or homogenize the world, or the diverse cast of heroes we’ve built within it. We have poured so much of our heart and souls into this game that it would be a travesty for us to do so. We understand that not everyone will agree with our decision, and that’s okay. That’s what these kinds of public tests are for. This wasn’t pandering or caving, though. This was the right call from our perspective, and we think the game will be just as fun the next time you play it. If it isn’t, feel free to continue sharing your concerns, thoughts, and feedback about this and other issues you may have with the game, please just keep the discussion respectful."

The company has been criticised for changing their minds so quickly in the face of fairly limited negative feedback but it seems clear that the artists and developers involved were using this opportunity to test the waters and the information they received confirmed their fears about portraying the character in this way. It may seem like a minor point in the grand scheme of releasing such a massive game but the fact is that millions of gamers will be exposed to this material, and a Blizzard has a responsibility to consider how their products effect public opinion.

Many more changes will be made to Overwatch before it releases at the end of May, but it's good to know that a company as large as Blizzard has their eye on every possible element of the messaging they're putting out in the world.

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