Over the past few months or so, World of Warcraft has been working on a number of small changes to older parts of the game, removing or editing content that hasn’t aged as well.
Blizzard has addressed some of this explicitly, such as removing references to real employees who left the company following a complaint of harassment, discrimination, and a toxic work environment. However, other changes are more subtle, such as toning down some of the in-game paintings and removing a number of “joke” lines that players could provide with a chat command. Much of the content removed could be viewed as unnecessarily sexual compared to the rest of the game, or was explicitly or implicitly demeaning towards women.
These changes have been rolled out continuously on the World of Warcraft public test realm, but are preparing to go live in an upcoming game patch. With websites analyzing, discovering, and reporting on these changes, the response from the community has been mixed, a response recently confirmed in a VentureBeat interview with Game Director Ion Hazzikostas.
While many welcomed the removal of inappropriate content, he noted, others were confused or even frustrated. Why did Activision-Blizzard remove years of joke instead of devoting its energies to more pressing matters, like improving the corporate culture or handling the litigation?
In the interview, Hazzikostas argued that the World of Warcraft team is doing its part to improve the company’s work culture with the tools in front of them:
“On the other end, there are those who have raised concerns that we are doing this almost as a pretext,” he said. “Instead of actually tackling the difficult problems, we’re just changing a few words in a game. This is not an ‘or’. It’s an ‘and’. We understand that we’re not addressing systemic injustice by changing an emote in World of Warcraft, but why not while working on greater cultural unity, diversity and security issues, and more at the same time?
“As we improve our processes for evaluating managers to share feedback with the team, while improving our recruiting and attitudes to build a more diverse team, we should also keep an eye on our game to be more visible in the short term. But in the long run we understand that what we are judged for as a team, as a company and as a game goes way beyond that. This work is still in progress. “
What exactly does this work then include? Hazzikostas says the system for changing game content in the course of the litigation arose out of the need that individual teams had to assess where they could specifically be better.
“One thing is that there are parts of our game that over the course of over 17 years have not necessarily been the product of a diverse or inclusive range of voices that are not necessarily the perspective of the current team and many of our players. There are things on that the people on our team weren’t proud of in our game. These are a lot of things that people have pointed out to the community over the years, but we don’t necessarily listen to them the way we should have back then. “
So they set up an internal process for the World of Warcraft team to mark parts of the game for review, such as old quests or certain lines of dialogue. For example, jokes and reprimands “made a dozen years ago” that make fun of male blood elves for being female. “That doesn’t fit in 2021,” said Hazzikostas.
The submitted content is then checked by a group that “reflects the diversity of our team today” in the WoW team to see whether it should be retained or changed.
“We decided whether we should leave some things because they are borderline, but we don’t want to reinvent everything, turn every single stone and rewrite 17 years of WoW,” continued Hazzikostas. “It could be a little bit youthful. It could be a different color. But that doesn’t really make our game less inviting for people to change. We left those things. Others have been removed, others have been rewritten or changed accordingly. “
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