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Blizzard: There is still room for inclusivity in the industry

Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan describes how the title was built around a goal of open-mindedness

"Never accept the world as it appears to be. Dare to see it for what it could be."

That's a quote from Harold Winston in the hugely successful Blizzard game Overwatch (which has over 25 million players), and it perfectly sums up the vision Blizzard had for the game from the outset, explained director Jeff Kaplan during his DICE Summit talk today. Kaplan explained how he and his team ended up in that mindset. Essentially, after Project Titan was cancelled in May 2013, he was part of a group of 40 developers who were tasked with coming up with a new game idea for Blizzard in just six weeks. If they couldn't do it, they would be reassigned to other Blizzard projects. The group felt a sense of hopelessness and despair, but rather than give into those feelings, they decided to think positively about what the world could be and what they could create.

From that perspective, Kaplan and his team examined a lot of other shooters and action games over the last decade. They decided that planet Earth would be the best location to explore rather than a fantastical setting, but what approach to take was the challenge. With realistic games (Call of Duty, Battlefield) and post-apocalyptic titles (The Last of Us, Fallout 4) there wasn't much room, Blizzard felt. So, ultimately, the team settled on a positive vision of the near-future. The goal was "a future worth fighting for," Kaplan said.

That vision led to a number of interesting decisions for the Overwatch team, which wanted to make the game as accessible and approachable as possible. They took lessons from World of Warcraft, such as making sure that locations are varied and don't feel oppressive. The idea was, "Where would you want to spend time on Earth, what are vacation spots?" That led to areas like Greece, Hollywood, Dorado and more, but with fantastical twists. Even Iraq made it, but with a positive portrayal. Kaplan said his team wondered if it was really necessary for another game to show bombed out, dusty streets again.

The "future worth fighting for" mantra spilled over into character design as well. The goal was to embrace differences with the characters. For example, one character is an older Egyptian woman, who's a mom but also a sniper. The team also designed a lesbian relationship as the backstory for another character. "It's important to show normal things as normal," Kaplan stressed. The Overwatch team is very proud to have an LGBT character who's also a female on the game's cover. Kaplan commented that in doing his research on shooters, "I started to notice a trend as I put the box art together and it was grizzled soldier dude."

While Blizzard has been encouraged to see people around the world holding up Overwatch as an example of diversity, Kaplan commented that, "In no way do we aspire to be a political game." He added, "The goal was open-mindedness and inclusivity, where diversity was the beautiful end result... We wanted to create a world where everyone was welcome."

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James Brightman avatar
James Brightman: James Brightman has been covering the games industry since 2003 and has been an avid gamer since the days of Atari and Intellivision. He was previously EIC and co-founder of IndustryGamers and spent several years leading GameDaily Biz at AOL prior to that.
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