Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are there really no women working at Blizzard?

It has probably been announced all over the place, but somehow I must have missed it. Yesterday however, I managed to stumble upon a special anniversary site that Blizzard has created to celebrate the recent birthday of WoW. And I was happily surprised at what I found.

Apparently this site is under development. A couple of departments - such as interviews with community members and a special edition of Blizzcast - haven't opened up yet. But there is already one huge chunk of content which I really recommend everyone to check out, consisting of video interviews with the people who created the Warcraft universe.

All in all 22 people, including well known names as Jeff Kaplan and Chriz Metzen, have been asked the same two questions: one about the moment when they realized that Warcraft was something special and one about a personal memory from playing a Warcraft game.

Memorable interviews
Of course the quality in the answers and the charisma of portrayed people vary a bit, but generally their replies to those questions are quite personal and interesting. It sounds as if they're meaning what they're saying for a change. This is so different to the pre-3.3 patch promotion interviews with Ghostcrawler and his colleagues so commonly appearing these days. When the designers are talking about future content, every word has to be weighed carefully and they often end up being so vague, general and polished, that they become rather boring to listen to or read. The anniversary interviews are much more relaxed.

There are a couple of testimonies which stayed a bit longer in my mind. Rob Bridenbecker, vice president of Online Technologies, shares the story about how his brother, a dedicated WoW player, died at young age after years of struggling against a cancer disease, and how Blizzard has made him immortal in the game, letting him be the inspirational source for an epic quest line. It's hard to remain untouched when you hear about it.

Another interview which stuck (probably mostly because he looks like a dwarf Warcraft character himself) is the one with Sam Didier. I loved his recount from an early BlizzCon, where thousands of players were queuing. Suddenly his heart swelled so much with company pride that he felt compelled to yell a battle cry: "For the horde", which the masses quickly joined . (Except for a few allies, who countered: "For Gnomeregan!".) He also tells a story about an epic moment in Alterac Valley. Not a huge thing when you think about it, but he tells it in a nice way.

Men only
There was one thing in those interviews however, which took me a little by surprise: There isn't one single woman in the party. It never occurred to me before that it was a pure male business to create video games, especially not a video game which actually has so many female players.

Now, just to make things clear: I'm personally very much opposed to special treatment for women, putting them in some special quota just to make things more balanced. I think women are perfectly capable to compete for jobs on their own merits. Still: it baffled me a little to realize that the members of the leading team behind WoW look as much alike as if they had been brothers.

I guess the upcoming interviews with the player community will be quite different. The game developers may be similar to each other, but the player base is definitely very much diverse.

The lack of women is just a small remark however, more an observation than a complaint. My message today is that if you're curious about what happens behind the scenes at Blizzard and if you think it would be fun to hear Cory Stockton sharing his personal memories from his first kill of Ragnaros (yeah, many in the staff do play the game themselves), I recommend you to put off half an hour to see those interviews. Even if it doesn't give us the complete story of how WoW became WoW, it gives us some enjoyable and entertaining samples.

I'm looking forward to check out the rest of the content of this site as they'll make it available.

28 comments:

Kromus said...

It doesn't suprise me, but-- I'm hoping that soon changes as the world becomes a lot less stereotypical and bland.

I understand your viewpoint though, theres loads of Girl Gamers (such as my girlfriend) you'd think they'd be at least 1.

Elnia said...

I have no interest in the personal stories of the developers behind the game. As soon as I see a picture of a WoW developer I scroll right on past it.

I think it takes away from the mystique behind the game. In the same way I wouldn't want to meet Jesus Christ walking down the street.

Ablimoth said...

Soo... if I get called out on this, I get called out on this...

Why does it matter? (Does it matter at all?).

Is there such a distinct and large difference between men and women that the game would be different if there were a woman on the team?

IMO, so long as the people working on the game are passionate and create an incredible game, they can be /b/tards, mass-murderers and pond scum for all I care (although, I definitely wouldn't be as interested in what they have to say if that were true).

Staffan said...

I think the lack of women in the video is, essentially, a matter of lag. Basically, most of the people you see in the video have probably been playing video games since they were 10 or even younger, so for some 20+ years. They've essentially been leveling up since then: gamer, to hobbyist coder, to trained programmer, to programming peon, to some form of management position, or some form of similar evolution.

Gaming becoming common among women is by comparison a fairly recent phenomenon, and one which WoW is partially responsible for. I mean, back in the 80s when I was in school, the girls in the class weren't the ones who owned Nintendos or Commodore 64s, the boys did. And these boys are now the ones who have grown up to be bigwigs at places like Blizzard. The ladies who started playing maybe 5 or 10 years ago would still be in the "programming peon" stage, even optimistically speaking.

As for quotas, I'm pretty much against them. That said, if I was CEO of a corporation I'd make a point of having at least some women in high-up position, simply because having different perspectives is always a good thing. Women often see things in different ways than men (though whether that's a result of biology or socialization is a matter of debate), and thus I think a team consisting of, say, 3 women and 7 men would be better qualified than one consisting of 10 men, even if the women might have slightly worse formal merits than the three displaced men.

spinksville said...

You're right, it's very interesting that they don't have any interviews with women up.

By comparison, I remember hearing that quite a few of the Bioware writing team were female (and I think that comes through strongly in the game -- they have strong female characters, and a very feminine type of dark fantasy/ horror vibe). I also remember noting that quite a few members of the Warhammer Online team were female.

So I think it IS notable that Blizzard generally isn't.

Anonymous said...

My sister is a graphic artist who used to work at a computer game company over 10 years ago. She worked in a city 300 miles from the main office, however when she traveled to the main office for meetings, the management didn't want her to even get near the computer programmers (all men/boys) because management didn't want the programmers to get any ideas and become distracted from their work.

blueberrytotem said...

I actually think you mostly answered the lack of women in the post yourself - the site is dedicated to both WoW and W anniversaries and I'd guess people speaking there are A) leading WoW persons and B) old-time gamers who were sending peons to chop some wood back in original W series.

This leads to the fact that leading positions in WoW team will be prolly filled with men who played in W universe for long time, have probably bigger experience with coding (see Staffan). I think in the graphic, and other "softer" areas there is a lot of women *shrug*

Moreover I agree with Staffan - women "publicly" gaming came with the era of WoW. From all the women (12) I know that play WoW, none played original W series back in the day. Some of them (like 2) play DoTa time to time to relax, but that is just battleground in different scale :)

We could as well go into the stereotype of girls being shy and more protective about their privacy on the interwebz, whereas the "macho" males tend to show-off. But I don't really like this explanation.

Larísa said...

@Kromus: I think it will change over time, following the pattern from for other media. Look at the journalist profession. It used to be a male only area. Now there are women everywhere (which has caused the payment to decline, but that's another issue).

@Elnia: interesting. I'm quite the opposite. But then I like to see and hear for instance authors talking about their novels and directors talking about their movies as well. When I went to SF conventions once upon a time that was the essance of it - to be able to see and interact with the creators. It doesn't diminish the magic at all for me, it rather deepens my understanding and love for the game.

@Ablimoth: I think it matters a bit for Blizzard from a PR perspective. If there are only men speaking about the game you can get the impression that it's only intended for men. I think Blizzard would benefit a lot from having some female spokesmen as well, if they want their share of the growing market of female players.

@Staffan: I think you're spot on there! Of course it's lagging! I wonder what the 10 year anniversary would look like. Hopefully there would at least be a few women who have fought their way up to the top by then.

@Spinksville: I wonder if there are more women hiding somewhere at less glorious positions within Blizzard? And I wonder if they even reflected about how this make them look. I think for a small gaming company it isn't such a big deal to have a male-only staff, but when you're as big and powerful and Blizzard it starts to matter.

@Anonymous: that sounds just so sad. Pathetic.

@Blueberrytotem: Like you I'm more on the line of the lag Staffan talks about than that this has to do with women being shy about marketing themselves.

Gevlon said...

I don't think it's sexism, it's merely age-problem. To be a leading programmer/artist in Blizzard NOW, you must have been doing this 10-20 years. 10-20 years ago the computer industry and computers themselves were very much men-only. Those women who are getting into the field now, will be in leading positions 10-20 years from now. It simply has a runoff time.

The Gnome of Zurich said...

"Is there such a distinct and large difference between men and women that the game would be different if there were a woman on the team?"

Yes, I think there would be a difference, at least if the women were not mere tokens, but active participants whose opinions the others respected.

There's some pretty rank sexism embedded in the game and in gaming culture in general that I think a lot of men just don't even notice.

My wife and I almost never fail to get a laugh from the login screens which show outrageous anatomically impossible hypersexualized female characters, and ugly ass dwarf/orc/etc. males. You don't see the body-builder looking human and night-elf males, and you don't see many of the horde females (except blood elves). that's just one example.

Dw-redux said...

@lar
"I wonder if there are more women hiding somewhere at less glorious positions within Blizzard? "
There are: Human resources and similar stuff. Im afraid that i'll have to agree with the goblin, it may change in 10 years time. But so far, I've never heard of a content designer that was not male. And games are poorer for it too.

fallingleavesandwings said...

Larisa,

Giving a perhaps more practical, although maybe incorrect, response to your question: When I read about this my first thought was "I bet there are no photos of women up for safety concerns". (Granted that doesn't prohibit them from giving replies...)

I don't know if this is true or not, but my best educated guess says there is likely at least a little something to it. I'm sure that many of the people indicating that men are more dominant in the industry are also correct.

Part of me, however, wonders if Ms. Netheria (as an example) doens't want her face all over the internet. Sure, we've seen pictures of her from Blizzcon atendees, we also saw the druid CS pictures too (I can't remember her name...started with a C), but they weren't broadcasted by Blizzard.

Just food for thought!

Cap'n John said...

Heather Anne Campbell is the Executive Editor at Play Magazine.

I believe PC Gamer has (or used to have) a couple of women in key positions as well. Can't think of them off hand though (I only know of Heather because I subscribe to Play).

Larísa said...

@Gevlon: yeah, I've started to realize this too. I think though it could have been wise of Blizzard to make an effort to find a woman in their crew to highlight. It would be good for their image.

@The Gnome of Zurich: " Yes, I think there would be a difference, at least if the women were not mere tokens, but active participants whose opinions the others respected.".
I think you're saying something very important there. Just showing women for the sake of showing women doesn't change a bit. It's a larger question.
I've come to realize that there's a view of women in the gamers world that is quite saddening. It dawned upon me as I saw this post at the blog of a former famous WoW player...

http://marilyn.dingblog.com/default.php?readb=1008277&readc=

@Dw-Redux: Human resources... sigh. Yeah. And customers support. Billing.

@Fallingleavesandwings: you think so really? I doubt it. Because they're beautiful and afraid of followers or because they're not and afraid of being trolled for this? If this is the case that the women don't dare to show themselves for safety concerns, I'd be quite upset.

@Cap'n John. It's all well that gamers magazines have women in key positions, but it doesn't help the image of Blizzard. Don't know how it is with their new magazine though... considering how many journalists that are female I wouldn't be too surprised if they had a lot of women in their staff.

Spitt said...

So one person, knows a grafic artist, that has been in the business for 10 years. Doesn't that show you how much the gaming industry is ruled by mostly men? You probably don't know that games can take 3 to 7 years to develop, and that not always do people get paid. It's often a volunteer position, with the promise of payment - only if the game goes gold AND is popular. 90% of the games developed never make it to gold release. I for one, don't know of many women that would work for free for 3 years. My wife was pissed at me when I didn't get paid for 1.5 years to develop a website. I can't tell you the amount of times I told her "it's going to turn around - we're gonna make money", and had that fall through.

Anyways, women do work in the industry, they are the great women behind the great men, which support them and give them ideas.

River said...

Girls can't play video games well OR make video games well either. :P

Ok don't hit me in the crotch...I was kidding.

Ophelie said...

This post made me curious, so I went into my game files and pulled up the WoW credits. There are a few female names in there, not many, but a few.

It makes sense to me that there wouldn't very many women involved in video game design for the same reason there aren't many male elementary school teachers or male nurses. It is strange, though, that none of the employees interviewed were women. After all, WoW is a very female friendly game. It seems Blizzard should know better than that. I wonder, did any of the WoW TV commercials over the years ever include women?

Snug said...

I had no idea that blizzard had such a...one sided employee base compared to the largely diverse player base.

I guess I haven't thought about the time-line people have been saying about how long it would take for females to get higher up in the positions. Still strikes me as odd that they would make it so known, I suppose it doesn't impact too many things though.

Enjoyed the post, Larisa ^^

Shy said...

I was going to react extensively...but best not.

Men and Women are different, stop thinking that they are not and you might have your full explanation as to why you see more women in one place, and more men in the other.

morrighan13 said...

Historically, with a few exceptions, the computer game industry has not only been dominated by men, but has worked to exclude women.

There have been some improvements. There was a time when Nintendo actively did not market to women because it was afraid that doing so would affect its core (male) market. That has certainly changed.

In a book called From 'Barbie to Mortal Kombat' theres a quote from a male industry exec: "I have more left handed players than female players, I don't make games for them, why should I make games for you [women]?" I found this quote fascinating because it demonstrates two things. Firstly, that the industry was not interesting in expanding its potential markets to women, even though female player could represent a doubling of its profits. Secondly, that the industry views women as somehow 'wired wrong' (because being right handed is the majority case, it becomes 'right' and being left handed is viewed as 'wrong' - its only very recently that being left handed has become acceptable and products are made to accommodate it). Thats a very simplistic version of a very complex issue but I'll leave it at that here.

The reason for highlighting that book is that last year (10 years after the original) there was a follow up book - 'Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat'. Both books are a really interesting read. They combine critical and cultural theory with examples from industry practice and interviews with women in the industry. Its a very revealing insight into women in the gaming industry.

Larísa said...

@Spitt: I know this is evil but I can't help wondering: what would a video with the second halfs to the developers look like? "20 years as a game developer sponsor"..?

@Ophelie: I don't know. Maybe they're afraid to scare off the teenage boys who think that any woman +30 is like their mother?

@Snug: yeah, I wonder if anyone inside Blizzard gave it as much as a thought? I saw WoW.com's post (after I had written my own) - and they had done the same observation as I had. But they got pretty bad reactions from some commenters.

@Shy: let's agree about that we just don't agree on this.

@Morrighan13: ouch. The more I hear about this, the more black is my view getting. The boooks sounds like interesting reading.

Llyrra said...

Girls/women were not encouraged to pursue the sciences and maths in grade/middle/high school (at least here in the US) until VERY recently (the last ten to fifteen years). The balance is shifting in those fields and will spread.

However, from a pure business/marketing standpoint, Blizzard is unwise not to incorporate the female perspective in the design, development, and promotion of their games since the female player base is growing. There is profit to be made from that and it would only benefit Blizzards pockets and image to realize that now.

Tesh said...

I work in games. My previous job only had a lady at the front desk. The place I'm working at now, a smaller studio, has ladies as artists and designers.

It's a marked difference in corporate culture, and it affects what games we make. For the better in both.

Gary said...

I think the first community manager was Caydiem (Katie M). She quit after about 6 months or so, or "pursued other interests within the company".

You might be able to find videos of her being interviewed still.

Carra said...

GreedyGoblin: 10-20 years ago the computer industry and computers themselves were very much men-only.

Nothing has changed, it's still a male dominated market. I'm a programmer. From those who graduated with me two years ago 3/40 were female. At my work 4/40 are female.

Add to that that hardcore gamers are still dominantly male.

I'd say it's an interest problem. There's just a lot more males interested in programming video games then there are women.

syrana said...

There are women employees, but not necessarily part of the "lead" team that has worked on the Warcraft franchise for so long.

In my CE WotLK, there was a DVD with a lot of behind the scenes interviews and discussion about the creation of WotLK. There was a woman on there (can't remember her name off the top of my head, can only picture her) and she talked a lot about lore and such. So, it's not like they never include women employees in these types of things.

Wolfshead said...

From what I have seen in the video game industry there are not that many women currently employed. Perhaps women for whatever reason don't find making video games that interesting. I agree with Gevlon that it's not sexism, it's more likely that it's just women exercising their choice on what they want to do with their careers.

I really don't blame them if they don't want to be part of an industry where you are often required to work "crunch" time (read: unpaid overtime which can be 16 hours a day).

Another reason is that the kind of video games that Blizzard makes have been primarily directed at male gamers. Therefore it stands to reason that the potential pool of candidates would most likely be male.

However, there are more and more women becoming involved in the industry. Some of the games that my old company used to make were directed at the teen female market and had female designers. For what it's worth, I really enjoyed working with female designers, Q&A and artists and found them to be excellent contributors and team members in every way.

Larísa said...

@Llyrra: I’m probably seeing this from an ethno-centric point of view, expecting other countries to be as advanced when it comes to equality between genders as my own. I forgot that Blizzard is located in another cultural setting. And I think like you that Blizzard would do wise to expose the few female employees they have more than they do, as a marketing strategy.

@Tesh: That’s interesting to hear. I know you don’t write about your job, but if possible I would like to read more about your thoughts on this in a post of your own.

@Gary: I didn’t know about that. They could have had her for an interview then… If they wanted to. All of the interviewed people aren’t currently working with WoW…

@Carra: That could be true about programmers. But all of those interviewed people aren’t programmers! You need graphic designers, art directors, copywriters, a ton of creative people who aren’t technicians. It should only be a matter of time before women break into this field.

@Syrana: Oh, I had the CE dvd too, but didn’t remember that. Must check it out. I think it would have been wise to include that lady on this anniversary site as well, for good PR if nothing else. I’m not the only one who has been reacting. There have been people complaining about it in the community forums as well.

@Wolfshead: Since WoW is supposed to be a ”female friendly” game – and there admittedly ARE a lot of women playing wow, I still find it a bit strange to see the lack of women at Blizzard. A thought come to my mind… let’s say that Jeff Kaplan had been a girl. Do you think that would have scared off some of the potential players of wow? “A game designed by a woman, can’t possible be interesting?”