A Microsoft Xbox-hosted party during the 2016 Game Developers Conference last night featured women dancing on platforms, rightfully angering many attendees — both men and women — and reminding many in the industry that even an often progressive company like Microsoft can contribute to the video game industry's long history of sexual objectification of women at professional events.
What makes this situation all the more jarring is that it took place the very same day as Microsoft's well-received 16th annual (!) Women in Gaming Luncheon. Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, sent an email to the entire Xbox team, and published it on the Xbox Wire blog, taking responsibility for the event and calling it "unequivocally wrong." Here's Spencer's letter in full:
How we show up as an organization is incredibly important to me. We want to build and reflect the culture of team Xbox - internally and externally - a culture that each one of us can represent with pride. An inclusive culture has a direct impact on the products and services we deliver and the perception consumers have of the Xbox brand and our company, as a whole.
It has come to my attention that at Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was absolutely not consistent or aligned to our values. That was unequivocally wrong and will not be tolerated. This matter is being handled internally, but let me be very clear - how we represent ourselves as individuals, who we hire and partner with and how we engage with others is a direct reflection of our brand and what we stand for. When we do the opposite, and create an environment that alienates or offends any group, we justly deserve the criticism.
It's unfortunate that such events could take place in a week where we worked so hard to engage the many different gaming communities in the exact opposite way. I am personally committed to ensuring that diversity and inclusion is central to our everyday business and our core values as a team – inside and outside the company. We need to hold ourselves to higher standards and we will do better in the future.
In a separate comment emailed to Polygon, Spencer repeated some of this message, and acknowledged, "I know we disappointed many people."
At Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was not consistent or aligned to our values. It was unequivocally wrong and will not be tolerated. I know we disappointed many people and I’m personally committed to holding ourselves to higher standards. We must ensure that diversity and inclusion are central to our everyday business and core values. We will do better in the future.
Aaron Greenberg, head of games marketing for Xbox, said on Twitter that he was "very disappointed" to see images of the dancers.
The event — clearly branded as a Microsoft-hosted party in the invitation obtained by Polygon below — took place at 1015 Folsom, a nightclub located about a half mile from GDC, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. PT. Attendees picked up their passes from Microsoft's Business Suite in the Moscone Center complex where GDC takes place, leaving little question as to the official sanction of the software and gaming giant in the proceedings.
The image below from an attendee offers a glimpse of the party's atmosphere, and of the scantily clad dancers performing there.
Three years ago, the International Game Developers Association found itself in a similar situation in which scantily clad female dancers were hired to perform at a GDC party. The event prompted members, including designer Brenda Romero — then co-chair of the IGDA Women in Games special interest group — to resign from the organization.