The creators of Overwatch are facing a new controversy, this time over a butt.
Blizzard said today it will remove a victory pose from its upcoming shooter Overwatch after receiving feedback from a player who criticized the pose as overly sexualized and unbefitting the character's personality. Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan confirmed the removal on the game's forums, saying the developer will "continue to try to do better."
The removal of the pose in question, which applies to the character Tracer, the closest thing Overwatch has had to a mascot, stemmed from a post on the game's beta feedback forums. A poster by the name of "Fipps" posted a lengthy critique of Tracer's pose, commending Blizzard for creating a "diverse, interesting, and compelling" cast of female heroes, but noting that one Tracer pose in particular seems ill-suited for the character.
"From Mei to Zarya to Widowmaker the female cast reflects a large spectrum of personalities and player fantasies," Fipps wrote. "With that being said, lets talk about Tracer. From a marketing standpoint, she's the star of the show. She's a great hero. When we look at the way she's portrayed in promotional media, lore, and art in game we know a few things about her: She's fast. She's silly. She's kind. She's a good friend. Her body seems to be comprised of about 95% spunk."
Fipps notes that the majority of the artwork and videos for Tracer support those character traits. But her "over the shoulder" victory pose seems out of place.
"What about this pose has anything to do with the character you're building in [Tracer]?" Fipps said. "It's not fun, its not silly, it has nothing to do with being a fast elite killer. It just reduces [Tracer] to another bland female sex symbol."
Fipps argues that that sort of pose is appropriate, from a character standpoint, for another Overwatch hero: the sultry French assassin Widowmaker. In fact, Widowmaker also has a similar "over the shoulder" victory pose, and Blizzard has made no indication her version of the pose will go away. (A handful of male characters, like Hanzo and McCree, also share this pose.)
"[Tracer] isn't a character who is in part defined by flaunting her sexuality," Fipps wrote. "This pose says to the player base, oh we've got all these cool diverse characters, but at any moment we are willing to reduce them to sex symbols to help boost our investment game...
"What I'm asking is that as you continue to add to the [Overwatch] cast and investment elements, you double down on your commitment to create strong female characters. You've been doing a good job so far, but shipping with a [Tracer] pose like this undermines so much of the good you've already done."
Fipps' original post spawned hundreds of responses from other Overwatch players, some of which agreed with the argument and others who vehemently opposed any alteration to Tracer. But one response mattered most — and shut down the thread.
"We'll replace the pose," Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan wrote in the final post of the thread. "We want *everyone* to feel strong and heroic in our community. The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented.
"Apologies and we'll continue to try to do better."
Indeed, Kaplan's response — and Fipps' original criticism — aligns with Blizzard's stated direction for designing characters for Overwatch, as laid out by Chris Metzen, Blizzard's senior vice president of story and franchise development, more than a year ago.
"I think we're clearly in an age where gaming is for everybody," Metzen said at BlizzCon 2014. "We build games for everybody. We want everyone to come and play. Increasingly, people want to feel represented, from all walks of life, boys and girls, everybody. We feel indebted to do our best to honor that. There's a lot of room for growth, but specifically with Overwatch, over the past year we've been very cognizant of ... trying not to over-sexualize the female characters. I don't know that we've over-sexualized the male characters. But it's something that we're very sensitive to."
"We want that to be a part of who we are, what our brand looks like and appears to our community ... So it's something we're very cognizant of. We want girls to feel kick-butt, equally represented."
Unsurprisingly, Blizzard's response to Fipps' concerns about Tracer has upset some Overwatch fans. Some players felt that Blizzard altering Tracer's choice of victory pose represents a threat to the developer's creative freedoms.
"Blizzard has the artistic freedom to create whatever character they desire," a poster by the name ZOAN wrote. "You shouldn't impede their liberties."
Responses outside of Overwatch's beta feedback forums were less cordial. The game's subreddit is currently clogged with heated discussion over the pose's removal, and the inevitable petition to keep said pose is already going strong. While the original criticism from Fipps was measured, thoughtful and thorough, response to that feedback has swung in the other direction, toward hyperbole.
"That thread on the forums is a complete joke and Jeff is wrong in succumbing with such a ridiculous opinion," reads the Reddit thread rallying for a petition against the change.
"Everyone put on your gender neutral grey jumpsuits because nothing says fun like trying to pretend we aren't human," wrote another poster on the Overwatch forums. "This is what happens when people have too much free time and no real problems to worry about."
To Fipps' point, Blizzard has mostly downplayed Tracer's sex appeal from the start. Her official artwork, seen at the top of this post, is modest (her statue is another story, however). She's presented as playful and sweet in Overwatch's debut cinematic, particularly compared to her partner in over-the-shoulder smoldering Widowmaker, who bears her cleavage and arches her back in suggestive poses by default.
Widowmaker on the other hand, gets this shot.
We've seen this type of negative reaction to games in development altering their content a lot recently. Last year, Capcom modified the camera angles on two of Street Fighter 5's animations, one for Cammy's pre-fight introduction and one for R. Mika's butt-slapping Critical Art move. Both alterations placed less emphasis on focusing on the fighters' body parts, and both were met with angry players alleging censorship and capitulation to a puritanical segment of the audience.
"We work very closely with the ESRB to make sure we're a Teen rated franchise, and that's the primary, driving factor," Capcom said in response to Street Fighter 5's changes.
As in Overwatch's case, the furor over Street Fighter 5's changes were loudest from players who wanted to maintain what they considered to be the developer's original vision, without taking player feedback into consideration.
But that's precisely what Overwatch's beta feedback forums was built for: to solicit feedback from players, not just on game balance and gameplay ideas, but also on the values Blizzard itself laid out for the game. Blizzard's decision to modify Tracer is an example of creative freedom; it's the developer listening to a reasonable argument from a player, and exercising its freedom to change its work, even in the face of a louder, angrier reaction.
Update: Game director Jeff Kaplan posted a lengthier statement on the Overwatch forums to expand on Blizzard's decision and the ensuing fallout. Blizzard also re-opened the original forum thread to allow further discussion.
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.