Last week there was a lot of talk about diversity as it pertained to negative sales for publisher Marvel Comics. Yet you talk to someone like Jeff Kaplan of Blizzard Entertainment, and diversity has been the driving force behind their 25 million player strong game Overwatch. Kaplan was speaking to Kotaku shortly after the Marvel story broke and was asked about the diverse characters in the game and fan reaction.
"I think the way that we've embraced all sorts of walks of life – and sort of looked at our planet in a very positive and inspirational way. Like we've really tried to say to people 'Isn't this world that we live in cool? Aren't all these people cool and they're all very different from one another? Even the ones that look similar have different back stories.' "I think it's been nothing but a positive for us, and I think it's been one of the things that fans have responded to the most and embraced the most, so in no way do I think any part of having a diverse cast of characters is a negative, it's been nothing but a positive."
Recently the company released a webcomic that showed that Tracer, the character on the cover of the game, had a girlfriend. Kaplan discussed the reaction he saw.
"From my perspective, when we revealed that Tracer had a girlfriend, it was overwhelmingly positive – ranging from overwhelmingly so, we got a lot of fan mail that said 'Hey, I'm an LGBT teen in high school right now, and it's very hard for me and knowing that the character on the front of the box of my favourite game and the one that all my friends play is like me made me feel better about myself.'
"We got some really positive responses like that, and it goes all the way down to… the way that I like to talk about it is the phrase that I use is 'Normal is Normal' – and I think a lot of people were just like 'Oh, OK. She has a girlfriend? Great. I have lots of friends who have girlfriends and lots of friends who have boyfriends and it's just a normal part of life.' We didn't actually see a lot of negativity. So my perspective was that it was overwhelmingly positive."
"Seriously I was blown away at the fan art and cosplay the day… within 24 hours of the comic being out, how much… I don't even know how artists can work this fast! Literally draw that fast – amazing cosplay of Tracer and Emily – a cosplay! Fully dressed up, photoshoot, amazing fan art, I'm like 'wow,' it almost seemed like a celebration to me when it happened."
So what has Blizzard struck gold while Marvel claims to be suffering from their diversity outreach? Maybe the answer is in the audience and video games fans are more diverse than comic readers? Or maybe its because each of the Overwatch characters are new and fans except them for that while Marvel isn't creating new characters, just putting new people into old costumes.