To coincide with the recent release of our first annual ESG report, we discuss some of the diversity and inclusion initiatives being led by passionate individuals and teams across Activision Blizzard.
To celebrate the release of our first Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report, we spoke with Elizabeth Bryce Zavitsanos, Walter Kong, and Andreas Unger of Blizzard Entertainment, and Christine Bigelow of Sledgehammer Games, an Activision studio, about their ongoing efforts to advance diversity and inclusion in our hiring, in our culture, in our games, and in the player experience.
Franchise Talent Advisor, Blizzard Entertainment
“When we think about diverse programs, we think about anyone and everyone.”
When discussing recruitment in gaming, Elizabeth Bryce Zavitsanos considers the changes she’s noticed through the years, as more and more underrepresented minorities and women apply to the industry. “I think that's because of the work that everyone in this industry holistically has done for diversity. That’s where gaming has really had to step up and make some changes,” she says.
In addition to her new role as Talent Advisor for World of Warcraft, Zavitsanos also served until recently as the Director for Global Early Careers at Activision Blizzard, where she focused on feeding emerging talent into essential roles across development, production, and creative.
“We continue to hire more diverse applicants within the early career space. Our current makeup of the intern population is 43% women, and it’s consistently on the rise. For underrepresented minorities, our class is at 20% now.” She adds, “Year-over-year we are becoming a more inclusive program, and we are making sure that we’re building relationships with our targeted historically Black colleges and Latinx schools.”
Zavitsanos looks forward to the work ahead within Blizzard as well as our other franchises—from Call of Duty to Candy Crush—as the early careers space becomes increasingly diversified.
Director of Talent Acquisition, Sledgehammer Games, Activision
“It’s important for a high-profile studio like Sledgehammer Games to lead in the AAA games space, especially relative to diversity and studio hiring.”
Boasting 15 years of industry experience, Christine was brought on by Sledgehammer Games (SHG) in preparation for a studio hiring ramp up. With plans to hire 150-200 employees, she saw an opportunity to dramatically change the diversity makeup of the studio in a short amount of time. Her team partnered with brand marketing to craft content and messaging in support of the studio’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) values.
In partnership with the studio’s internal Employee Resource Group, the recruiting team created a public-facing DE&I destination on the Sledgehammer Games homepage, which didn’t exist a year and a half ago. She adds, “That may seem like a small thing, but it has definitely had an impact.”
Over the past year, SHG has more than doubled the number of women in the studio, from 20 to nearly 60. Bigelow also stresses the need for community partnerships to help find diverse young talent.
“We wanted to figure out which organizations might help us build bridges, build communication, and create access to young people who want to get into the games industry.”
The team partners with Oakland, CA-based Gameheads, an organization that trains diverse young people with the skills they need to break into the industry. Sledgehammer has hired Gameheads students as interns and the recruiting team reaches out to them when there are open positions at the studio. The team also partnered with the National Society of Black Engineers to sponsor a regional Hackathon as part of their fall conference schedule.
“We're excited about the progress we've made with our partnerships and hiring diverse people in the studio, but we're nowhere near done.”
Executive Producer, Hearthstone and Blizzard Entertainment
“I wanted to let folks know that I'm feeling what many of them were feeling…it's okay to be distracted from your daily work when something so big is happening in the world.”
As a leader at Blizzard Entertainment, Walter Kong considers the benefits of a diverse workforce.
“As a philosophy, on the team we value a diverse group of folks because I think that reflects the player base out there and we’ve always felt that there's going to be better solutions and better answers when we have people with different perspectives contributing to the effort.”
As an example, Kong mentions an employee on the team who speaks Korean, Japanese, and Chinese at high levels of fluency. This allows him to work with Blizzard employees across international offices, as well as helping the team to bridge cultural understanding gaps.
In this current environment, amidst great social changes, the pandemic, and so on, Kong and other leaders recognized that it was harder to concentrate on “business as usual”, with so much going on.
“We have team meetings twice a week, and generally we talk about what the focus for the next few days or the next few weeks will be,” he says. “However, last summer we also used some of these stand-ups to just let folks know that if they needed to talk about their feelings around specific social issues, there was a space for it, and we’d lend an ear.”
Kong discussed some of his own experiences with racism regarding his early teens when he and his brother were the only Chinese students at their school. “That was something that I think was appreciated by the team,” he says. “I didn't really know what to say about solutions to the challenging social issues, but I felt that it was okay to not have the answers. It was better to be able to talk about feelings than to stay silent.”
Senior Product Manager of Player Interactions and Trust, Blizzard Entertainment
“It’s a never-ending task to make our algorithms better.”
To help foster a safer social experience for our users, Andreas Unger is focused on detecting, preventing, and discouraging disruptive player behavior in-game, as well as rewarding good behavior. Unger has found that by steering people in a positive direction, it’s possible to avoid disruptive behavior before it even happens.
“Our biggest visible example of rewarding good behavior is the endorsement system in Overwatch,” he says. “At the end of the match, you can vote for three players in a positive way. If you get a good endorsement level, you get in-game rewards and things like that…it helps.”
When it comes to detecting and discouraging bad behavior in games with millions of players, AI helps Unger and his team find instances of disruptive behavior. The team doesn’t take action without some kind of human input, but their tools allow them to find the players who are being disruptive, faster, and with greater accuracy, even taking the context of the conversation into account.
In addition to the data scientists and software engineers building the AI, Unger's team also includes a behavioral scientist, Natasha Miller, who works to understand the underlying behavioral reasons for disruptive behavior, and partners with game designers to ensure systems encourage pro-social behaviors.
Unger adds, “Natasha makes sure that all of our learnings from our live games and behavioral science are put into the game design as early as possible. We’re proud of the systems we have implemented so far and are always working on the next big thing.”
Representation matters. Thanks for reading.
Check out our recently published Accessibility article, and stay tuned for more.