It's been a bad year or so for women in Blizzard games, for a lot of reasons. At BlizzCon, Warlords of Draenor was described as a "boy's trip" that Aggra wasn't invited to -- which fits with the Warlords marketing material that shows almost exclusively male characters (a few women appear in the trailer and one in the art, but they're unnamed). But Warlords isn't the only concern: the company's April Fool's joke came off as tone-deaf to many, Heroes of the Storm uses female characters as eye candy (which game director Dustin Browder argued didn't send a message), and, recently, Rob Pardo stated in a talk at MIT that diversity wasn't really a value for the company.
Though Warlords has come a long way since BlizzCon and both Browder and Pardo apologized, the fact that any of these things were an issue in the first place is off-putting -- at best -- to female gamers. Even long-term Blizzard fans have started to wonder why they're continuing to play in a gaming world that didn't accept women amongst the cast of heroes. It's from this place of disappointment that Starcunning wrote to Mike Morhaime, explaining why she's walked away from Blizzard's games. The surprise, however, is that Mike Morhaime responded stressing Blizzard's commitment to listening to the playerbase and building games that are fun for everyone.
This is the sort of statement Blizzard's female audience has been hoping to hear -- though with Blizzard's recent messaging to the contrary, it wasn't something I was holding my breath for. However, will Morhaime saying all the right things translate to Blizzard's games? We still have some waiting in store before Warlords of Draenor comes out, but the beta (and recently datamined info) is already looking better than it was at BlizzCon, with hints that we'll see Aggra and that Yrel is more than just a sexist stereotype. File me under "cautiously optimistic."
Beyond diversity, the other point this exchange stresses is the importance of feedback to Blizzard's creative process: Morhaime states more than once that the company takes feedback seriously.
But one of the things that makes this kind of communication possible is constructive feedback, and both the original letter and Morhaime's response were written clearly and without offering any insult to the reader. It's not always something that the community is good at, but when we can express disagreement without leaning on anger or insults, it can foster understanding -- and even change.
So keep talking, Warcraft community: Blizzard's listening.