Why it took this long to add ethnically diverse player characters to World of Warcraft

"We wanted to do it right."

New World of Warcraft expansion Shadowlands will, finally, allow players to choose characters with ethnic diversity and darker than tanned skin. It's only taken 15 years.

The new customisation options will come as part of a major customisation overhaul for all races, which will allow trolls to have all kinds of body tattoos and the undead to have no exposed bones. But why has ethnic diversity in player characters taken so long?

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I asked Blizzard duo Michael Bybee, senior producer, and Patrick Magruder, lead gameplay engineer, at BlizzCon 2019.

"One of the things that's just a reality of making video games is we have to figure out exactly where we spend our resources," Michael Bybee told me. "We have time that we can spend on characters and art, and we have to make decisions about that.

"What's happened over the years is: we did HD resolution updates to all of the player models a few expansions ago, made them higher resolution, and that was a tremendous amount of resources, and we thought it made absolute sense. What we really didn't want to do is just slap a new skin colour on there and say: 'Yep, done, we've got diversity.'

"Instead what we're doing is we're actually remodelling the faces of these characters to match what might actually make sense for that particular ethnic background. Which takes time - but we wanted to do it right. The biggest piece there is we wanted to make sure this actually made sense in our game."

"He's absolutely right," Patrick Magruder continued. "[We're] recompositing the faces so they reflect the ethnicities. And it's not just for humans: it's for all of the races. We're adding customisation choices across the board. The amount of art- it's just amazing.

"This is actually, frankly, one of my favourite features I'm looking forward to. I'm so, so happy we're putting this in and people are finally able to say, 'That's me,' in the game."

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WOW Shadowlands was announced at BlizzCon 2019. It will, as the name suggests, take us to the Shadowlands, the world of the dead - the place we've been corpse-running in for years. And going there opens up a whole world, literally, of opportunity.

But the feature I'm most intrigued by is the level squash. Blizzard is condensing the level count from 120 down to 60, for all players in the game. There's a lot wrapped up in this and I asked for an explanation, which I'll publish in a separate piece.

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About the author

Robert Purchese

Robert Purchese

Senior Staff Writer

Bertie is senior staff writer and Eurogamer's Poland-and-dragons correspondent. He's part of the furniture here, a friendly chair, and reports on all kinds of things, the stranger the better.

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