When I was at Pax East one year (2012?), I got a chance to ask a question about the art in Avacyn Restored. The question I asked was along the lines of “what are you planning to do about the racial and gender imbalance in the artwork of recent sets,” referring of course to how creative decided the “good guys” should be white, with the human subtype, and pictured as white people in most of the card art. Someone high up in the Magic hierarchy (I want to say the creative director?) answered, basically, that they don’t give direction about race to their artists, and any imbalance in the artwork is due to artist bias.


It was an epic pass of the buck; they do have that control! They absolutely have the power to tell creative to include more people of color in their artwork, to have a better balance of men and women, and to generally make the Magic multiverse a more diverse and inclusive place. Moreover, they’re the ONLY people in that position. Who else could be?


Because at the end of the day, it’s not particularly hard to make your settings more diverse… but it is work, and once again we’re left with the very real sense that it’s work that Wizards of the Coast is uninterested in getting done.


No? Doubt the truth of my words? Well, Wizards just handed us a rather big list of evidence in Magic 2015: the list of guest designers they got to add cards to this upcoming set.


George Fan: designer of Plants vs Zombies

Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins: Gabe and Tycho, creators of Penny Arcade

Markus Persson: “Notch,” creator of Minecraft and founder of Mojang

Richard Garriot: “Lord British,” creator of the Ultima series

David Sirlin: designer on Super Street Figher II Turbo HD Remix, Yomi

Rob Pardo: chief creative officer at Blizzard, lead designer of World of Warcraft

Isaiah Cartwright: lead game designer for Guild Wars 2

Justin Gary: designer of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer and Solforge

Stone Librande: lead designer at Riot Games, designer of Diablo 3, creative director of SimCity

Brian Fargo: founder and CEO of inXile Entertainment, director of Bard’s Tale, Wasteland, executive producer of Fallout

Mike Neumann: Gearbox Software, creative director on Borderlands

James Ernest: owner and lead designer for Cheapass Games, designer of Kill Doctor Lucky

Edmund McMillen: indie designer of Super Meat Boy, featured in Indie Game: The Movie

Brad Muir: game designer at Double Fine Productions leading Massive Chalice, project lead onIron Brigade


Why, there isn’t a woman on that entire list! Apparently, MaRo’s justification for this is that they asked some other people (although he won’t say who), and this just happens to be the potential designers who responded. Which is bullshit. If you care about these issues, you don’t take no for an answer. You keep asking people, and then, if you can’t find anyone better, you make someone you employ do it. You make someone like Felicia Day, who plays Chandra, Helene Bergerot, who deals with your player base, or even Alexis Janson, a former Great Designer Search winner, design the card. It would be better to have people grumbling that you had to go in house for diversity than it is to have people yelling that you didn’t even care enough about diversity to do that.


And you can rinse and repeat for race as well, since having a single Asian dude doesn’t make up for the otherwise staggering number of white guys. I get that the gaming industry tends to be like 90% white/Asian, and like 70% male, but that’s not the demographic breakdown of your potential consumer base. And when you draw attention to this lack of diversity so publicly, without bothering to think about how it will play, you’re making a grave mistake.


I mean, look at these people! I’m 30, firmly in the older half of their demographic, and the first Ultima game was released before I was born. I, like many people in my age cohort, played my first MMO when World of Warcraft came out. So as far as most of their player base is concerned, Richard Garriot is just some guy. Same with James Earnest, whose “business”, Cheapass Games, started in 1995 (before many magic players were born, sadly), and spent from 2007 to 2011 in hibernation because no one (other than hardcore board game nerds) wants board games where you have to go to the hassle of finding pieces every time you play. Brad Muir, famous for being a cog at an unsuccessful game company (their “hits” are Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, so…), is basically the head of a kickstarter. Not the company, just a project on that website. Hell, David Sirlin’s big credit is for the reskin of a previously created game! And as for Brian Fargo, well, have you ever played Bard’s Tale? Because I think it’s safe to say your average Magic player won’t be able to say yes to that question.


When we were doing the M15 spoiler talk, Matt kept being shocked that I knew who these designers were. And, honestly, I didn’t! I had to look almost all of them up. Most of these people just aren’t famous. They aren’t even nerd famous. They are friends of people at Wizards, though, and I think someone mistook that for relevance. There are only three “people” who are truly notable in this list, and that’s Notch, the guy behind World of Warcraft, and Penny Arcade. And Penny Arcade is it’s own special problem.


Here’s the deal with Penny Arcade, since it’s probably news to some. I wrote out a whole breakdown of those issues, but honestly it’s just easier for you to read the link. Point is, Penny Arcade is not a friend to women, and it makes it worse that they did give a card to Penny Arcade. Not to Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, mind you… that might be how they’re presented in the announcement, but they’re not the ones on the card. The card says “designed by Penny Arcade,” which is its own sort of problematic. For better or worse Penny Arcade managed to indelibly mark themselves with the stain of rape culture over the past couple of years. And they get a card! One of my co-writers pointed out that the presence of them on the list of guest designers might even have had some causal relationship with why women would opt out from this promotion. Which, again, makes me think Wizards is either incompetent or utterly indifferent to these things. I’m not sure which one is better.


Look, if it was just an issue of there being no women, maybe that’s excusable. If it was just an issue of it being 90% white people contributing cards, maybe that’s excusable. If it were just the presence of Penny Arcade, but everything else was peachy, that would be fucking excusable. But to hit all three of those things? Ridiculous.


I am legitimately worried for the leadership at Wizards right now. I know, this comes off as concern trolling, but I’m really on Wizards’ side here! I love this game so much that I write an unpaid column weekly about it. I play Magic multiple times every week. I’m a super fan, and I’m worried. Wizards is in danger of following DC Comics into a death spiral. Like DC, they’ve shown a worrying tendency lately of doubling down on what they think is their core demographic, a group of people who look suspiciously like the people now working at the company. And that’s a self-marginalizing business strategy.


An over-reliance on your core consumer is dangerous, particularly when that core customer group is white boys. Shockingly, there’s not a lot of growth potential in the white boy market. That market is saturated! To grow further, they need to be targeting new white boys (youth) and people who are not white boys (people of color and white women). And if the list of guest designers in M15 is anything to judge them by, and it is, they don’t see how a list of aging game developers with no women and minimal diversity is going to play to those demos.


Spoiler alert: it plays poorly. If they do it again, those names need to be a better balanced list of people who are real celebrities of one stripe or another. Fewer Isiah Cartwrights and Edmund McMillans, and more Wil Wheatons and Felicia Days. I’m not asking for a ton of diversity; white dudes aren’t going anywhere in our society, and there are still plenty of notable ones out there that make the place more welcoming for the rest of us. But have some. The only notable thing about this list of dudes is their demographic failures. It’s a mistake. A major one. And Wizards should take a transparent look at what caused this failure, and then apologize for it. More publicly than on MaRo’s Tumblr.


Wizards can be better than this.


Jess Stirba is fucking outraged.

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