World of Warcraft is about to die – by which I of course mean that its next expansion, Shadowlands, is sending everybody to Azeroth’s afterlife for another day in the fantastical, boar-filled office of questing and looting. But while life after death is probably the most standout new feature, the expansion will also add a suite of new character customisation options, including skin tones and hair types that correspond to multiple human ethnicities.
Previously, WoW’s selection of customisation options for various races – human and otherwise – was limited, to say the least. Shadowlands, however, will broaden the palette with which players can paint people to life by adding things like warpaints for trolls and dwarves, different flesh options for undead, and a broader range of human skin tones and facial features. In the case of the latter, especially, it’s hard not to wonder why Blizzard didn’t add these features to the game sooner.
During a BlizzCon interview, executive producer John Hight explained that it came down to technology issues – WoW is 15 years old, after all – and good old-fashioned analysis paralysis.
“Why not sooner is largely technological,” Hight told Kotaku. “It’s taken us a while. We’ve had to modify the character models... We are limited. We don’t have the infinite ability to pull every piece of somebody’s geometry.”
When approaching this problem, however, Hight and the team encountered another issue: If humans could have the features of, say, someone of African or Asian descent, why not other humanoid characters, too? After a time, the WoW team realised they were overcomplicating things.
“As with all things Blizzard, we started getting carried away with ‘How do we extend races, what we think of as different ethnicities within human races, to all these made-up races in WoW?’” Hight said. “I think we were getting a little too carried away with that, so it was like ‘No, we can make this a lot simpler.’ There are some races that are either directly human or they’re close enough to human that we can do this without cultural appropriation or doing something that would backfire on us.”
Hight said that he and the team worked with Blizzard’s internal diversity group to choose the races and features they ultimately decided to go with. The hope is that people will be able to “identify with [them] and hopefully feel like it’s cool.”