Xbox boss Phil Spencer has denounced the hiring of go-go dancers for Microsoft’s GDC afterparty, calling it “unequivocally wrong”.
Microsoft hired several women to dance at the afterparty, but received complaints about the way they were dressed. From the photos that have surfaced, most of the women appeared to be dressed as something akin to a “sexy schoolgirl”.
Several game developers took to Twitter to express disappointment and anger. Here's a selection:
👎🏼Microsoft sponsors a Women in Games lunch and awards, but then has scantily clad women dancers at their GDC party. NVIDIA does similar. 👎🏼— Lauren Clinnick✨GDC (@laurclinn) March 18, 2016
Those tweets brought the issue to the attention of the higher-ups at Xbox.
"Very disappointed to see this, going to follow up with team," tweeted head of Xbox marketing Aaron Greenberg.
The day after, Phil Spencer wrote an open email to Microsoft that he also published on Xbox Wire.
“These events did not reflect the core values and beliefs of Xbox, where we believe in respect – for the gamer, the medium, the industry and for Microsoft – as something that impacts every single person who loves games as much as we do,” reads the introduction.
Here's the post in full:
How we show up as an organization is incredibly important to me. We want to build and reflect the culture of TEAM XBOX – internally and externally – a culture that each one of us can represent with pride. An inclusive culture has a direct impact on the products and services we deliver and the perception consumers have of the Xbox brand and our company, as a whole.
It has come to my attention that at Xbox-hosted events at GDC this past week, we represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was absolutely not consistent or aligned to our values. That was unequivocally wrong and will not be tolerated. This matter is being handled internally, but let me be very clear – how we represent ourselves as individuals, who we hire and partner with and how we engage with others is a direct reflection of our brand and what we stand for. When we do the opposite, and create an environment that alienates or offends any group, we justly deserve the criticism.
It’s unfortunate that such events could take place in a week where we worked so hard to engage the many different gaming communities in the exact opposite way. I am personally committed to ensuring that diversity and inclusion is central to our everyday business and our core values as a team – inside and outside the company. We need to hold ourselves to higher standards and we will do better in the future.
This is not even the first time scantily-clad dancers have caused controversy at GDC. In 2013, the International Game Developers Association faced similar criticism for its choice of entertainment at a GDC party.
“We deeply regret that the IGDA was involved in this party as we do not condone activities that objectify or demean women or any other group of people. And that happened at this event,” said IGDA Executive Director Kate Edwards at the time.
“The IGDA will always encourage inclusion and diversity at our events. We want to ensure that everyone present feels comfortable because the activities are appropriate and respectful of the diversity of our membership.”
Matt's take: Go-go dancers (and scantily clad women in general) are great. Like, I seriously love ‘em. However, a Microsoft-sponsored GDC after-party isn't the place for them if MS is serious about inclusivity and making everyone feel welcome. Which is claims it is – it said as much at GDC itself. As such, it’s completely unsurprising and understandable that some women at the party (and some men, in all likelihood) felt pretty uncomfortable with Microsoft’s choice of entertainment.
That said, it’s very likely that some people thought having go-go dancers present was completely awesome. It's also very likely that others thought it was a bit weird but kinda shrugged their shoulders, and that others thought it was no big deal one way or the other. So why is this even a story? We’re all adults, right? Who is afraid of a bit of skin? Well, yeah. In isolation, Women Underdressed At Party really isn’t a huge deal, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. There are a number of issues here.
The first: Microsoft is one of the biggest players in the industry and a name even non-gamers are familiar with, so its actions not only send a message to the gaming community, but also to the wider population – whether it likes it or not. At its GDC after-party (an after-party for an event that celebrates all stripes of game and game developer), that message was: “gaming is still a boy’s club”, or perhaps “gaming still hasn’t grown up”.
You may think that’s a bit dramatic, but it leads on to the second issue: gaming has a rather regrettable history when it comes to its treatment of and representation of women both in games and in the industry, and although things are improving, we are not out of the woods just yet. So this is just another small reminder to women that hey, the gaming industry isn’t the greatest place for you. It doesn't take much empathy to realise that this is the case.
That history is one reason why the whole “this wouldn’t be a story if those dancers were men!” argument that has inevitably popped up online is so silly: gaming doesn’t have a history of side-lining and sexualising men. (Yes, men are side-lined and sexualised in some games, but not nearly as often as women are.) Also: I’d argue that it would totally be a story if MS hired scantily-clad men to dance at its after-party, albeit one with a slightly different tone. But anyway, the dancers weren’t men in this instance, so let’s put the hypotheticals to one side and focus on the facts.
Microsoft is free to throw whatever type of party it pleases, I am not disputing that at all. And yes, those made uncomfortable by the dancers could have just gone elsewhere. But what kind of industry does Xbox want to foster? Does it want women to feel comfortable at its events? Remember, this isn’t just some random party, this is Microsoft trying to lure developers to its platform with a few free drinks. Potentially offending a portion of those developers is bad for business at the very least, and for what? So some drunk clients can enjoy ogling women in schoolgirl outfits, while others cringe in the corners or walk out the door? It's just silly. There is a time and a place for these things, but a GDC after-party presents neither.
The quick response from its top brass shows that Xbox knows this, and I think it has responded well in this instance – such entertainment is not a good fit for the Xbox brand. You just have to wonder who at the company thought it was a good idea.