Respawn Boss Vince Zampella Speaks Out On Trans Rights, Even As EA Refuses [Update]

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Vince Zampella presents Titanfall 2 on stage at E3 2016.
Vince Zampella presents Titanfall 2 on stage at E3 2016.

Vince Zampella, Respawn Entertainment general manager and head of some of Electronic Arts’s biggest franchises, spoke out on Twitter in defense of transgender rights ahead of the start of Pride Month on June 1. Kotaku has learned that this rare display comes after an internal roundtable discussion earlier today, in which executives at the FIFA maker once again faced questions from employees about its relative silence on these issues.

“Trans rights are human rights,” Zampella tweeted on Tuesday. “It is as simple as that. Respawn has grown on the principles of diversity, equality, and inclusion and strives to uphold those values. Let’s be better humans.”

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Zampella was previously the co-founder of Call of Duty studio Infinity Ward and is currently head of the EA studios at the nexus of Apex Legends, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, and Battlefield. The publisher has bet big on his vision and his leadership, which now includes speaking up on pressing social issues where his employer has stayed quiet. Many developers, including some at EA, thanked Zampella in the tweet’s comments for voicing his support. Zampella did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lyndsay Pearson, franchise creative VP for The Sims at Maxis, also weighed in. “Women’s rights are human rights,” the 20-year EA veteran wrote on Twitter. “Transgender rights are human rights. Maxis and The Sims value diversity, equality and inclusion in our core and we strive to bring this to life through our teams and our work. We see you and we stand with you.” The Sims 4's most recent update added custom pronouns, and in recent years the series has made a concerted effort to be more inclusive.

The game industry veterans’ statements came after a meeting earlier in the day on LGTBQ+ issues helmed by EA chief DEI officer, Asha George, and chief operating officer for EA studios, Kate Kellogg, according to two sources familiar with the event. There, they once again faced questions from employees about why EA wouldn’t take a public stand on topics like transgender rights and the right to abortion.

Sources said some staff were once again dismayed with the lack of clear answers from management, whose response again appeared to lean on the idea of abortion and trans rights lacking company-wide support. Kellogg and George effectively echoed chief people officer Mala Singh’s remarks from an internal company town hall a week ago.

“These are incredibly complex personal issues and part of being an inclusive company means being inclusive of all those points of view,” she said at the time, without specifying what the other “points of view” on issues like transgender rights might be. Sources said Kellogg and George followed her lead in trying to focus the conversation instead on what EA can do to support the individual healthcare needs of its employees amid the ongoing right-wing culture wars and attacks on human rights.

The Battlefield publisher had previously sponsored a Dallas Morning News ad alongside dozens of other companies condemning a grossly transphobic government order in Texas. “We’re proud to join the Human Rights Campaign, along with others in the business community, to stand against discriminatory laws and policies being introduced in Texas, Florida, and other states across the country,” it said in a statement to press at the time.

However, neither that sentiment nor Zampella’s has ever been shared on EA’s website or social media channels. That’s in stark contrast to studios like Bungie and Certain Affinity, which haven’t backed down from taking a stand on polarizing issues other game companies have apparently deemed too controversial to weigh in on. It’s not yet clear how EA in particular will reconcile its current silence with its 2022 Pride Month activities.

“Pride is not about ignoring this harsh reality in order to celebrate, Pride is and always has been a celebration in the face of hate,” the publisher wrote in a blog post at the start of Pride Month last year. “We know we can do more for our LGBTQIA+ employees and players.”

Update 5/31/2022 7:41 p.m. ET: An EA spokesperson commented, “EA’s support for the LGBTQIA+ and trans communities is long-standing and enduring, and has been shared widely and publicly,” and supplied a link to the above mentioned Pride 2021 EA blog post.

Update 5/31/2022 9:55 p.m. ET: Added a new tweet by the head of franchise creative development for The Sims.

Update 6/1/2022 8:19 p.m. ET: Following the start of Pride Month, Respawn’s studio account tweeted its support for trans rights, writing, “Inaction is a choice and hurts those we care for.”

Dragon Age studio BioWare also tweeted a statement on behalf of general manager Gary McKay. “BioWare supports trans rights, women’s rights, and bodily autonomy,” he wrote. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are a cornerstone for our studio and games. We don’t consider these human rights up for debate.”

The tweets came after EA shared internal guidelines for Pride messaging telling teams it couldn’t be “political in nature,” according to a report by GamesIndustry.biz. The company also reportedly does not plan to adopt a rainbow logo for the month as it has in years past. EA did not respond to follow-up requests for comment.

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