Classic WoW Tech Lead Brian Birmingham Departs Blizzard Under Protest
Classic WoW technical lead developer Brian Birmingham has left Blizzard Entertainment under protest, after refusing to give out an undeservedly low employee evaluation in order to fill competitive stack ranking quotas required by executive leadership. As
reported by Bloomberg
, Blizzard implemented the stack ranking system in 2021, which requires a certain number of employees to be given low reviews in order to create a bell curve, though managers like Birmingham argue that it creates unhealthy competition and erodes trust between team members.
Update: Brian Birmingham has added further detail in an extensive Twitter thread, which has been highlighted below.
In an internal staff email reported by Bloomberg, Birmingham expressed his frustration, writing that the quotas were often ignored, but that he was now being forced to lower an employee's evaluation from
, a change which affects their profit-sharing and can have an adverse effect on their likelihood for future promotion.
“When team leads asked why we had to do this, World of Warcraft directors explained that while they did not agree, the reasons given by executive leadership were that it was important to squeeze the bottom-most performers as a way to make sure everybody continues to grow,” Birmingham wrote in the email, which was reviewed by Bloomberg. “This sort of policy encourages competition between employees, sabotage of one another’s work, a desire for people to find low-performing teams that they can be the best-performing worker on, and ultimately erodes trust and destroys creativity.”
Birmingham wrote that he refused to work at Blizzard until the company removed this stack ranking policy. “If this policy can be reversed, perhaps my Blizzard can still be saved, and if so I would love to continue working there,” Birmingham wrote. “If this policy cannot be reversed, then the Blizzard Entertainment I want to work for doesn’t exist anymore, and I’ll have to find somewhere else to work.”
A long time developer at Blizzard, Birmingham joined the company in 2006, receiving developer credits on every game from Hearthstone to Warcraft III: Reforged and every Warcraft expansion to date, most recently helping to launch World of Warcraft Classic and serving as technical lead for the ongoing game. In a
lengthy Twitter thread
explaining his position as
the Classic leads, he detailed his role as a people manager, with a responsibility to foster a good working environment among his team - something which his email opined was not being fulfilled by a stack ranking system which pits employees against one another.
As relayed by Bloomberg, Birmingham also shared his intent to resign, telling HR he would not work until the policy was retracted, but was then terminated. A Blizzard spokesperson said the company's employee evaluation process was designed to facilitate "excellence in performance" and "ensure employees who don't meet performance expectations receive more honest feedback, differentiated compensation, and a plan on how best to improve their own performance." Some managers appear to disagree with that idea, however, going so far as to ask if they could be given "developing" ranks to fill quotas instead of their employees, but being denied.
Update from Brian Birmingham
Following the release of the story by Bloomberg, Brian Birmingham added further context in an
extensive Twitter thread
. Several of the tweets are highlighted below, with Brian stating emphatically that the policy originated from Activision Blizzard, the parent company above Blizzard Entertainment CEO Mike Ybarra, going so far as to label their oversight as problematic, while still expressing faith in his former colleagues working at Blizzard.
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