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Blizzard terminates WoW Classic co-lead over protest against employee ranking policy

Brian Birmingham was forced to lower a colleague's ranking from 'successful' to 'developing' to fill a quota

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A Blizzard manager has been fired following a dispute with the company over its employee evaluation system.

World of Warcraft Classic's co-lead developer Brian Birmingham confirmed he no longer works at Blizzard via Twitter, following a Bloomberg report that he was terminated after refusing to lower an employee's ranking.

According to the site, Blizzard introduced a stack ranking system in 2021, whereby staff are ranked on their performance – but managers are expected to give the lowest status, 'Developing,' to around 5% of their team members.

A 'Developing' rating can lower an employee's profit-sharing bonus and may hamper their prospects of pay rises and promotions.

In an email to staff, reviewed by Bloomberg, Birmingham expressed frustration over this system. He indicated that the email was authentic via Twitter, but emphasised that he was not the one who provided it to the publication.

In the email, he added that while he and other WoW managers had managed to avoid filling quotas in previous years, he was recently forced to lower an employee's ranking from 'Successful' to 'Developing' in order to meet that 5% expectation.

“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.

“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 then added that if the policy was not reversed, he would leave Blizzard. HR reportedly then called him to confirm his resignation and he told them he was considering it. He also is said to have refused to work until the policy was retracted, after which he was terminated.

A Blizzard spokesperson told Bloomberg the evaluation system was designed to "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."

The spokesperson also emphasised that multiple managers are involved in the process, and conversations with them also impacts whether rankings move up or down.

GamesIndustry.biz has reached out to Activision Blizzard for more information and comment.

Following the publication of the report, Birmingham wrote a Twitter thread sharing more of his thoughts on the matter, emphasising that he believes the stack ranking policy is a decision by parent company ABK rather than Blizzard itself, and that he hopes to return to Blizzard so he can fight this policy.

"I can't participate in a policy that lets ABK steal money from deserving employees," he wrote, "and I can't be made to lie about it either."

Author
James Batchelor avatar

James Batchelor

Editor-in-Chief

James Batchelor is Editor-in-Chief at GamesIndustry.biz. He is based in Essex and has been a B2B games journalist since 2006