Lead developer leaves Blizzard over new stack-ranking system

by Danny Craig  · 
Lead developer leaves Blizzard over new stack-ranking system
Blizzard Entertainment

Classic World of Warcraft (WoW) lead software engineer Brian Birmingham has quit his position at Blizzard Entertainment in protest at a newly introduced employee ranking system.

The details:

  • Birmingham, WoW's lead software engineer, announced on Twitter that he was leaving the company after 17 years due to a new stack-ranking policy put in place. The policy requires managers to grade employees' performance, and managers at Blizzard are required to give around 5% of their employees low ratings.
  • According to a Bloomberg report, Birmingham was instructed to reduce an employee's rating from "successful" to "developing," which would lower the employee's chances of receiving a bonus as well as a future promotion. Bloomberg reportedly obtained an email sent by the former Blizzard lead that stated, "If this policy cannot be reversed, then the Blizzard Entertainment I want to work for no longer exists, and I'll have to find somewhere else to work," followed by "If this policy can be reversed, perhaps my Blizzard can still be saved, and if so, I would love to continue working there.”
  • Birmingham also made clear in the email that senior Blizzard employees did not agree with the system and that those at the top were behind the move. "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," the email continued. "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 responded to Bloomberg's report on Twitter, stating that he believes the quotes from the email were "accurate," though he did not provide the email itself. He also doubled down on his email statement, stating that the executives who made the decision are part of parent company Activision-Blizzard King (ABK) and that the "toxic" policy was imposed on Blizzard in order for all three companies to use the same appraisal system.

Other notable Activision-Blizzard King news:

Still interested in working at Blizzard despite the recent news? You can find open positions at the studio here.