Blizzard Veteran Leaves Company Following 'Toxic' Appraisal Process

Blizzard Veteran Leaves Company Following 'Toxic' Appraisal Process
Images via Blizzard

Written by 

Lloyd Coombes


24th Jan 2023 09:57

While discussion continues around Microsoft's purchase of Activision Blizzard, the latter is again the subject of controversy following the departure of a senior developer protesting against Blizzard's "stack-ranking" appraisal process.

Brian Birmingham, a veteran developer who was most recently working on World of Warcraft Classic, was the subject of a Bloomberg report (Paywall - thanks, VGC) which alleges the studio system, which requires grading on a curve, would affect bonuses paid out in line with performance.

Report Reveals Blizzard's 'Toxic' Appraisal Process That's Causing More Departures

According to Bloomberg, Birmingham had to lower employee ratings to meet a quota, leading him to resign after seventeen years at Blizzard.

"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's reportedly explained to staff in an email.

"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," he explained.

Could Brian Birmingham Return To Blizzard?

Birmingham is keeping his options over on a return, however, should there be signs that change is possible from within Blizzard.

"If this policy can be reversed, perhaps my Blizzard can still be saved, and if so I would love to continue working there. 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."

Birmingham has taken to social media in recent hours, too, noting that Blizzard employees had "pushed back pretty hard" against the policy in 2021 and he had been led to believe things had changed. 

"The realization that there’s still a minimum quota for 'Developing,' despite our objections and sternly worded letters leads me to believe I was operating under an illusion.

"I hope Blizzard's positive culture can overcome ABK's poison, but it isn’t succeeding in doing that yet," he added, noting that he feels the issues stem from higher levels of the company above Mike Ybarra - the company's current president.

In 2021, Activision Blizzard was sued by the California government over a "frat boy" culture of sexual harassment and unequal pay.

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