After almost 17 years at Blizzard, lead software engineer Brian Birmingham is leaving the company. He worked on Hearthstone, Warcraft 3: Reforged, among others, and worked on every Warcraft expansion. Most recently, he helped launch World of Warcraft Classic and served as the technical lead for the ongoing game.
His termination came under protest that he did not want to implement the controversial stack ranking system (vitality curve). This performance management practice requires employees to be ranked and evaluated against one another by management.
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The system has long been a controversial practice due to its negative impact on employee morale and the potential for bias and discrimination. Investigative journalist Jason Schreier made public Birmingham’s resignation from Bloomberg. Interestingly, Schreier quotes emails from Birmingham, which Birmingham, however, never claims to have sent. On Twitter, however, the former lead software engineer for Blizzard confirms many of the theses from the Bloomberg article and reveals in a series of tweets how the management of ABK (Activision Blizzard King) is harming the company.
“I hope Blizzard’s positive culture can overcome ABK’s poison”
No matter how well the team works, under the rules of the Stack Ranking System, some employees must be rated worse than they really are in order to be able to depict the team’s performance as a bell curve at the end. However, this made-up evaluation curve has real implications for employees. Those who perform worse in this random evaluation receive fewer bonus payments and have a harder time climbing their position. According to Birmingham, this system was introduced by Activision and King at Blizzard.
On Twitter, the ex-Blizzard dev expresses his displeasure with this system, which Blizzard was forced to do. After his resignation, he takes the opportunity to clarify what many have done before him: the negative impact of Activision on Blizzard. He’s hoping that the positive community at Blizzard can overcome ABK’s poison, but it’s not doing it yet.
Released two WoW expansions too early under pressure
Among other things, Birmingham explains that under pressure from ABK, the last two WoW expansions (Shadowlands and Dragonflight) had to be released early. This was noticeable in Shadowlands with the immature pact system and is also noticeable in the otherwise positively rated Dragonflight expansion, which has more bugs than all other WoW addons before.
That would explain the many bugs and the ever shorter test phases for WoW extensions and content updates. In the recent past, content for WoW was created with ever longer intervals and either the same or less content per patch. It is therefore questionable how long the WoW developers would have taken their time if they had not had to publish the extensions earlier due to pressure “from above”.
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Quelle | Bloomberg, WoWHead