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World of Warcraft lead departs Blizzard in protest at forced employee ranking policy

"I can't participate in a policy that lets ABK steal money from deserving employees."

World of Warcraft Classic lead Brian Birmingham has parted ways with Blizzard after voicing concerns about the company's "forced" stack-ranking policy.

The policy in question reportedly states managers at Blizzard are obliged to give a low "Developing" rating - something that could impact an employees financial status and future promotion potential - to a certain percentage of its staff in order to meet a quota laid out by parent company Activision Blizzard.

In an email seen by Bloomberg, Birmingham stated when Blizzard team leads questioned this policy, the "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".

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Frustrated at this reasoning from the directors, Birmingham went on to observe that this sort of policy is unhealthy for the workplace.

"[It] 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 wrote.

Reportedly, several Blizzard leads tried to circumnavigate this policy by giving themselves the mandated "Developing" rating, rather than to their team members. However, this was apparently not an option.

Additionally, Birmingham's email stated that the leads were asked to keep this policy "confidential" as it was part of an "ongoing discussion" and the company didn't "want Activision executives to make things even worse".

"That threat of retaliation cannot be allowed to motivate our actions," Birmingham wrote. "Even if that's legal, it's certainly not ethical, and I cannot support it."

In a recent thread addressing Bloomberg's article, Birmingham stated the team at Blizzard "pushed back" on this policy in 2021.

"I truly believed we had reversed the Developing-quota policy," he reflected. "When the sexual harassment lawsuit was revealed later that year, we saw some change following that as well, and it felt like we could make an impact on [Activision Blizzard] policies."

He continued: "The realisation 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 [Activision Blizzard]'s poison, but it isn't succeeding in doing that yet."

Birmingham stated the Blizzard he worked for is now being "torn apart by the executives" at Activision Blizzard, which he branded a "problematic parent company".

Birmingham closed his thread by reiterating he "can't participate in a policy that lets ABK steal money from deserving employees and [he] can't be made to lie about it either."

Birmingham no longer works for Blizzard, however has expressed he would "return if allowed to" and then keep "[fighting] the stack-ranking policy from inside."

Eurogamer has reached out to Blizzard for further comment.