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WoW Classic co-lead departs Blizzard over bell-curve employee ranking system

After being asked to give a low score to an employee they felt didn't deserve it, a co-lead developer on World of Warcraft Classic has departed Blizzard in protest.

Blizzard Entertaiment

As reported by Bloomberg, a co-lead developer on World of Warcraft Classic at Blizzard has left the company after refusing to give a low evaluation score to an employee they felt didn’t deserve it. The employee ranking system at Blizzard, known as stack ranking, was first implemented back in 2021 and has employees graded on a bell curve.

Because of this curve, managers are expected to give poor rankings to approximately 5 percent of their employees as explained to Bloomberg by a person familiar with the matter. Should managers fail to meet this quota, they risk their profit-sharing bonus money being lowered and being shut out from receiving raises.

Now, this controversial employee ranking system has caused one of World of Warcraft Classic’s co-lead developers, Brian Birmingham, to depart in protest. More specifically, Birmingham wrote an email to staff last week expressing his frustration with Blizzard’s employee ranking system, noting he and other managers had “been able to circumvent or skip filling the quota for the last two years.”

Promo image for Wrath of the Lich King Classic Secret of Ulduar
© Blizzard Entertainment

Birmingham went on to share in his email how he was recently asked to lower an employee’s rating in order to hit the aforementioned system quota; something he staunchly disagreed with. As a result, Birmingham took action and has stepped away from Blizzard in protest, refusing to work at the company until they remove the stack ranking policy.

“If this policy can be reversed, perhaps my Blizzard can still be saved, and if so I would love to continue working there,” Birmingham explains in the email. “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.”

After word got around about Birmingham’s resignation, he says he was called by an HR representative to confirm the resignation. He told them he was considering it, and that he wouldn’t work until the policy was pulled. Following this, Birmingham’s employment was terminated, according to his email. Other interesting elements in Birmingham’s email as shared by Bloomberg include mention of various directors and leads on the World of Warcraft team asking if they could be given lower ranks instead of their employees, and being told by management that this wasn’t an option.

Promo image for Wrath of the Lich King Classic Secret of Ulduar
© Blizzard Entertainment

Birmingham also remarks in his email that he’d been asked to keep the employee ranking process a secret.

In response to this, a Blizzard spokesperson told Bloomberg that the employee ranking system was designed to “facilitate excellence in performance” while ensuring that employees “who don’t meet performance expectations receive more honest feedback, differentiated compensation, and a plan on how best to improve their own performance.”

For more on the matter, be sure to read through the full report on Bloomberg. And for more on Blizzard, check out some of our previous coverage as well including NetEase tearing down a World of Warcraft statue in China following a recent rift with Blizzard, and Google and Nvidia expressing concerns to the FTC over Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

Senior Editor

Morgan is a writer from the frozen wastelands of Maine who enjoys metal music, kpop, horror, and indie games. They're also a Tetris fanatic who's fiercely competitive in games like Tetris 99... and all games in general. But mostly Tetris. You can follow Morgan on Twitter @Author_MShaver.

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