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Blizzard Lead Leaves Company Due to 'Stack-Ranking Policy' for Employees

Blizzard Lead Leaves Company Due to 'Stack-Ranking Policy' for Employees - News

by William D'Angelo , posted on 24 January 2023 / 2,604 Views

Brian Birmingham, the World of Warcraft Classic lead and 17 year veteran at Blizzard, has left the company due to its "stack-ranking policy" of evaluating staff.

This method requires managers to rate its staff on a curve, which means they have to give about five percent of employees a low score no matter what, according to a report from Bloomberg. These employees would miss out on profit-sharing bonuses and will less likely be considered for a promotion.

The report from Bloomberg says that Birmingham was forced to lower the rating of an employee from 'successful' to 'developing,' which is lower on the scale in order to meet his quota. 

Blizzard Lead Leaves Company Due to 'Stack-Ranking Policy' for Employees

Birmingham has now released his own statement on the matter via Twitter. This statement can be read below:

I wasn't intending to make this public, but apparently its in the news already, so I'd at least like to set the record straight. I am no longer an employee of Blizzard Entertainment, though I would return if allowed to, so that I could fight the stack-ranking policy from inside.

I'm told the forced stack-ranking policy is a directive that came from the ABK level, ABOVE Mike Ybarra. I don't know for sure, but I suspect it's true. Everybody at Blizzard I've spoken to about this, including my direct supervisors, expressed disappointment about this policy.

For those who don't know, "ABK" is the parent company formed when Activision Publishing expressed their interest in buying World of Warcraft from Vivendi in 2008. Blizzard's market value was enough that Activision Publishing could NOT buy it outright...

Instead they arranged to form a new company called, "Activision Blizzard" which would own Activision Publishing and Vivendi's games division, including Blizzard Entertainment. Vivendi had >50% of the shares of "Activision Blizzard" at that time.

In creating "Activision Blizzard" they needed an executive, and Bobby Kotick, from Activision Publishing was selected as the new CEO of Activision Blizzard. Mike Morhaime, still President of Blizzard at that time, reported up to Bobby Kotick's staff at "Activision Blizzard."

Bobby and an investor group staged a "hostile takeover" meaning that they bought up more than 50% of Activision Blizzard shares. (There's no actual violence in a "hostile takeover" despite the name). I forget which year this happened, but it resulted in greater control.

Activision Blizzard then acquired "King" becoming "Activision Blizzard King," or "ABK." ABK was then a parent company of 3 different companies that they owned:

    • Activision Publishing
    • Blizzard Entertainment
    • King

IIRC, the first year we were asked to meet a specific quota of "Developing" ratings was in the 2020 evaluations, across the winter of 2020/2021. IIRC this was also the first year they tried to unify the review/appraisal systems across all three child business units.

Activision, Blizzard, and King all had *similar* appraisal processes by this point, and ABK wanted to unify them into one. Presumably this was the motivation for *enforcing* a 5% "developing" rating: to make it match in all 3 studios. I'm not defending this, only explaining.

We at Blizzard pushed back pretty hard in 2021, and I truly believed we had reversed the developing-quota policy. 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 ABK policies.

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.

So having explained all that, I bear no ill will toward my former colleagues at Blizzard Entertainment. The Blizzard I knew and always wanted to work for is being torn apart by the executives at ABK, and it makes me sad. I truly respect the developers I worked with at Blizzard.

I will still play Blizzard games; the developers at Blizzard are still amazing. Dragonflight and Wrath of the Lich King Classic are gems. Dragon Riding is amazing in Dragonflight, as is the Ulduar raid, and the new Titan Rune Dungeons in Wrath of the Lich King.

But ABK is a problematic parent company. They put us under pressure to deliver both expansions early. It is deeply unjust to follow that by depriving employees who worked on them their fair share of profit. The ABK team should be ashamed of themselves.

I must stress that the above is *my best recollection* of events. It covers a lot of years, and human memory is notoriously imperfect. I do believe that the broad strokes are accurate:

    • The "developing" quota is toxic
    • It is an ABK policy
    • It is being forced on Blizzard

I can't tell you whether to boycott Blizzard games or not. How best to express your displeasure is up to you. As I said above: I won't boycott. But I can't participate in a policy that lets ABK steal money from deserving employees, and I can't be made to lie about it either.

And to wrap up I want to again clarify that I was surprised to see the Bloomberg article below. I did NOT provide them the email they're quoting from, but I believe the quotes are accurate. They have neither spoken to me nor reached out to me in any way.


A life-long and avid gamer, William D'Angelo was first introduced to VGChartz in 2007. After years of supporting the site, he was brought on in 2010 as a junior analyst, working his way up to lead analyst in 2012 and taking over the hardware estimates in 2017. He has expanded his involvement in the gaming community by producing content on his own YouTube channel and Twitch channel. You can contact the author on Twitter @TrunksWD.


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14 Comments
Kakadu18 (on 24 January 2023)

What moron came up with this stank ranking bullshit?

  • +6
pitzy272 (on 24 January 2023)

Wow, this sounds pretty sh*tty.

  • +4
shikamaru317 (on 24 January 2023)

Xbox has so much shit to fix at ABK if the deal is even approved. I'm honestly not sure why they want them so badly, seems to me like it would have been better to acquire a few more smaller publishers, like the Zenimax acquisition they already did. Publishers small enough not to draw much attention from the regulators and small enough that they can make their games exclusive to Xbox and PC without drawing the ire of the regulators. Instead they went for ABK, a publisher so big that it comes with a huge amount of regulatory oversight that is making it difficult for them to make any of their series Xbox/PC exclusive or to even get the deal approved at all. Strange choice.

  • +4
gtotheunit91 shikamaru317 (on 24 January 2023)

100%! If MS was going to purchase Blizzard, it would've had to have been prior to the 2008 merger. When most of the legendary Blizzard devs were still there, the company was still on a high, and Activision hadn't seeped into Blizzard like a parasite.

ABK just seems like a never-ending headache that'll come back to haunt MS if the deal gets approved.

  • +3
Qwark shikamaru317 (on 24 January 2023)

Pretty interesting MS took Actibliz over CD project RED, Ubisoft and 2K. Japanese Devs are probably too much trouble to acquire due to strict regulations.

  • +2
Zkuq Qwark (on 24 January 2023)

Ubisoft's hasn't seemed willing to get acquired in the past, and my hunch is that CDPR has a certain desire to want to stay independent as well. Dunno about 2K though, but I suspect MS isn't that interested in their IPs. There might simply not be that much choice in the market - but that's just my hunch.

  • 0
VAMatt Zkuq (on 24 January 2023)

Microsoft has said repeatedly that they care most about the mobile gaming aspect of this deal. None of those other names mentioned above are even remotely close to as big as King in the mobile space.

  • 0
Qwark VAMatt (on 25 January 2023)

Doesn't Rockstar/2K own Zynga. That was/is a pretty big name in mobile.

  • 0
VAMatt Qwark (on 25 January 2023)

Yeah, you're right. I forgot about that. They don't have a mega hit like King does (with Candy Crush, the biggest mobile game ever), but Zynga is a top tier name in mobile.

  • 0
DonFerrari shikamaru317 (on 25 January 2023)

They want the IPs, I told this several time.

  • 0
gtotheunit91 DonFerrari (on 25 January 2023)

Yeah, but there's equally as many new IP's that are currently in development from Xbox studios. So at least it hasn't been 1 sided.

  • +1
DonFerrari gtotheunit91 (on 26 January 2023)

I do agree on it. Yep some (or even a lot) of the employees is valuable as well (and building also have value, but not something MS would really care much about imho). So for me there is no question the biggest reason for MS to go for ABK were the IPs, the rest is either bonus or liability depending on how one would like to look at it.

  • 0
gtotheunit91 DonFerrari (on 26 January 2023)

Oh I 100% agree with you that's what ABK was about! Purely for the massive increase in Game Pass subscriptions due to the well-known IP's. ABK really caters to the casual market. I personally only care about Blizzard. So the only benefit I hope comes out of this deal, if it gets passed, is getting rid of the top execs that will allow better working conditions for all the employees. Allowing Blizzard to get back to that "Blizzard polish" they became so famous for. And getting Activision off of exclusively the CoD machine. Let the devs flex their creative muscles once in a while.

  • +1
DonFerrari gtotheunit91 (on 26 January 2023)

Yep, those changes wouldn't affect me since I don't usually go after ABK games (although I really liked Spyro collection), but for the employees over there I have no doubt going under MS would be a massive improvement.
And sorry I said only IP, I would also add expertise of some key personnel that could help even other studios within MS to improve their games if there is affinities.

  • 0