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A WoW Classic chief developer is fired after failing to give an employee a bad review

World of Warcraft Classic loses its tech lead. The reason for this is that he didn’t want to judge his employees badly.

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It could have been a good year for Blizzard. Many players are pleasantly surprised by World of Warcraft Dragonflight and many others romp about in Wrath of the Lich King Classic to make Ulduar unsafe. But now there was another unpleasant incident in the company that casts a bad light on Blizzard. One of the leading developers of WoW Classic was fired – because he didn’t want to rate one of his employees badly.

Who is the person you are talking about? It’s about Brian Birmingham, the tech lead of World of Warcraft Classic – at least until recently. He had toyed with the idea of ​​leaving Blizzard because of a rating system for his employees because he felt the process was unfair and counterproductive. Now they have forestalled him and have fired him.

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What happened to Birmingham? The reason behind this is a rating system that team leaders should use to rate their employees. In the process called “stack ranking”, all employees are given a rating. However, the system only works – according to the view of the executive floor – if a nice curve can be drawn from the distribution of the power. Birmingham, however, refused to change an employee’s rating from “successful” to “developing”. However, this was expected from the executive floor.

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What is this rating system?
The “stack ranking” system discussed in this post is quite widespread, especially in the US, and was developed in the 1980s and used by more and more large companies, including Amazon. In recent years, however, the system is being abolished more and more frequently due to various concerns. In 2013, Microsoft, for example, banned this rating system from its own company.

Birmingham then wrote an internal email to many Blizzard employees, which was viewed by Bloomberg. It said:

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When the team bosses asked why they should be doing this, the WoW directors explained that while they didn’t agree, the reasoning from senior management is that it matters to the underperformers [herauszuarbeiten]to make sure everyone can grow.

In the further course of the mail, he explains that Birmingham doesn’t believe in this approach at all – and also that in recent years they have managed not to use the system. For the past two years, the system has simply refused to be applied as requested, but senior management now insists that it is applied:

This type of regulation encourages competition between employees, sabotage of someone else’s work, desire for people to find a poorly performing team so that they can be the best employee there. It shatters trust and ultimately destroys creativity. […]

If this rule can be reversed, maybe my Blizzard will be saved and I would love to continue working here. If this rule cannot be reversed, then the Blizzard I want to work for no longer exists and I will have to find work elsewhere.

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A negative assessment can also have consequences for the employees concerned. Because if you are classified as bad here, your chance of promotion will decrease and your bonus payments if you are successful may decrease.

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Birmingham is now also commenting on the matter on Twitter. Accordingly, this assessment procedure probably comes from the management level at Activision Blizzard and is generally extremely unpopular at Blizzard.

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After all, according to Birmingham, several team bosses from the WoW team had offered to simply set their own rating to “developing” (i.e. “poor”) instead of that of their employees in order to meet the expected quota. But that was probably not an option for the management level.

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What is the exact reason for the dismissal? Even before writing the e-mail, Birmingham had told many colleagues that he would probably quit. He was then called up by a human resources officer who wanted confirmation that Birmingham was quitting. The latter then only said that he was considering it, but was not yet sure – he would no longer work, however, until the regulation with the evaluation of employees was eliminated.

As a result, Birmingham was terminated.

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This is what Blizzard says about it: Bloomberg had directly requested a statement from Blizzard. A Blizzard spokesperson said the appraisal process was in place to “promote excellence in performance” and “ensure that employees who don’t meet their performance expectations receive more honest feedback, differentiated rewards, and a plan like they did on am best can improve their performance.” Also, this process would include the ratings of multiple managers and this could lead to discussions which in turn would result in a rise or fall in the rating.

Everyone has to decide for themselves how to assess the whole matter. On the one hand, such an evaluation system – especially from a German point of view with many protective mechanisms for employees – appears to be highly unfair and doomed to treating some employees unfairly. On the other hand, threatening to stop working until a system is abolished might not be the best negotiating method either.

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More details about this story may come to light in the coming days.

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