World of Warcraft developer quits to protest ‘stack order’

Brian Birmingham, the former co-president of Blizzard World of Warcraft, took to Twitter this morning to confirm that when given a choice between ranking employees in the group — or submitting to a mandate to bestow an underdeveloped “evolving” rank on an employee — or leaving the company, he decided to walk.

Excerpts from emails from Birmingham to colleagues leaked to Bloomberg last night raised concerns about the nature of the concept, with the developer writing: “This kind of policy encourages competition between employees, sabotage of each other’s work, and a desire for people to find underperforming teams.” They can be its best workers, which ultimately erodes confidence and destroys creativity.”

We asked Activision Blizzard to confirm that it uses a controversial and much-hated employee evaluation method that amounts to scores on a bell curve. She said she had “nothing to share”.

In a statement provided to Bloomberg, the company said the process was designed to facilitate “performance excellence” and “ensure employees who don’t meet performance expectations receive more honest feedback, differentiated compensation, and a plan on how best to improve their performance.”

The spokesperson added that “sometimes ratings go up or down” based on discussions between managers.

The developer’s leaked email claimed that he was forced to downgrade a worker he was managing from the average “successful” rating to “development” in order to reach the quota.

Low-ranking employees may find that it hurts their wages and/or their future standing when it comes to raises and promotions.

The technology itself has come in for a lot of criticism, especially because if you’re working with a team of excellent colleagues, it’s completely unfair to classify some as poorly performing at a goal they don’t know about.

It is not clear who set the company’s policy. in tweet Late last night (or early this morning for those of us residing east of the UTC time zone), Birmingham claimed to have been told that the “forced stack classification policy is a directive that came from [parent company Activision-Blizzard-King] level”, adding: “Everyone at Blizzard I’ve spoken to about this, including direct supervisors, has expressed disappointment about this policy.”

Activision Blizzard was formed from a merger between Vivendi Games and Activision in 2008.

The developer also claimed in the email that several other managers and leads work at World of Warcraft They asked management if they could give themselves “upgraded” ranks instead of asking the people who run them but “were told that wasn’t an option”.

The developer also confirmed the authenticity of the email seen by Bloomberg. We have asked Birmingham for comment.

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What is the stack order?

This concept, also known as “forced rating” or “vitality curve”, was first used in business by General Electric CEO Jack Welch – also known as Neutron Jack – in the 1980s. Welch, whose method critics have called “Yank and Rank,” increased GE’s market value from $12 billion to $410 billion, delivering double-digit quarterly profit that sent the industrial giant’s share price soaring while cutting 112,000 people from GE’s workforce between 1980 and 1985.

The industrial giant no longer uses the system, after publicly announcing in 2016 that it was scrapping it in favor of other performance and metrics applications.

The method has also been criticized as a way to target employees for dismissal when a company is looking to cut costs, although we are not aware of this in relation to Activision Blizzard. According to HR tech biz SpriggHR: “This appraisal method has worked well for GE because at the time it was introduced, the company had become so large and the employees so comfortable.”

Some reg Readers may also remember that Microsoft used this method badly under Steve Ballmer, although Microsoft says it was already in place before he took over as CEO in 2000. One critic claimed that it was responsible for Microsoft’s “lost decade,” Saying that the practice shifted teams off each other who would work collaboratively to roll out products, that’s likely part of the reason e-readers have lagged and why the mobile operating system, Windows Phone, has completely outpaced Android and iOS.

Former Microsoft developer David Auerbach wrote in a 2013 opinion piece about the practice:

Microsoft killed the stack order back in 2013.

The Windows giant itself is trying to buy Activision Blizzard, though it still has many hoops to jump for global regulators, including the US Federal Trade Commission, trying to block the deal. We asked Microsoft if it would put an end to the alleged policy after the acquisition.

Do you have a “stack order” by any name in your company? Have you been told it’s a manager’s secret only? Get in touch with us here. ®

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