Blizzard Entertainment managers have reportedly alienated and ‘enraged’ staff in a recent Q&A meeting organised to allay questions about the future of the company, and recent employee practices which have made global headlines.
According to Game Developer, the meeting was designed to address three major concerns from staff, raised via internal surveys: the use of ‘stack ranking’ to promote competition amongst employees, the cuts to major employee bonuses for 2022, and a recent announcement that all staff would be required to return to the office in the coming months. It was led by company president Mike Ybarra, who allegedly made ‘outrageous’ and ‘bizarre’ comments that sidelined everyone present.
Employees speaking anonymously to Game Developer claim Ybarra made several tone-deaf statements during proceedings, most notably claiming the planned 58% cut to yearly staff bonuses would impact upper management and lower-ranking employees equally. ‘If you think that executives are making a lot of money and you aren’t, you’re living in a myth,’ Ybarra reportedly said.
As employees pointed out, some members of Blizzard Entertainment make just US $45,000 per year. For these employees, a bonus could be the major difference between living comfortably, and barely making a living wage. Ybarra’s salary, while not public knowledge, is likely to be significantly higher – and therefore much less likely to be impacted by cuts to bonuses.
The outrage at these comments is compounded by Blizzard Entertainment experiencing strong financial results in the last quarter, and a recent, company-wide edict to return to the office.
Blizzard will reportedly require employees to return to the office in the coming months, at least on a partial basis. This is likely to eat into employee revenue, as cost of living and housing pressures grow. Cutting staff bonuses in this economy is seen as adding insult to injury – with Ybarra’s seemingly ignorant comments reportedly worsening staff sentiment.
Adding to the matter is the recent revelation that Blizzard Entertainment ranks staff members on a bell curve, from worst to best performing. This ‘stack ranking’ system reportedly forced the recent departure of Brian Birmingham, lead software engineer at Blizzard and 20-year veteran of the company. While concerned employees claimed this system has led to low esteem and ‘punitive’, unfair management, Ybarra tried to downplay concerns.
‘We don’t to [sic] stack rank employees 1 through X at Blizzard. We have high expectations for our teams. Managers set goals with every employee and we measure performance against those goals,’ Ybarra reportedly said. ‘We provide managers with guidelines for how to consider performance ratings across larger teams to ensure they’re more fair and unbiased, and there is flexibility.’
Despite these reassurances, employees remained disgruntled – and were reportedly pushed further over the edge by Ybarra’s insistence that, ‘[Blizzard Entertainment] want[s] people to be happy, and if decisions about about [sic] being happy don’t align with where we’re going, and you won’t be happy, then you’ll have to do what will make[s] [you] happy’. The comment has been interpreted as a push out the door for employees who don’t agree with current Blizzard management practices – essentially: if you don’t like it, leave.
After several tumultuous years at the company, which has been plagued by lawsuits and allegations of mismanagement, it appears employees are now more fed up than they’ve ever been. The Q&A meeting has not endeared Ybarra or the wider Blizzard Entertainment team to staff, who are reportedly disappointing, disgruntled, and outraged by this response to valid, growing concerns.
Whether a push for better conditions is heard at Blizzard Entertainment, or employees simply adhere to Ybarra’s implied edict to leave, it’s clear change is on the horizon for the company.