There are reports of a contentious meeting at a Blizzard staff Q&A session, where Blizzard president Mike Ybarra spoke to employees. Taking pre-screened questions, Ybarra’s responses to inquiries about Blizzard’s recently announced return to office mandate and an employee’s dismissal over a “stack-ranking” system that sometimes penalizes otherwise good workers based on a type of quota.
For the past several years, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, many studios have either operated remotely or on a hybrid work system, with employees going into the office from zero to two or three days a week. Some companies have recently announced or expanded their return to office mandates, demanding full-time, or close to full-time, office attendance once again. Response to Activision Blizzard's new policy has been mixed, with some stating that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over and there's still a danger to working in offices, while others cite the fact that they got hired on a remote basis and might live far from the studio. Many face a difficult commute and higher expenses, especially when inflation and other economic circumstances have squeezed consumers.
Sources reported to Game Developer that the meeting was scheduled to discuss internal employer satisfaction surveys. At the meeting, news was brought to light that Blizzard employees would be getting a lower profit sharing bonus for 2022 than they expected. This number was pegged at 58% of the expected profit sharing bonus, which came after a strong fourth quarter, with some particularly strong improvements.
Recently, now ex-World of Warcraft Classic engineer Brian Birmingham, criticized a “stack ranking” policy in place that he said would force leadership to downgrade some employee assessments to meet a cost-savings quota, penalizing good employees unnecessarily.
According to the report, Ybarra said that the cut to profit sharing was also applicable to executives. This didn’t sit well with most employees, since they make much less than execs. Responses to the return to office mandate were also not well-received.
Today, Activision and Blizzard announced a return to office plan to employees. It begins April/June, depending on the studio. The company WILL see a large Reduction In Force if this occurs. In this thread, I'm going to explain why this is a terrible idea. 1/14— Non Biners, Drive Ins, and Dives?? (@LeastMyHairIsOk) February 14, 2023
After expressing concerns and saying that mandating strict return to office policies would make the company lose talent, sources said that the responses were dismissive, including implication that they could leave if unhappy with the direction. Some also noted that Ybarra’s comments also seemed to downplay the importance of customer support and QA teams, some positions that tend to be lower paid and might be affected badly by mandated office time. With more than one Activision Blizzard QA team having unionized, this was also not well received.
Ultimately, the meeting seemed to crush morale, but Activision Blizzard’s next steps are to be seen, though Blizzard also officially stood by Ybarra’s confirmed statements.
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