This weekend, Brian Birmingham published no less than 25 tweets one after another. The objective of the head of WoW Classic was to put the church back in the middle of the village. He believes in fact to be considered, wrongly, as the great guru of the development team of the MMORPG.
First, he explains that he is only one of the two main software engineers on the Classic team. When she was younger, he was on his own, and now that the team has grown, there are two of them. He even admits that it wouldn’t be bad if they were too many (hello to Mike Ybarra by the way). However, even when he was alone, he was assisted by Omar Gonzalez.
He adds that you have to keep in mind that the Classic team is part of the World of Warcraft team. The WoW team is responsible for both Dragonflight and Classic: Wrath of the Lich King. A large part of the code is now shared and everyone is working on it.
Brian remains however one of the maintainers of the part which takes care of Classic (including WotLK). Officially, he reports to his technical director. But who is responsible for the design in this case? Well, it’s teamwork.
At the start of Classic, Blizzard assumed that design decisions would be few enough that engineers could work them out based on technical limitations and get direct oversight from the game director. has hired technical designers but continues to check and be supervised.
But why is Brian explaining all this? Well, because he seems a little tired of being considered the only person responsible for all the decisions that are made on the game. He doesn’t want to blame anyone and adds that no one makes all the decisions. Thus, errors or controversial choices that have been made (such as the absence of automatic group search) are collegial.
But then, what does Brian do? This is the subject of his following tweets, of which I offer a translation:
So what is my job?
For starters: I am a people manager. I recruit the people who are attached to me. I evaluate their performance.
The people who work for me know that I am responsible for evaluating their performance. If I impose that on them when they make decisions, that’s not leadership, that’s intimidation.
It’s important that I make them understand that they can disagree with me and still do a good job.
Another aspect of my job is to create a positive team culture. This is an area in which it makes sense to exercise my “power”. It is my responsibility to hold people accountable if they make their colleagues uncomfortable or unable to work.
Likewise, it is my responsibility to recognize and promote (in both senses of the word) people who contribute to the success of their colleagues. Fostering an environment of teamwork and cooperation is probably the most IMPORTANT aspect of this job.
Brian then addresses the fact that he does not make direct decisions for the development of the game. He delegates. He tries to find the person who will fill a position in the best possible way, then analyzes his work and helps him if necessary. He points out possible problems, but does not seek to do the work of others.
He also talks a lot about how a team is managed at Blizzard:
If delegating important decisions seems crazy to you, you have a lot to learn about leadership. Often, because I’m responsible for so many things, I don’t know the details of a problem. Trusting others to do their job well is an essential leadership skill.
That doesn’t mean I don’t know anything. When I ask: “Have you thought about…?”. I try to ensure that all possibilities have been fully explored. It would be hubris to assume that I know better than the person doing the work, but it would be irresponsible not to share my concerns.
The last aspect (at least the one I can list at the moment) is communication. I’m responsible for describing my team’s work to other teams, both within the World of Warcraft team and outside the rest of Blizzard.
A little further, Brian explains that he obviously talks a lot with his superior, the Technical Director, but also other people like the Game Director, the Artistic Director and the Production Management. Are these the people who actually make the decisions? Yes and no because although they can tell him what to do, they prefer to steer him in one direction and make sure that all avenues have been explored.
These are people who have a very global, less detailed vision. They manage everything WoW, Classic and Retail, while trying to satisfy as many players as possible. For his part, Brian focuses specifically on Classic.
Going back to the original comment that I’m “THE boss”, it’s fair to say that I’m at the highest level of the org chart thinking mostly Classic.
But there are people around me who influence all my decisions, and who have their own decision-making authority. This underscores the difference between traditional press interviews and Twitter posts.
I can speak with authority on behalf of the company *in press interviews* because we discussed it and came to a consensus that we are ready to share. On Twitter, I reply *by myself*.
On Twitter, I’m just me: one person, with more authority than others, but still just me, and not the entire Classic team. So I can’t always answer your question.
Sometimes I don’t know the answer.
Sometimes it’s not me who decides.
Sometimes I delegated it.
That doesn’t mean I don’t read them, and pass them on to the team. That doesn’t mean I don’t care. (I care about you guys so much, you have no idea). But that means I’ll often tweet about something else.