Blizzard Highlights Tech Pay Transparency Issues

At Blizzard, the studio responsible for games such as “Overwatch” (seen above) and the “World of Warcraft” franchise, some software engineers make more than $100,000 per year. But other employees, including some game testers (a form of QA), claim they’re barely making enough to survive. Fed up with their pay, many of these employees have begun circulating a spreadsheet in which they display their compensation for others to see, according to a new report in Bloomberg.   

Several employees told Bloomberg that they received paltry raises, despite Blizzard promising to address the fair pay issue in 2019. Although the company did give raises, the spreadsheet allowed employees to see that increases were often less than 10 percent. That’s quite a bit of money when you’re already earning six figures; if you’re squishing code bugs for nearly minimum wage, though, the impact on your real compensation isn’t quite as drastic. 

“Our goal has always been to ensure we compensate our employees fairly and competitively,” Activision Blizzard spokeswoman Jessica Taylor wrote in a statement to the publication. “We are constantly reviewing compensation philosophies to better recognize the talent of our highest performers and keep us competitive in the industry, all with the aim of rewarding and investing more in top employees.”

Over the past several years, a few tech firms have experimented with greater pay transparency. While some have revealed individual salaries, others have chosen to report anonymized earnings for roles. Sometimes this is done to eliminate gaps in pay for certain demographic groups—for instance, Intel announced that it would release employee data broken down by race and gender. At other times, though, it’s been done to counter employee rumors that they’re collectively undervalued.

In order for tech firms to achieve transparency, they sometimes have to overcome a longtime culture that dictates salaries must be kept secret at all costs. Two years ago, Blind (which runs anonymous surveys on a number of topics relevant to technologists) queried users of its app on whether or not they’d been warned against discussing pay with co-workers—and some 60 percent of those respondents said they’d been discouraged from such salary talks. 

Cisco, Microsoft, and Oracle were just a few of the companies that tried to shut down employee chatter around salary, according to Blind. Although discussing pay isn’t technically illegal, thanks to the National Labor Reactions Act of 1935, it’s clear that many managers don’t want their teams comparing compensation. 

Despite that pressure, employees have clearly come to recognize the value of transparency. Earlier this year, Zac Sweers, a developer at Slack, posted a provocative Tweet that put his salary on display for all to see—and other technologists (utilizing the #KnowYourWorth hashtag) quickly followed. Many of those on the thread (as well as subsequent Twitter discussions) thought they were underpaid. 

The Blizzard incident is yet another example of employees pushing back against a culture of pay opacity. Will it make a difference with regard to those workers’ compensation? 

One Response to “Blizzard Highlights Tech Pay Transparency Issues”

  1. Companies cannot shut down salary discussions. Period. It’s healthy for people to make comparisons so that they know that their income levels are within range of each other.

    It is critical that they’re being paid fairly and equitably. When, by comparison, one person is getting $110,000 per annum while another with the same number of years experience, similar education, similar geographic location, etc., and another person is receiving $140,000 per annum, there definitely needs to be a discussion!!

    I’m near the St. Louis area. Salaries are held down here by companies. They control your income lock, stock and barrel. They create wage limits based on cost of living and other factors.

    What does cost of living (cola) even mean when executives get paid a hell of a lot more?? Cola doesn’t mean jack to the executive suite. While the IT pro keeps the company running, that $140,000 isn’t squat when that exec is getting $460,000 or more.

    I’ve always wondered why the disconnect. St. Louis is a good old boy network kind of town. If you can’t fight it, either leave, or travel each week. Many people don’t want to travel but it can be very rewarding and you get paid more than you’d get paid if employed locally.

    Other choice is to become an independent consultant. Travel yes. Make much more? Yes. So there is give and take.