||[Dec. 15th, 2004|02:18 am]
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve |
the political bands which have connected them with another,
and to assume among the powers of the earth,
the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature
and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions
of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
- The U.S. Declaration of Independence
Welcome, and thank you for visiting. If you are here in search of the original "EA_spouse" article, you can find that here. The following is my update as of 12/15/2004.
So much has happened in the past month, I find it difficult to grasp. One essay written months ago set off a powderkeg of response, not just from the game industry but from the entire software development community. Truly, the power of the Internet is astounding, and all other things aside, we live in a positive age when so much information can be shared so easily and quickly.
The thing that lifted this up into public view, though, was not my essay so much as the response to it, so I will keep this brief. I have left the original essay and comments intact, and you can find them below. To supplement the original essay, I have organized my own comments and links to others' commentary into a FAQ. I have also put together a press page that links to all of the news stories related to this blog.
I am pleased and a little flabbergasted to announce that "EA: The Human Story" was nominated for Joel Spolsky's Best Software Essays of 2004. More details on this as they come.
I also would like to announce the initial inception of Gamewatch.org -- don't visit it yet, there's still nothing there. =) But there will be. It is my intent to start a non-corporate-sponsored watchdog organization specifically devoted to monitoring quality of life in the game industry. As much as I would like to extend this to the entire software industry, games are what I know, and where I need to stay right now. However, this project will be as open-source as I can possibly make it. All code written for the maintenance of the site will be available to the public, and all financial information for the organization (which will be a volunteer one) will likewise be made public. While GameWatch will occasionally run articles, its primary purpose will be to provide a reporting site where employees from any company in the industry can come to share their experiences. Our goal is to hold up and reward those companies that operate ethically, the better to ensure that top talent can seek out employment where they will be respected and best provided with the resources to do their jobs, namely family time, sleep, and sanity. Employees will be able to post anonymously or publically, as they so choose, and will also be offered an in-between option to register with the site but have only their testimonial posted, not their name or contact information. Registered testimonials will be given a greater weight than anonymous ones, but both options will be available. We will also provide forums for advice and discussion for all game industry affiliates, including existing employees, veterans, and aspiring students.
If you are interested in helping out with Gamewatch, please contact me with 'Gamewatch.org' or similar in your subject line. In particular, I would also like to announce a logo contest for Gamewatch. Simply, I'm looking for a one or two-color vector graphic (black with single-color highlighting, or simply black and white), approximately 200x200 pixels, on the GameWatch theme -- a couple of ideas we've tossed around are a caricature of an English Bulldog or Doberman Pinscher with a controller in its mouth, or some variant on an actual wristwatch theme, but do not by any means feel restricted by these suggestions. I will accept entries at email@example.com for one month, until January 15, 2005, and then a winner will be selected. I will pay the winner $20.00 -- $25.00 if the entry is provided in a standardized vector graphic format (Adobe Illustrator .ai, for instance). It isn't much, but it's what I've got -- and the artist will of course be credited on the GameWatch website.
For those interested in discussing Gamewatch.org as a concept and in its details, I have added a page here for that purpose.
All of this aside, the most important thing I have to say is -- thank you, to everyone who has visited this page, and especially those who took the time to contact me with an interest in our story. And especially especially to the spouses and EA employees who voiced their support and declared their own willingness to help our industry fulfill its potential. We're not done yet, but we've made a great start, and that is entirely due to the outpouring of response that flooded the Internet over the past month. Thank you.
Edit: Hello all. I'm sorry about this, but I've turned on screening for anonymous comments in this thread and the Gamewatch one. We have a troll who has been spamming comments every few hours or so, and I just don't have time to keep coming in here and deleting them. Rest assured if you post anything that ISN'T vulgar, I will unscreen it as soon as I see it. Hopefully the troll will lose interest soon and I can lift this.
Edit 1/4/2005: Turning screening back off, since things seem to have calmed down a bit. Thanks, all, for your patience.
Edit 2/24/2005: Modified contact link to reflect my new gmail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
|EA: The Human Story
||[Nov. 10th, 2004|12:01 am]
My significant other works for Electronic Arts, and I'm what you might call a disgruntled spouse.|
EA's bright and shiny new corporate trademark is "Challenge Everything." Where this applies is not exactly clear. Churning out one licensed football game after another doesn't sound like challenging much of anything to me; it sounds like a money farm. To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?
I am retaining some anonymity here because I have no illusions about what the consequences would be for my family if I was explicit. However, I also feel no impetus to shy away from sharing our story, because I know that it is too common to stick out among those of the thousands of engineers, artists, and designers that EA employs.
Our adventures with Electronic Arts began less than a year ago. The small game studio that my partner worked for collapsed as a result of foul play on the part of a big publisher -- another common story. Electronic Arts offered a job, the salary was right and the benefits were good, so my SO took it. I remember that they asked him in one of the interviews: "how do you feel about working long hours?" It's just a part of the game industry -- few studios can avoid a crunch as deadlines loom, so we thought nothing of it. When asked for specifics about what "working long hours" meant, the interviewers coughed and glossed on to the next question; now we know why.
Within weeks production had accelerated into a 'mild' crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad. Months remained until any real crunch would start, and the team was told that this "pre-crunch" was to prevent a big crunch toward the end; at this point any other need for a crunch seemed unlikely, as the project was dead on schedule. I don't know how many of the developers bought EA's explanation for the extended hours; we were new and naive so we did. The producers even set a deadline; they gave a specific date for the end of the crunch, which was still months away from the title's shipping date, so it seemed safe. That date came and went. And went, and went. When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm.
Weeks passed. Again the producers had given a termination date on this crunch that again they failed. Throughout this period the project remained on schedule. The long hours started to take its toll on the team; people grew irritable and some started to get ill. People dropped out in droves for a couple of days at a time, but then the team seemed to reach equilibrium again and they plowed ahead. The managers stopped even talking about a day when the hours would go back to normal.
Now, it seems, is the "real" crunch, the one that the producers of this title so wisely prepared their team for by running them into the ground ahead of time. The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm -- seven days a week -- with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week. Complaints that these once more extended hours combined with the team's existing fatigue would result in a greater number of mistakes made and an even greater amount of wasted energy were ignored.
The stress is taking its toll. After a certain number of hours spent working the eyes start to lose focus; after a certain number of weeks with only one day off fatigue starts to accrue and accumulate exponentially. There is a reason why there are two days in a weekend -- bad things happen to one's physical, emotional, and mental health if these days are cut short. The team is rapidly beginning to introduce as many flaws as they are removing.
And the kicker: for the honor of this treatment EA salaried employees receive a) no overtime; b) no compensation time! ('comp' time is the equalization of time off for overtime -- any hours spent during a crunch accrue into days off after the product has shipped); c) no additional sick or vacation leave. The time just goes away. Additionally, EA recently announced that, although in the past they have offered essentially a type of comp time in the form of a few weeks off at the end of a project, they no longer wish to do this, and employees shouldn't expect it. Further, since the production of various games is scattered, there was a concern on the part of the employees that developers would leave one crunch only to join another. EA's response was that they would attempt to minimize this, but would make no guarantees. This is unthinkable; they are pushing the team to individual physical health limits, and literally giving them nothing for it. Comp time is a staple in this industry, but EA as a corporation wishes to "minimize" this reprieve. One would think that the proper way to minimize comp time is to avoid crunch, but this brutal crunch has been on for months, and nary a whisper about any compensation leave, nor indeed of any end of this treatment.
This crunch also differs from crunch time in a smaller studio in that it was not an emergency effort to save a project from failure. Every step of the way, the project remained on schedule. Crunching neither accelerated this nor slowed it down; its effect on the actual product was not measurable. The extended hours were deliberate and planned; the management knew what they were doing as they did it. The love of my life comes home late at night complaining of a headache that will not go away and a chronically upset stomach, and my happy supportive smile is running out.
No one works in the game industry unless they love what they do. No one on that team is interested in producing an inferior product. My heart bleeds for this team precisely BECAUSE they are brilliant, talented individuals out to create something great. They are and were more than willing to work hard for the success of the title. But that good will has only been met with abuse. Amazingly, Electronic Arts was listed #91 on Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" in 2003.
EA's attitude toward this -- which is actually a part of company policy, it now appears -- has been (in an anonymous quotation that I've heard repeated by multiple managers), "If they don't like it, they can work someplace else." Put up or shut up and leave: this is the core of EA's Human Resources policy. The concept of ethics or compassion or even intelligence with regard to getting the most out of one's workforce never enters the equation: if they don't want to sacrifice their lives and their health and their talent so that a multibillion dollar corporation can continue its Godzilla-stomp through the game industry, they can work someplace else.
But can they?
The EA Mambo, paired with other giants such as Vivendi, Sony, and Microsoft, is rapidly either crushing or absorbing the vast majority of the business in game development. A few standalone studios that made their fortunes in previous eras -- Blizzard, Bioware, and Id come to mind -- manage to still survive, but 2004 saw the collapse of dozens of small game studios, no longer able to acquire contracts in the face of rapid and massive consolidation of game publishing companies. This is an epidemic hardly unfamiliar to anyone working in the industry. Though, of course, it is always the option of talent to go outside the industry, perhaps venturing into the booming commercial software development arena. (Read my tired attempt at sarcasm.)
To put some of this in perspective, I myself consider some figures. If EA truly believes that it needs to push its employees this hard -- I actually believe that they don't, and that it is a skewed operations perspective alone that results in the severity of their crunching, coupled with a certain expected amount of the inefficiency involved in running an enterprise as large as theirs -- the solution therefore should be to hire more engineers, or artists, or designers, as the case may be. Never should it be an option to punish one's workforce with ninety hour weeks; in any other industry the company in question would find itself sued out of business so fast its stock wouldn't even have time to tank. In its first weekend, Madden 2005 grossed $65 million. EA's annual revenue is approximately $2.5 billion. This company is not strapped for cash; their labor practices are inexcusable.
The interesting thing about this is an assumption that most of the employees seem to be operating under. Whenever the subject of hours come up, inevitably, it seems, someone mentions 'exemption'. They refer to a California law that supposedly exempts businesses from having to pay overtime to certain 'specialty' employees, including software programmers. This is Senate Bill 88. However, Senate Bill 88 specifically does not apply to the entertainment industry -- television, motion picture, and theater industries are specifically mentioned. Further, even in software, there is a pay minimum on the exemption: those exempt must be paid at least $90,000 annually. I can assure you that the majority of EA employees are in fact not in this pay bracket; ergo, these practices are not only unethical, they are illegal.
I look at our situation and I ask 'us': why do you stay? And the answer is that in all likelihood we won't; and in all likelihood if we had known that this would be the result of working for EA, we would have stayed far away in the first place. But all along the way there were deceptions, there were promises, there were assurances -- there was a big fancy office building with an expensive fish tank -- all of which in the end look like an elaborate scheme to keep a crop of employees on the project just long enough to get it shipped. And then if they need to, they hire in a new batch, fresh and ready to hear more promises that will not be kept; EA's turnover rate in engineering is approximately 50%. This is how EA works. So now we know, now we can move on, right? That seems to be what happens to everyone else. But it's not enough. Because in the end, regardless of what happens with our particular situation, this kind of "business" isn't right, and people need to know about it, which is why I write this today.
If I could get EA CEO Larry Probst on the phone, there are a few things I would ask him. "What's your salary?" would be merely a point of curiosity. The main thing I want to know is, Larry: you do realize what you're doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that? That when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it's not just them you're hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?
This article is offered under the Creative Commons deed. Please feel free to redistribute/link.
||[Nov. 1st, 2004|04:30 pm]
The following reporters spoke with us either in person, on the phone, or via email, and so are included here at the top.
New York Times: "When a Video Game Stops Being Fun", by Randall Stross :
Los Angeles Times: "Working Too Hard in an Industry of Fun and Games", by Alex Pham :
Salon.com: "Santa's Sweatshop", by Katharine Mieszkowski
and follow-up, "A change of heart for Scrooge?":
CNet News: "For developers, it's not all fun and games" :
National Public Radio: "Stressed-Out Game Designers Sue Software Maker", by Laura Sydell :
Editor's note: For the following I have to extend a personal apology. Rick Healey from NetJak was one of the first to contact me via email regarding the ea_spouse story. We exchanged a few emails and he sent me a list of interview questions. In the following email deluge, I mistook someone else's questions for his, and answered them, but did not get to Rick's until he sent me a reminder email much later. Visit his site, and help me atone for being a flake. =)
Netjak.com: "A Call for Solidarity" (editorial) :
Netjak.com: "Interview with EA_Spouse" :
While our contact was limited to the blog, I do need to mention Paul from snarkyspot.blogspot.com here, who faithfully reported on happenings in the blog and surrounding it for quite a long time. His post provides a neat cross-section of events as they occurred as far as press is concerned, and a number of the non-obvious links (NYT, LAT, WSJ, etc) listed here came from his site:
Wall Street Journal: "Workers at EA Claim They Are Owed Overtime" :
CNN.com: "Gaming's growing pains" :
San Francisco Examiner: "Long hours spur online rant" :
Lockergnome.com: "When A Video Game Stops Being Fun" :
Prior to its extended article, and after, CNet released a few others:
InsertCredit.com: "News: EA: The Human Story" :
Kotaku: "Fear and loathing at Electronic Arts" :
BluesNews: "Op Ed" (with comments) :
Gamasutra News: "'EA Spouse' Weblog Raises Issues On Game Development Quality of Life" :
Enginesofmischief.com (Evan Robinson): "It's Not Just Abusive. It's Stupid." :
GameStar.de: "Krasse Arbeitsbedingungen in den USA" :
Heise.de: "Kein Spaß bei Electronic Arts" :
WorldAccess.nl: "Slavenarbeid bij EA?" :
ForeverGeek.com: "EA Employees Unhappy, Attempt Class Action Lawsuit" (with comments) :
Pagtech.com: "EA Work Conditions" :
Homelanfed.com: "A Spouse's Look At Electronic Arts" :
FiringSquad.com: "Corporate culture problem at EA?" (with comments) :
Cinescape.com: "Electronic Arts: Innocent or Guilty?" :
Joystiq.com: "'EA spouse' speaks out!" :
Totalgaming.net: "EA Spouse talks about life as a PC game developer" :
TechReview.com: "Gamer Overtime" :
Kotaku: "Former EA employee speaks out under real name" :
Kotaku: "EA promises changes in leaked internal memo" :
Kotaku: "Exclusive: EA confirms memo is real" :
Kotaku: "EA suit could change the face of the gaming industry" :
Kotaku: "EA keeps the promises coming" :
GameDaily.biz: "EA Feeling Pressure, May Reclassify Overtime" :
Mercury News.com: "EA to reconsider OT-eligible jobs" :
BluesNews: "EA Class Action Suit Coming?" (with comments) :
Salon.com: "Raking muck in 'The Sims Online'" :
Gamespot.com: "Employees readying class-action lawsuit against EA" :
1up.com: "EA Faces Class-Action Overtime Suit" :
Wargamer.com: "EA Facing Lawsuit Over Worker Pay" :
Lunabean.com: "EA Not One of the 100 Best Places to Work?" :
TheSimsZone.co.uk: "EA Employees sue Company" :
GamesIndustry.biz: "Developer working conditions hide a cancer in the games industry" :
Gamespot.com: "Neil Young heads to EALA" :
Gamepro.com: "Top Gaming Lows of 2004" :
Penny Arcade news items:
Slashdot has covered a couple of different facets of the story (likely they were responsible for more than one of the original boosts in hits), and they have a few thousand comments on the story collectively as well, so I figured they deserved their own section:
"EA Games: The Human Story" :
"Electronic Arts Facing Possible Class Action Lawsuit" :
"Quality of Life Issues Holding Back Game Industry" :
"NYT on EA Games" :
"EA_Spouse Forum Becoming Thriving Community" :
"EA Spouse Posts Plans for Watchdog [Organization]" :
"A College Guide to EA" :
In a poll: "I Give Thanks For" (one answer: "A day off from my job at EA Games")
The IGDA produced a Quality of Life White Paper in 2003, first bringing up some of these issues; they broke the ice, but then the discussion dwindled. This year there will be an entire Summit at the Game Developers Conference to address these issues. Jason Della Roca, IGDA Program Director, has mentioned a possible negotiation with CMP to arrange for an inexpensive Summit-only pass as an attachment to the Classic Pass -- here's hoping they come through, I'd like to be there. (For non-GDC-goers, the main part of the GDC is Wednesday through Friday; Monday and Tuesday are tutorial days, covered by a separate pass or a larger comprehensive "GigaPass", which is correspondingly significantly more expensive.)
The IGDA Quality of Life website:
The White Paper:
The QoL discussion forum:
While not precisely press, here are some links to other forums where the story has appeared.
If you would like your blog listed here, email me and I'll add a link.
Joe Straitiff, ex-EA: http://www.livejournal.com/users/joestraitiff/368.html
Jason Della Rocca: http://www.igda.org/blogs/realitypanic/archives/000233.html
SnarkySpot, also listed above: http://snarkyspot.blogspot.com/2004/11/ea-spouse-speaks-out-against-game.html
Evan Robinson: http://enginesofmischief.com/blogs/ramblings/archives/2004/11/10/640
John Dvorak: http://www.dvorak.org/blog/index.php?p=748
Code Monkey: http://thepixelmine.blogspot.com/
Charles Miller: http://fishbowl.pastiche.org/2004/11/12/the_floggings_will_continue_until_morale_improves
Darren Barefoot: http://www.darrenbarefoot.com/archives/001357.html
Skor Grimm: http://skorgrimm.blogspot.com/2004/11/boycott-ea-games.html
Mark Raimondi: http://mraimondi.blogspot.com/2004/11/another-company-that-needs-good-ass.html
Harold "AlphaTwo Vaughan": http://alphatwo.blogspot.com/2004/11/when-it-rains-it-pours.html
No Status Quo: http://www.nosq.com/leaderhsip/2004/11/ea-spouse-story/
Keith Soltys: http://www.soltys.ca/coredump/2004/11/permanent-crunch-time-at-ea.html
Bruce (bigkid.com.au): http://www.bigkid.com.au/2004/11/12/ea_spouse_protests_exploitation/
Stuart Moulder: http://www.livejournal.com/users/stuart_moulder/88892.html
UserFriendly.org ran two comics featuring the EA story:
||[Nov. 1st, 2004|01:45 am]
So, let's talk about it. What would you like to see?|
Edit: Hello all. I'm sorry about this, but I've turned on screening for anonymous comments in this thread and the top one on the blog. We have a troll who has been spamming comments every few hours or so, and I just don't have time to keep coming in here and deleting them. Rest assured if you post anything that ISN'T vulgar, I will unscreen it as soon as I see it. Hopefully the troll will lose interest soon and I can lift this.
Edit 1/4/2005: Comment screening turned back off; thank you all for your patience. =)
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