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EA: The Human Story [Nov. 10th, 2004|12:01 am]
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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?

Right?


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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:02 pm (UTC)

parrallel experiences

(Link)

Not that my experience was as horrible as yours or your wife's but here is a snippet of what I sent to my HR department as part of my exit-interview package. As you might imagine, once they read it the escorted me to the door with barely concealed contempt. The following is what I sent:

It used to be fun here, remember? We worked hard and we played hard. We were silly and we smiled a lot more. Things changed. A complex combination of factors have lead us away from the fun to being just another one of those sweatshops we all know too well from past (maybe present?) experience.
Gratitude and discontent can be felt for the same thing at the same time; I feel that way about my time here. Training, experience, opportunity, growth are all things I have enjoyed because of my Cendant career. Twenty four hour by seven day on-call support every three weeks for four and a half years has been part of the deal too. No sour grapes over that, it is part of the package I volunteered for. But emergency on-call became making yourself available for almost anything during your on-call week. "Emergency? Nah, but who cares, you are on-call, right? Okay, but the odd hours / afterhours stuff will be limited to your on-call weeks. Well... not really. I mean, this is your project or server or process, isn't it? This work can only be performed when you would normally be sleeping and we need it done this week so you better get to it. Oh, and make sure you get to the morning meeting to give us all an update on the work you did at O-dark-thirty. We have no comp-time policy so do not ask for or expect comp-time. We know you worked nineteen solid hours yesterday but that is no excuse for not coming in early today (yes, actually happened to me). Three days worth of work in one day does not entitle you to anything other than ingratitude. Say THANK YOU for your job!"
???
Your manager is already putting in seventy five hours a week so don't go there for sympathy. He will be sure to remind you that the "team" really needs you to work these sick, life-jarring hours. "Can't they count on you?" So you don't make the soccer game on time, your wife is upset that you have cancelled your date night for the third time in a row, and you are just too tired from interrupted sleep to make it to the gym today. Kids are upset with you, wife is trying very hard to be understanding, and your gut is growing. All those things might lead to stress. That is okay, just make sure not to bring that stress with you to work where you will be expected to "treat everyone like family"!
So I am leaving because what was once fun has become work, work in the derogatory sense. I am leaving with a sense of closure. I would rather it were with a sense of satisfaction.

It turns out that the letter drew unanimous praise from coworkers which I received verbally from most recipients and in email from others. The letter has been getting passed around within IT and I continue to get “Good Job!”, “Right on the mark!” and other remarks of that nature. For example:

You should take this letter with you to the exit interview. You have put down in words exactly what I and alot of others that left have felt. They say they want all feedback + and - to try to make Cendant the place people want to work but all I hear is they are blaming all of us leaving on the fact that the company is for sale that was just the final straw. Maybe seeing this letter would wake them up. -anon

Dude, read your letter and it was RIGHT ON! Couldn’t have said it better -anon

Well written.
All of us could just do an ourselves on that text doc, as that seems like it could be universally applied! -anon

is this where someone says "Kudos!" ? ;) -Anonymous

Thank you for stating in your attachment what should be yelled from the mountain-tops. Okay, over the PA would suffice. We’ll miss ya bro. -Anonymous

The main issue is the hours. And it is really not the total amount of hours that is crushing people but rather the chaotic timing, the disruption of sleep cycles, and the lack of comp time to help mitigate against the natural effects of such a schedule. The effect on morale in particular is acutely negative.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 08:05 pm (UTC)

Re: parrallel experiences

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I just found this comment buried among all the others. I too, am a Cendant employee, a phone jock. I hereby formally apologize for all the times I yelled about the system being jerky and slow. If I had known what it was like on your end, I'd've been yelling at my supe to send your management orders for rest.

My center is sending most of the general calls to Mexico, after half our center being emptied by jobs going to Manila. And they actually asked us for volunteers to teach the outsourcers in Mexico how to run the system.

I don't know if you'll ever get back to this post, but if you do, I just wanted to let you know that someone else in the company appreciated what you tried to do. Hope your new job is half what the old one was, or less! :)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:19 pm (UTC)

another ea spouse

(Link)

Everything you wrote about I to have gone through, so when will it stop!!! They are killing people and still don't care. Not to mention you will get fired if you don't (or can't)work the hours. They only care about the bottom line not the people, thanks for having the guts to write about this. I only hope someone listens this time.
From: unionjosh
2004-11-20 01:43 am (UTC)

Re: another ea spouse

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My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer and I am helping with the class action lawsuit against EA for overtime violations. If I can help in any way please call at 415-441-6400 or write to unionjosh@local16.org.
Josh
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:22 pm (UTC)

Electronic Arts

(Link)

Hi ea_spouse,
What you've described truly is disgusting. The worst thing about it is that surely the gaming industry of all places isn't supposed to be about gruntwork...I would have thought it is supposed to be about people doing what they love.

I didn't know EA were doing things like this, I will admit...my own main complaint with the company concerns how they are running their massively multiplayer online games, specifically Ultima Online and The Sims Online. In terms of UO, virtually all of the original programmers/designers as well as the franchise's creator have left, having been alienated by the mindless, profit-fixated attitude displayed by the company. EA have also stopped selling UO, its expansions, and gametime cards in Australia, despite the fact that (inexplicably) one of the game's servers runs here, in Sydney.

As far as The Sims Online is concerned...I was probably one of the first people in Australia to buy a copy of that particular game, as I am a huge fan of the Sims...but then found out that I wasn't able to play because I don't have a credit card. Not long after that I read articles about how TSO's population is only around 40K users, and that EA couldn't figure out why it hadn't grown more. Given that this game's biggest demographic are probably going to be teenagers and other people without credit cards, I think I could probably tell them at least part of the reason why it hasn't.

Although given their current cash reserves it'll take a while, if this company keeps engaging in its current level of stupidity, amorality, and general cluelessness, eventually its behaviour will start hurting it. Microsoft are a very good example. They went on the same way for years, not caring in the slightest about how they were treating anyone, and now Linux is causing them to become majorly on the defensive.

The most important thing for anyone to realise is that we no longer have to tolerate the behaviour of companies like EA. Open source, and technologies like P2P, which to a large degree are unstoppable by such companies and the copyright cartels, mean that people are more able than ever before to make their own decisions about the material available to them. We can play older games, we can make use of open source games (Freeciv, the Quake engine, the original Doom engine, Worldforge etc) and if we decide we want to make games ourselves, we can contribute to one of the aforementioned open source projects, and in terms of generating revenue, sell distributions of them. (Entirely legal under the GPL and compatible licenses if source is included with binaries...donating part of what is made back to the parent project would also be a good idea)

EA might be big, but we're seeing gradually that big business isn't unbeatable. Firefox is slowly reconquering the web in the name of those who actually use it...Linux is taking back the operating system space...We can use many of the same principles to issue EA with a much-needed lesson in humility as well.

In America especially, the government has worked tirelessly I believe to make sure that the population there are kept in a state of constant fear and isolation from each other. In virtually every instance however, the only thing to be afraid of is fear itself. These institutions (governments, corporations) to a large extent are ghosts...sure, they *look* powerful...but pull off the sheets and the masks, and there's very little there. The one thing they need in order to be able to keep doing what they do is for people to be afraid of them and believe that we have no ability to resist them...but the belief itself is the only thing that makes that so.
From: unionjosh
2004-11-20 01:45 am (UTC)

Re: Electronic Arts

(Link)

My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE 16. I am trying to unionize EA and I would love to hear what advise you might give me. unionjosh@local16.org
thanks.
josh
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:25 pm (UTC)

Get a Union organizer in there!!

(Link)

I guarantee you if a union organizer shows up and starts snooping around conditions will get better.
Get a union on this and support them and you will be better off all the way around.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:32 pm (UTC)

EA is Illogical

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Here's what I don't get: EA works employees like dogs, until finally after a few years (or earlier) they give up and quit, in the hopes that they can actually have a family life, and free time.

So EA has to keep hiring kids straight out of college, because those are mostly the only people stupid or crazy enough to work for them, AND they keep losing their most knowledgeable and experienced workers because they don't have a production schedule that anyone older than 24 or that has a wife or kids would be interested in working at.

Having constant turnover with inexperienced new hires seems like the height of stupidity to me -- you should want to have at least some experienced personnel who actually know what they're doing, have worked on games before, have experience with the company, etc. It's just so inefficient to rely on new hires as your main knowledge base.

Maybe that's just crazy thinking on my part, but it seems like EA should be bending over backwards to hold onto people with experience and knowledge -- instead, those are the people that are quitting in droves because they can't handle the burnout rate, the hours, the lack of time seeing their family, and not getting paid extra for all their hard work.

WTF is EA's problem? Are they just blind? No wonder their games lately have been so buggy, and largely pieces of crap (with a few notable exceptions) -- they're pushing games through on a half-schedule (12 months in many cases, rather than the 18 - 24 that is the norm in the rest of the industry), with inexperienced, overworked, and tired employees.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:00 pm (UTC)

Re: EA is Illogical

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It is stupid and illogical, but welcome to EA. I think your argument applies mainly to game designers, because so much of becoming a good game designer cannot be taught in school or in a book, but rather is a combination of innate talent and learning through trial-by-fire while working on a professional product. Most game designers aren't at their peak in their first few years, because the learning curve is so high. It may take them four or five years to reach their true potential, but EA burns through them in three or four years!

(Game programmers can largely learn what they need to in school, as can artists, and EA's QA and Customer Service personnel rarely have a college degree or prior work experience before EA, so that is why I say that your point mainly, IMHO, applies to game designers. Sure, everyone gets better after a couple of shipped titles, but the learning curve is a lot different for designers than it is for the other groups.)

But seriously, look at their games and figure out which ones actually need experienced game designers on them? Sports games? Nope, you hardly need a designer at all, much less an experienced one. Racing games, ditto. Movie tie-ins, ditto. The Sims? Sure, and the original had Will Wright. All the follow ups have just been riding on his coat-tails. The Command&Conquer original design team is long-gone, as is the original Ultima team. Has EA actually made any games in the past few years that were innovative at all, besides The Sims?

So, to put it bluntly, EA keeps Will Wright around, and keeps him innovating on The Next Big Thing. For all other projects, they can base the design on the work of designers who came before, or on real-world sports, or on the script of a movie. EA doesn't need to keep experienced designers around for more than a few years, and they do start to get expensive after awhile. What does EA care if they are losing all those "expensive", "know-it-all" designers to the likes of Blizzard, Mythic, or BioWare? (Which, btw, are three companies who do bend over backwards to keep their experienced talent around.) With EA, its all about the bottom line, remember? If they can make more money with iterations on Madden Football every year, why bother with experienced designers?
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:36 pm (UTC)

Support from the UK

(Link)


I too work in the industry. I too have been forced into working insane hours. I too rebeled.

Rather unusually, I actually have tried to form a union. When I failed to get enough support from my work collegues, I joined an existing union. When I invited my union to speak to a meating of my collegues after work, my employer Sony took action against me. Things got interesting for a while.

Trust me, I know the terrible pressures standing up for yourself can put on you. Making stand means risking not only your job but your career. (It is a small industry, and word of trouble makers travels fast.)

Eventually my union helped me come to an amicable agreement with my employer. They no longer presure people to work insane hours. They now accept they are covered by the Working Time Directive, which means no one can be forced to work more the 48 hours a week, or volunteer to work more than 74.

I have tried to publise my experiences but have found it hard. Game Developer magazine didn't publish the letters I sent them.
I even got my union to offer to sponser an IGDA meeting. (free beer for developers). However, the IGDA refused saying that other sponsers had objected.

I still believe that the industry needs an international reaching union.

There are those who believe "If you don't like it just leave". To these people I'd say it is not the answer. If it were that easy I would have.
Would you say that to someone who was racially or sexially discriminated against. Do you think the threat of people leaving alone would solve sexism/racism. "If you don't like him touching your breast, just leave, soon market forces will force your employer to be reasonable". If no one takes a stand the problem will never go away.

If anyone would like any advice about unions, please feel free to email me at

nigel_knox@hotmail.com

From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 03:46 am (UTC)

Re: Support from the UK

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IGDA and Game Developer are in bed with the game industry. Just look at the speaker lists. The same people, year after year, on the same topic.
[User Picture]From: peregrine_jfish
2004-11-12 09:38 pm (UTC)

Thanks for writing this

(Link)

Thanks for writing this, extremely well written.

This is a problem not just in the game industry, but in an increasing share of American industry. Lawyers, Investment Bankers, to name just a few, are professions where the expectation is for you to give up your outside life and basically be willing to work just about every moment of your life, even without sleeping.

This is so destructive to people's well being and psyche, it has far-reaching effects on our society as a whole. I think it does more evil than we realize, in isolating our country's talent and placing them through a life of hell and congratulating them for it. They never see their families, much less the world and all it has to offer, providing them with no greater perspective to make decisions that affect others.

(Like who they vote in for our President (but let's try and keep this not political).)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:41 pm (UTC)

EA, the new member of the capitalist monster

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wow....unfair labor practice....i didnt think that the CAPITALIST MONSTER that runs this world had used unfair labor practices in america for quite some time...congradualations EA you are now up there with with despicable Gap corporation or anyone else that uses basically slave labor to achieve their infinite bank accounts....these CEOs and other people that run these countries are CRIMINALS and they deserved to be locked up for a very long time, cause what they do is ILLEGAL....but it doesnt matter cause they will get away with it by just sending a little of that infinite cash to whatever judge, politician, lobbyist,etc they need to so they can keep up with their deplorable acts whilst screwing the consumer, the employee and basically everyone else who doesnt have "Executive" next to their name...never will i purchase an EA product, not that i ever think i have
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:46 pm (UTC)

Forget EA work for a company that cares

(Link)

When it comes down to it it's all about the scrilla'. Stop your bitching and check out some of the other publisher in the Bay that really do care for their employees.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:46 pm (UTC)

This is what you slave for EA workers

(Link)

Lawrence F. Probst
Chairman and CEO
Electronic Arts

In 2003, Lawrence F. Probst raked in $17,552,413 in total compensation including stock option grants from Electronic Arts.

From previous years' stock option grants, the Electronic Arts executive cashed out $13,723,593 in stock option exercises.

And Lawrence F. Probst has another $60,055,226 in unexercised stock options from previous years.

From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:53 pm (UTC)

Microsoft Online Game Studios is hiring

(Link)

http://www.microsoft.com/careers/search/results.aspx?FromCP=Y&JobCategoryCodeID=&JobLocationCodeID=&JobProductCodeID=10116&JobTitleCodeID=&Divisions=&TargetLevels=&Keywords=&JobCode=&ManagerAlias=&Interval=50

Don't feel trapped, there are other companies that value you as people, not just as resources.

Best of luck with the lawsuit.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:07 pm (UTC)

Re: Microsoft hiring. Dont be Duped, they are no better.

(Link)

Thier practices are a bunch of nonsense. They understand nothing about the game industry or creative people, which is first evident when going through the hiring process.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 09:55 pm (UTC)

EA is one of many game devs with these practices-IGDA study on Quality of Life

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In the last year more game development employees have been coming forward and finally speaking up about the horrid and blatant mistreatment at work they have endured. This falls under a quality of life issue and poor HR practices.

At the Women's Game Conf (part of the Austin Game Conf) this past Sept there was a panel of speakers who spoke to the quality of life issues. And when asked what they believed contributed to the work practices, such as long crunch periods and personal sacrifice, Gordon Walton from SOE and other key game industry leaders stated that much of it was the belief that a good game could only be produced through great personal sacrifice. It's a martyr complex driven philosophy. I attribute this to what is often a personality characteristic of many creative types-nothing should or will prevent them from creating the ultimate masterpiece. Nothing is more important than the masterpiece.

Why does this type of business practice happen? A myriad of reasons exist but one that I am focused on right now is that the majority of game developers are not good business managers, nor will they be. They end up as presidents, CEOs, and VPs because they were successful at creating an 'A' game, not because they are business entrepreneurs with experience, training and knowledge in good business practices, leadership, and people management. Most hear these terms and immediately toss out the bearer of this message. That is too "corporate", too structured, too formal, and too business like.

Hmmm...oh, yeah, we are running a business aren't we? Maybe it should be professional, well managed, and have some established standards. There is a middle ground. It doesn't have to be this rigid, locked down, authoritarian, dictatorial work environment.

What they wont pay attention to or hear is poor management means compromised timelines...UNLESS you make your employees compensate by working 80+ hours a week for 6 months straight. Then the top admin will come back and say, "See, we made our milestones, just like we said we would. So we are managing our projects and people just fine."

Really? And at what cost did you hit your milestones? How many sick days were taken by all of your employees? How much did time-on-task increase for other employees to compensate for those who were sick or out? How many divorces or separations have occurred during the 2-3 year development cycle? How many employees have you lost? How many of those lost had 5+ years of game dev experience? (This would equate to the loss of a valuable asset to the company in knowledge and expertise.)

What is the resentment and morale level of your employees? How many are disinterested, dispassionate, and no longer buying into your company "vision"? How much has conflict increased between employees? How many factions are there within given departments, creating a fragmented workflow and environment? How much more productive and efficient could your team and the product have been if management had been more balanced and took these aspects into account? Where does accountability and rewarding good work performance fit in?

I could keep going with the questions actually but I won't. A good business owner is one that realizes his or her limitations and hires the resources needed to get those less preferred areas handled well. Game developers are creators, not managers. They need to be the visionaries and the force that drives an organization toward a vision. They do not have to be the operational manager and deal with daily, mundane details. That is what they need to pay others to do so they can be who they were born to be. This is good leadership. Anything less is failure to lead your company well and letting down your employees.

/rant off

IGDA study on this...http://www.igda.org/qol/whitepaper.php
Main site http://www.igda.org/qol

From someone with a mission-to transform the business practices within the game dev industry.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 12:23 am (UTC)

Re: EA is one of many game devs with these practices-IGDA study on Quality of Life

(Link)

I no longer have any trust of the IGDA. I joined a union myself, for exacty the reasons stated.
My union offered to sponser an event to raise awareness of employee rights in respect to working hours. The IGDA refused, saying it did not want to offend other sponsers.
The IGDA is nothing but a pupet of the big publishers.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:04 pm (UTC)

(Link)

My only worry is that my bosses will see this post (which I'm sure they already have) and think that since their required hours are merely 60-70 hours a week (and only six days a week), during our six-month crunch, that they will congratulate themselves on how humane they are to their developers.
From: dsmart
2004-11-12 10:05 pm (UTC)

ex-EA Joe Straitiff weighs in....using his real name

(Link)

You can read his LiveJournal entry to see his accountings.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:15 pm (UTC)

Re: ex-EA Joe Straitiff weighs in....using his real name

(Link)

You are not pointing out anything. It's been posted at least once on every single page here. read.
From: lmhclassof2004
2004-11-12 10:08 pm (UTC)

tragic abuse of human resources power

(Link)


It is when human resources can demand so much out of employees because they have few other places to go.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:21 pm (UTC)

I am with you!!!

(Link)

ea_spouse, I am sorry for the situation you are in. I am a new college grad s/w engineer in telecomm industry. I am totally surprised and disgusted by the gaming industry world, its inhuman. Yes I have heard and seen videos about how badly manual laborers (mass production of cheap goods in Mexcio) were treated with insane hours and underpay by Walmart in my Humanities 102 class. But to hear about engineers and developers go through about the same kind of treatment is such a shocker to me. In their case, I can sympathize with them, they were mostly un-educated and illiterate. What bothers me is, how could we let someone treat us like that let it be EA or even GOD.

To be frank I am an alien in this country, to find work and that too entry level position in the backdrop of outsourcing, the market being down and the companies unwilling to give jobs to such people (sponsoring visas and all those headaches I guess) I am really lucky. Well friends most of you are not in such situations. Some of you have 6-10 yrs of experience. If I were you I wouldn't care, I would collect all the data, letters, emails etc etc, quit the job and sue the company. Take a break for about a week and apply for jobs and get a better job in about another week. That is me. What is all the money worth to you if you cannot have time for your wives, husbands, kids and friends, and what is that money worth to you if you don't have good health, and are not HAPPY!!!

Some of you have blamed outsourcing as one of the reasons for this unfortunate thing. That surprises me. To be totally honest I agree with you, its bad for the average "Joe", he might loose his job if he already hasn't. Lets see why companies outsource. The need to cut costs is number one among others isn't it?? Are they willing to cut quality of their products due to this. NO WAY! Do they want better quality products. Oh YEAH. Lets think again if we have superior quality workers do you think these companies would still go to India or China. So these companies decide its cheaper (cost-wise) to outsource since its the same quality we get here in USA and it would cost them less if they outsource with the same quality. My answer to these guys since its absolutely unacceptable to lower wages, increase our productivity and quality of work (quality hours not quantity).

Its not the same world as about 5 years back. I envision in about 5-10 years the average pay of a software workers in India/China would be the same as here in USA. So there would be no point in outsourcing. Probably we should learn to compete with other countries for the quality of job. One way is to get back to school to strengthen our skills. Do you know what we call our Average Joe's in our communities (telecomm)?? MUDDLE HEAD'S, they only know one thing and they cannot think outside the box. So when a cheaper labour is available in India, companies outsource and this muddle head loose his job.

Being an Indian I learnt to compete. Flourish or perish thats how it is in india, competing with other 1 Billion ppl(can you believe it hmmmm). So I try to be atleast one step ahead of others (M.S in Telecomm). Given a line about 5 feet long, how would you make it shorter. The best way not to cut it short but draw another 6 feet long.

Now how to deal with such companies. It all starts from one person. Look here, one post from ea_spouse came back with with about more that 1500 comment in about little over 24hrs. If all of you feel the same way, and if one person stands up, other will surely stand up. Educate others how things are happening in EA and make them realize, some ppl do not realize it until some one tells them (guess they don't have time to think and realize, what they are going through). Walk out thats not the end of the world. I guess it could be hard for some of you, for couple of months. Its your only life fellows, only about couple of years you can enjoy life with your spouses, kids and friends and then we are dead. So enjoy life and try to enjoy your work, if not quit and find better work elsewhere and don't let the company or the person get away with what they have done to you and your family, if not for you for the people who could be in your shoes very soon....DO SOMETHING......
From: ravidrath
2004-11-12 10:30 pm (UTC)

Press Update...

(Link)

Talking to the press - many are interested. 1Up.com ran a story today, and I expect a few more will follow.

http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3136538

I actually got a reply from CNN's Chris Morris who writes about the business side of the game industry. He made it sound like this is an issue he's been wanting to tackle for a while, but wouldn't be doing anything soon. Also, he expressed typically journalistic concerns about the legitimacy of EA_Spouse's story. This isn't a slam, it's just that real journalists are suspect of anonymous blog posts. However, I did provide him with the lawsuit, some other information, and encouraged him to write a story while this discussion was still swirling - even if the validity of EA_Spouse's story can't be verified, the sentiment is clearly very real throughout the industry, as witnessed by the 1200+ comments appearing here.

-Peter
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:40 pm (UTC)

Re: Press Update...

(Link)

And he can always verify her story by contacting her at ea_spouse@hotmail.com
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:31 pm (UTC)

So true

(Link)

I work at the Tiburon studio and a 50-60 hour work week is normal. I'm finishing out the year and moving on. It's all smoke and mirrors until you get in man.
From: ea_spouse
2004-11-13 08:01 pm (UTC)

Re: So true

(Link)

Hopefully we can break up some of that. Ultimately if someone wants to work themselves into the ground and they go into it voluntarily, that's one thing. It's an industry problem but it's separate. But the deceit and illegality of the practices are something else.
[User Picture]From: dreamwraith
2004-11-12 10:34 pm (UTC)

Personal life > money

(Link)

I doubt you'll read this (1221 comments as I post this, yikes!) but... I just got my degree in 3D Modeling and Texturing for Games. I realized shortly into my second year that this wasn't what I wanted to do for a living. After meeting with people that had worked in the industry for only a handful of years, and sometimes over a decade, I realized that most companies want you to do just this- sacrifice a personal life for the company's sake. I thought it over for a year before I decided that I would finish, get my degree, and concentrate on my real passion, writing. I would rather make minimum wage working at a regular job at a cafe or bookstore and be able to go home after 8 hours, free to pursue what would genuinely make me happy, than sacrifice so much for some extra money.

There are still a handful of companies out there I wouldn't mind working for for a couple of years, but after seeing how the business works, it's not something that I'd like to do for a living. Entries like yours reinforce my beliefs.

I had teachers that work/ed at EA, and if questioned about it, the younger ones would shy away, while the older ones would state that yes, EA is a terrible place to work at, and there are many game companies out there like that. They said that many places rely on younger artists/programmers etc. who have no idea how the business works, who get lured in by the money and incentives. Incentives like, "Oh, look, we have arcade games, a slide, pool tables, etc. here, it's a fun place to work." Once they get burned out, they're tossed aside.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Personal life > money

(Link)

I would look at other avenues in the entertainment field if this scares you off. I worked in games for a long time I learned alot when I started out and it was good for me, You can always take knowledge with you when you want to leave. Unfortunately I was laid off. I found it too hard to get back in, there is too little work out there and the studios use it for leverage. Anyway I'm glad I ended up in an animation studio where I am much happier now, and this happened unexpectedly.

Don't give up on your dreams, You might feel guilty later on down the road that you gave up and didn't try.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:51 pm (UTC)

www.eaovertimecase.com

(Link)

www.eaovertimecase.com
[User Picture]From: antdevamp
2004-11-12 11:47 pm (UTC)

Re: www.eaovertimecase.com

(Link)

Yeah! This is Awesome! I hope you guys sting them for about (Amount=CEO wets himself and cries himself to sleep, his chick divorces him, the HR guy commits suicide, you guys all take a year off with about $400K each in your pockets!)

Good luck! This stuff will never change if you leave it to JUST labor. Labor + Litigation is the best! They won't kill your Union if it looks like retribution or yet MORE aggravation on the employees after paying out a judgment like this...and they will pay out! Woo!
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:51 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Cry me a river. We get to make games for a living. Most of the crunch time I saw was because people didn't deliver on their promised deadlines. Most people in the industry are lazy.

-ex-EA
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:57 pm (UTC)

(Link)

You poor clueless bastard.
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typical! - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: typical! - (Anonymous) Expand
Geeze! - (Anonymous) Expand
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 10:53 pm (UTC)

No sympathy!

(Link)

This is what the country gets for voting for a president that will continue outsourcing our work!
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 05:37 am (UTC)

Don't even go there!

(Link)

Plenty DIDN'T vote for dubya.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 11:06 pm (UTC)

But damn they make some good games!!

(Link)

Thanks for all the hard work, I appreciate it.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 12:52 am (UTC)

Re: But damn they make some good games!!

(Link)

hehe...are you kidding? I can't even think of anything to buy at the vaunted EA Store when I get the chance. Good job Marketing Department.
[User Picture]From: monionjw
2004-11-12 11:13 pm (UTC)

Interns

(Link)

Wow, I just read a huge portion (not all though, yet) of the comments and the article, and am amazed at how bad the situation at EA truly is.

Just recently at my university (in Canada) EA had a recruiting session. They did mention that there were times where one would have to work 80 hour weeks, but they said it was during "crunch times" which only lasted a month at the very max. I figured, being the young university student needing an in into the industry, that that wasn't so bad, that I could live with it. But apparently, even that was sugar-coating reality, which is more than a little frightening.

I can see a possible solution, but it hinges on many many factors. Let's look at the fact that EA (especially the studio in Vancouver) is hiring pretty much all college grads or interns (they just hired a huge load of interns). In my internship program, at least, interns are paid interns, and thus deal with the same sort of employee contracts as normal employees. We also have one resource that most employees that have been in the industry for 5+ years do not: our student unions. Many student unions offer free legal aid to the students. If EA is hiring all of these interns, then one might suggest that if they were to all stand up and say "Enough" we could deal with the fact that standing up for yourself costs money. We're still young enough that many of us sill live with our parents on occasion and don't have families to feed, and if our legal fees are being dealt with through our Universities and student unions, then the money problem is at least reduced. Take that suddenly, most of the students or just graduated students are standing up, who else are they going to hire?

The big problem is the unified front. Many students would take this as an opportunity to get in with EA while everybody else is off making their stand. So perhaps to help with that problem, this needs to become more public. So public that people can't ignore it. The other big problem is the fact that there are many students who (like myself at first glance) fell for their rhetoric and figure that the crunch times at EA aren't that bad. Then there's the whole black-balling effect. No student wants to be black-balled before their career even gets off the ground. In fact, many of them probably apply to EA if only to get their foot in the door (that was my reasoning).

I realize this is all easier said than done, but it scares me that the industry I want to become a part of would cannibalize it's working force so easily and quickly. Makes me think twice about doing anything in the video game industry, but on the other hand, there's not really anything else I would rather be doing.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:18 am (UTC)

Re: Interns

(Link)

No offense, but the whole point of getting an internship is so that you have some work along with your schooling to put on your resume and hopefully an employer who will write you a letter of recommendation that you can put next to the ones your teachers write.

Walking into a company for a summer and being a complete dick is NOT the way to get a good recommendation.

I'm not suggesting that interns should be abused and just take it, but they don't have the negotiating power to do the kind of thing you're talking about. That's best left to full-time employees.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 11:16 pm (UTC)

(Link)

I'm writing because I think it's really important that this be talked about. Very loudly and very widely across the industry. I also work in the industry for a studio contracted by EA to create games and even though we are not part of EA's internal culture, its influence extends here as well. We frequently work long periods of insane crunch hours - nearly 24 hours in order to meet EA's "deadlines". However what frequently happens is that these deadlines are completely arbitrary and ignored by EA, completely disregarding any impact that has on us. There are a number of people with families and I am unsure how they have survived this long: we're talking endless crunch for like a year at a time. In addition, in order to meet "market pressures" EA will also compress release schedules drastically, and expect completely unrealistic dates to be met.

The absolute utter lack of respect for workers as people who have lives outside of work is disgusting. Especially skilled workers who are dedicating their entire lives to the production of these titles - and who are rewarded with a request for humane conditions with disdain and dismissal.

Organizing labour, even if it was simply some form of collective bargaining for contracts would go a long way towards improving what is a dire situation for the industry and its workers.
From: unionjosh
2004-11-22 03:12 am (UTC)

(Link)

Hi,
My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE 16. We represent the cg workers at ILM. I am also helping with the class action lawsuit against EA for overtime violations. I am interested in extending the organizing and possibly filing lawsuits against other companies. I would very much like to hear about your experiences. You can remain anonymous if you prefer. I am at 415-441-6400 or unionjosh@local16.org
Josh
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