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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)
2004-11-14 12:13 am (UTC)

EA Tiburon - Slavefarm in a swamp

(Link)


Just walk out guys. All of Tiburon just stand out in the parking lot, invite the local Orlando papers. The corporate whores will have to take notice when their workforce starts refusing to work. It's your blood, sweat & lost years, paying for their country homes. Without you, they are just as unemployed as they threaten to make you.

EA, set an example. Start paying overtime before you have more law suits than even your slimy lawyers can handle.




From: ventrue101
2004-11-24 09:04 pm (UTC)

Re: EA Tiburon - Slavefarm in a swamp

(Link)

let me know if you do this...i will join you
From: helpimdieing
2004-11-14 12:28 am (UTC)

Crunch

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I am currently a salaried employee at EAC in Vancouver, Canada. and have to
agree with ea_spouse.The demands and working practices here are no different
and the reality of fair compensation is a blur.There is NO overtime pay for the extreme
hours that are expected - and yes, I mean expected! 'Crunch time' is pretty much
throughout the whole project, first come the monthly milestones, then pre-alpha,
then alpha, then post alpha, then comes art lock, then beta. The point is, the team
is always pushed towards some sort of deadline 80 hours a week, or more in some
cases - if not most.The teams are pushed to accomplish unattainable goals
that in the end get cut or moved to the next years edition.It is in my opinion that the
7 days a week 14 hours a day is used to compensate for poor planning and
bad management. By the way, it is not adviseable to ask for a day off during
these 'Crunch Times', beacuse you just may get a meeting with your manager
questioning your comittment to the team. Holiday weekends are days in the
calender that only make you realize how alienated you are becoming
from your friends and family outside of EA. The phrase "Number one people company"
is no more than corporate propoganda, used to manipulate the new and naive into
believing that the company actually cares about the health and well being of it's
employees.
Your probably thinking, "leave if you don't like it". The fact is I probably will because like everyone else I was new and naive and believed that working under these conditions as worth doing something I love. It seems to take a couple years and a couple
of titles for it all to sink in then maybe you stop telling yourself that the next title
will be different.

I am surprised there are less postings from EA employees about this topic,
I know everyone is talking about it.
Here is a chance ( thanks to ea_spouse) to correct an imbalance in a company
that has taken a passion that I love and turned it into a job that I will most likely leave.
I shiver to think of the next generation consoles that will demand even more content.

Kudos to ea_spouse for having the back bone to stand up for what is right.



Just another EA opinion

From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 12:35 am (UTC)

Re: Crunch Time at Ubisoft

(Link)

Working practices at Ubisoft are no different
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 12:31 am (UTC)

For what it's worth

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I won't be buying anything from EA until this is resolved. And I don't mean corporate spin resolved, I mean resolved.

Unfortunately, that doesn't mean much coming from me, because I'm not a sports game fan at all, which means there isn't much they make that I want. Just flipping through my game collection out of curiosity, I have almost no EA titles. But I will notice in the future if their logo is on something I want to buy. I've done the same thing with music since the RIAA started suing file traders and trying to fuck the internet over with legislation. If I want a CD, first I check and see if the publisher is a member of the RIAA. If they are, I don't buy it or buy it used (so they don't get $$ from the sale). Again, with my taste there are few releases from RIAA members that I want to buy, but it's $15 her and $15 there. Same deal with EA, $50 here and $50 there. If enough people think before they buy, it will make a difference, and it will be phrased in the language they understand.
[User Picture]From: gavv
2004-11-15 04:04 pm (UTC)

Re: For what it's worth

(Link)

i'm doing so as well. last thing i bought was burnout 3 since it was kinda midstream shifted to ea. I *was* planning to get this year's Tiger Woods & Nascar, but not any more
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 12:37 am (UTC)

HUGE backpay owed when your SO quits

(Link)

Unless you so is making over $44/hr (90K or so a year), under California law he is owed backpay and overtime at his "salaried" rate. You are not salaried in Calfornia unless you make over $44/hr.

If he is making over $44/hr and salaried, any work done during a day counts as a full day work -- so doing one call from hawaii in a day means it is a work day.

EVERYONE should talk to a labor lawyer when they quit EA and get their backpay - it could easily be tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars....

From: ravidrath
2004-11-19 01:08 am (UTC)

Re: HUGE backpay owed when your SO quits

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I once did the math on this from my 10.5 months in crunch at Liquid Entertainment. The overtime pay alone, by conservative estimates, was between 100-150% of my salary at the time. After they fired a friend of mine he did get a labor lawyer and sue the company, but I don't think it went anywhere.

-Peter

[User Picture]From: spigumus
2004-11-14 12:42 am (UTC)

(Link)

I actually go to an art school, and Kudo Sunoda, the Executive Producer for EA in I guess the Chicago area came and visited my college.

He gave a great presentation on the gaming industry. And sadly enough, it was pretty much everything you said up above.

... yet every one of those kids who left his presentation had more motivation to get in this business than before.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 09:55 pm (UTC)

(Link)

Kudo Tsunoda is the Executive Producer for EA Chicago and he kicks ass. But he's an EP and, as such, enjoys a very different journey than ANY recent college graduate would experience for YEARS to come. Don't be misled because you've met and spoken with someone senior ... talk with a worker bee (an artist, programmer etc) and see if your perspective isn't different.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 12:46 am (UTC)

Try working for Lucasfilm!

(Link)

Think EA is bad? Well, it's happening ALL OVER the place! My boyfriend used to work for Lucasfilm for COUNTLESS hour a day, almost every night, and sometimes (very occasionally) spend the night under his desk during crunch-times! All for these stupid Star Wars movies?! He was paid almost a third of what he normally made in the VFX industry prior to going to Lucas. We were living together in Marin, the MOST EXPENSIVE PLACE IN THE US to live while he was still paying off his car, student loans, and turning down plenty of freelance work because he COULDN'T find time to do any!

Fortune magazine published once that Lucasfilm is one of the top companies hiring women in important roles. Later to find out that these women are getting ripped off, too! And most of them are married with husbands NOT working for Lucasfilm, thus actually making a decent salary!

Seems like companies with a reputation seems to work with the mentality of "Go ahead and leave... you're BLESSED to be working here... there's a long line of people right behind you waiting for your job."

EA is rough, but almost everyone I've spoken to who has left a Lucasfilm company has told me the same... life was MUCH better once they left and realized they could work for a company that truly valued their contributions. And that included almost any company... including our friend who got a job working at Blockbuster Video... making more money and earning more respect.

From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 03:28 am (UTC)

Re: Try working for Lucasfilm!

(Link)

Ah yes, Lucasfilm isn't union. I heard about how artists were treated at Lucasfilm and felt sorry for them. I worked for ILM for many years and now work for EA. I NEVER worked the hours I work at EA. NEVER. I was part of the union at ILM and they couldn't get away with what EA does. Even on Star Wars, I rarely worked 6 day weeks. They say the grass is always greener and boy were they right. I'm contemplating going back to ILM where on their worst day, I was treated with respect. As it stands now with EA. I feel like I'm in an abusive relationship.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 12:47 am (UTC)

Where to file a complaint when people leave & research overtime!

(Link)

Complaints:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/dlse.html

Overtime:
http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/FAQ_Overtime.htm

Overtime Exemptions -- if he makes over $44/hr (in 2004) he can be exempt as a software engineer. Other than that, most professionals must be certified or licensed by the state of california.
http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/FAQ_OvertimeExemptions.htm
[User Picture]From: ellyjonez
2004-11-14 12:54 am (UTC)

from someone who has worked in a similar environment...

(Link)

eh. sounds to me like many software companies and start ups. sounds like if the team would stop pushing itself so much, EA would go along with it, and everyone could work normal hours. but if the team believes they are working on something "awesome" and "cool" that they "love" which requires them to all work crazy hours (and the person who refuses to work crazy hours is looked down upon by the rest ofthe martyrs on the team), then they will all continue to slave away. it's not up to the high paid CEO to go down into the engineering dept and tell the overworked geeks to stop working so hard. they just need to decide to stop working so much, and decide that their passions lie elsewhere (or at least are balanced by other interests besides work), and that making video games is just a job. a fun job, but just a job.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 01:02 am (UTC)

Re: from someone who has worked in a similar environment...

(Link)

Sorry, but you have no clue what you are talking about. It's the managers that are telling us to work the hours; not us sitting there thinking "Gee, I really like working 15 hours a day! This is fun!"

If we don't work the hours, we get fired. It's as simple as that. It is up to the high-paid CEO to create an environment in which their managers are not breaking the law, and forcing people to work inhumane hours.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 01:02 am (UTC)

I never liked EA much........

(Link)

Ever since they closed down Westwood studios, I've had a bit of a grudge against them. Now I can understand why Westwood had to close: they were against the whole 'working-as-slaves' ideology and couldn't take EA's crap anymore, so EA took them out. *shakes fist*

I hope this doesn't get Slashdot or livejournal or anyone in trouble, but after I read the EA_Spouse and joestraitiff stories I felt so pissed off I knew I had to do something about it.

While this isn't intended to bring down EA (nor would it be able to, IMHO - to bring them down would require collective efforts from employees and consumers), this is something I cooked up yesterday out of spite for EA, and if it gives them a bad reputation, then so be it. They knew better than to make profits out of people's lives...

HENCE, I GIVE YOU: -----EXPLOITATION ARTS-----

you can find copies at:

http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~vxfe976/resources/ExA_small.png

and

http://www.cse.unsw.edu.au/~vxfe976/resources/ExA.png


If you also feel DISDAIN for EA, then you may use these images as signatures whenever, and wherever you can. And if people ask you about it, tell them that EA is a corporate sweatshop running on the lives of its employees, while management continues to strive for profits regardless of what the costs are. And if you wish, you can also urge those people to stop buying EA products until they actually attempt to fix this problem. But knowing big companies, they won't take notice until it's too late, and then they'll just go and leech off some other big company. At least I hope the next one won't be in the games industry...

Once again, my apologies to those non-EA-management people I may have caused problems to, and I hope you can see what I'm doing as an attempt to educate people about the evils of the world, rather than a direct attempt to kill EA.

BTW, by acknowledging that this post exists, the audience admits that I will not be responsible for what people do with these images. The audience also admits that the hosts of these images are also not responsible for the effects, as is anyone else I feel is related to me in any way. This disclaimer is also subject to change at anytime.

I hope that covers everything...
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 05:32 am (UTC)

Re: I never liked EA much........

(Link)

I worked at westwood studios for 8 years
The place was awesome, Louis and Brett were doing a good job, then EA came in and those two took a lot of pressure for EA to better their products, Brett left, Lou became unaprochable and got given a deal to EALA.
Still both chose to sell to EA and took the cash, unfortunatly for the 130+ employees the door closed regardless of their needs. Some employees took a severance other relocated to EARS and EALA. Less than a dozen Westwood workers are still with EA today after the door closed.

Sad.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 01:08 am (UTC)

prediction

(Link)

all the ea employees watching this thread will stay in hiding. everyone feels really good because they get a chance to vent and put it to the MAN. as weeks pass and the grafiti on the walls of the ea castle grows denser and less legible, ea staff will grow bored from the redundancy and start to rationalize. the next project will be better. it has to be, right? ea execs have born witness to our mighty blog! rusty rueff is going to come to our rescue with an action plan following his talkback survey!

everything will remain the same.

me? i'm getting my porfolio together and getting out of here.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 02:56 am (UTC)

Re: prediction

(Link)

You are exactly right my friend. This is what happens every year during the crunch times and everyone who was complaining stays to complain again the next year.

This time it's just making a bigger splash, but fatbabies was exactly this... what, 3 years ago?
Re: prediction - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: prediction - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 01:25 am (UTC)

Another VGI Widow's story

(Link)

I understand, sympathize and completely agree with you. My husband and I nearly divorced after a decade of marriage because of the stress of his video game career. Here’s the short version.

In 1993, fresh from college, he was hired by a local video game company as an artist. The conditions were good, the hours reasonable and the pay enough for us to live on comfortably. He worked hard and had most weekends off to enjoy life and his hobbies. He learned new software programs quickly and was eventually lured away to another in 1994 to a company started by a former colleague.

He was one of the first employees and started as lead artist. The company produced several successful games and the production crew expanded. We were married later that year and he enjoyed his career creating artwork for fun games, on time and on budget, without needing to put in huge amounts of overtime. He still had some spare time and most weekends off.

The success of this small company attracted several larger companies who initially contracted them to produce ports for their well-known titles. Slowly, pressure increased to produce results faster: weekends were sometimes just one day, work days stretched from 8 to 10 hours and occasionally longer, extended weeks became months. Perks were few and far between and bonuses were tied to the success of a game long after its release.

In 1999, the small company was bought out by a large US-based company and it the conditions changed again. By then, my husband was art director, having spent time in nearly every section of the art department. His skills enabled him to liaison between programmers and artists. He motivated his team and lead by example, always making himself available to hear their needs and concerns. As projects became more complex, additional employees were hired and the company grew to about 50 people relocated to a new office on the outskirts of the city.

In 2003, a producer was sent from head office to oversee game design and production. With no background in art or basic programming skills, he was supposed to liaison between both departments to keep the game on schedule. Instead, the company became his own personal empire seemingly ruled by ego and whim. His lack communication skills and Jekyll-and-Hyde personality made day-to-day operations unpredictable and people began to leave the company.

Working conditions deteriorated: 12-14 hour workdays were normal, 6 and often 7 day work weeks were scheduled month after month. Holidays were revoked, even legally statutory ones and vacations were discouraged even during non-“crunch times.” There were no “comp” days and only the shortest time for recovery from an illness was allowed. Important milestones and deadlines seemed to be every two weeks, revisions and rewrites were demanded, often at the last minute and release dates got pushed back with no end in site. (That project is now three years old still without a definite release date.)
To Be Continued
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 01:28 am (UTC)

Part 2

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Not everyone who quit the company or was terminated was replaced and the remaining team had to work even harder to make up the short-fall. Salaries were good for directors and senior employees but not as generous to junior or new employees. It never seemed to occur to the producer to give the crew the one thing they all needed: time off.

We didn't complain. The few times we had colleagues over, we wives and girlfriends referred to ourselves as “VGI (Video Game Industry) Widows” due to the lack of time we spent with our partners. Everyone had the same story; partners MIA whose job was taking its toll on their relationship with their family. The only one not willing to sacrificing his personal life seemed to be the producer who was known to take ‘family days’ off and spend holidays away. How this made the rest of us feel can easily be surmised.

I never saw my husband looking so unhappy. He suffered weekly migraines for a year, most often on Saturday, the only day he was home from the office. He was depressed, lost interest in his hobbies, and had no energy to help around the house with the occasional job that needed his attention. Long weekends and holidays didn’t exist. We couldn't spend any time with our friends.. We stopped communicating. When his family saw him at Christmas, they commented on the change in his personality, not for the better. All I could say was that work was destroying him, emotionally, mentally and physically.

We sought counselling to help our relationship and realized the problem was not us: the stress from his job was. After much soul-searching and discussion, we concluded that he had to leave the company. Giving up our financial security was risky but, years ago, when he had spare time, he turned his hobby into a small business. He wanted to pursue it full-time and I agreed to continue running the administration side of it. We would blend our creative talents to make a go of it. I supported his decision and he chose to delay his resignation until after the next game deadline was met.

One day, he came home early with a big smile on his face. He’d handed in his resignation and walked out of the office for the last time. The feeling of relief that engulfed us was short lived. Within minutes, the phone rang and the producer was asking him what it would take for him to come back. He tried to take his leave quietly and persuade them he had retired from video games entirely to pursue a different career.

For us, the change of career was the right decision. Our relationship is renewed, our business is flourishing and we don’t ask anything about the game or its progress when we socialize with friends who were or are employees of the company. We sympathize with those who are still there, hope they cope with the pressure and enjoy their jobs for as long as it suits them.

From the start of the current project over 3 years ago, 32 employees have left the company to date. The atmosphere in the office is dismal and demoralized and it shows no sign of improvement. How any company can produce quality work while expecting their employees to stay healthy, focused and loyal is beyond anyone’s guess? Our guess is they don't. Employers are content to use people, discard them and hire younger, less experienced newcomers who don’t know what to expect beyond the promise of ‘good money’ and ‘perks’ that may or may not arrive. Loyalty often goes unrewarded and if you burn out, too bad.

The misconception that the video game industry is an “Information Technology” industry is part of the problem. The labor laws that govern the IT industry do NOT apply to video game production. Video game software is not critical to the business sector: they are considered entertainment software. All industries have maximum amount of work hours and time off that, by law, is supposed to prevent stress-related injuries and accidents. Overtime is supposed to be recompensed with equal time off or “pay in lieu” if the employee chooses. This applies to the video game industry but employers are ignoring it or offering employees more money than they can refuse to the detriment of their health, relationships and personal lives.
To Be Finished...
Part 3 Finally! - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Part 2 - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Part 2 - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Part 2 - (Anonymous) Expand
Possibly or not. - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 02:34 am (UTC)

$40.000 +

(Link)

If your makeing 40 grand or more a year to just sit on your ass and make video games. I hope you are working more then 60+ hours a week . Theres alot more people in the world that earn shit for cash and work 10 times harder. and for you wifes. be happy that your not haveing to work cause your man thats working hard to support you! This world would be so much better if money wasn't ever made!

Oh boohoo your working 90+ hours a week to make a game that does nothing to improve anything! only thing they help make is more lazy people and those lazy people make the snobs behind the games.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 02:37 am (UTC)

Re: $40.000 +

(Link)

WOW, you know people that work 900hours a week. Now that's hard work.
Seriously, you voted for George W Bush didn't you?

TWAT!


Re: $40.000 + - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: $40.000 + - (Anonymous) Expand
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 02:51 am (UTC)

And so far all you people have..?

(Link)

Ok. Large number of people. Numerous locations around the US. The sincere sentiment of wishing good for the workers and bad for the corporate. Now how do we turn these things into any valid form of action or protest?
[User Picture]From: the_scumbag
2004-11-14 03:20 am (UTC)

Re: And so far all you people have..?

(Link)

>>Now how do we turn these things into any valid form of action or protest?<<

Dude, this is the internet. Transfering online whining into any valid form of action or protest, as you call it, is akin to changing lead to gold.

Based on the article and responses... every gaming company that actually succeeds does this horrible thing. If you didnt know... you know now.

EA and these megacompanies... yeah, they'll laugh like Durandal in Lho'own orbit, but thats how things will always be.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 03:44 am (UTC)

I TOO AM A EA SPOUSE

(Link)

My family are also victims of EA work practices. My spouse took a position with EA about a year and a half ago. Of course we came with our 3 children under all of the promises of a great salary, benefits, and of course a yearly bonus. The first year my spouse was subjected to 3 months of "crunch time" hours consisting of 6-7 days per week up to 16 hours per day with no less than 12. Of course, with the industry comes a certain amount of expected overtime. So the kids and I disappear for the summer as to ease the burden my spouse feels trying to meet the needs of a family versus the demands of his managers. Of course the bonus they offer as part of the hiring package is suppose to somehow financially compensate us for all the time lost. Well here is the kicker, the employees didn't get their full bonuses. Why? Is it because EA didn't make money? No, that isn't so, all we heard all year was how they had record breaking profits. The share holders made money, and I am sure the executives made plenty of money. But when it came time to compensate the people who made them that money, they got kicked in the face. This years project and "crunch time" believe it or not was double that of last year. Six months of brutally long hours. And as the kids and I went to disappear again, my spouse had come home a couple of nights at 7:00 pm after already working 10 hour days in order to have some time with his kids, was pulled aside and told that he needed to be staying longer. Rediculous! By the time this project ended my spouse was so exhausted I was serously concerned about his health. I know for a fact that if we had of known the conditions that we would face coming to work for EA we wouldn't of taken it. We would never sacrifice family, and health for any amount of money. I guarantee you that our time with EA will be coming to an end, and they will lose a very talented employee, but as the writer expressed, they will find another and go on.
From: ea_spouse
2004-11-14 07:05 am (UTC)

Re: I TOO AM A EA SPOUSE

(Link)

There are so many stories like this. I would strongly encourage you and your spouse to look into your options with the lawsuit. The overtime that is owed should the suit be successful for programmers (proving them to be non-exempt, as they should be under California law) EA could potentially owe your family many thousands of dollars. Overtime suits in CA can be retroactive up to four years.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 04:27 am (UTC)

Not buying any EA game from now on.

(Link)

Knowing what goes in them now (piss-poor management), I'm not getting another EA product again.

Although I'm a newbie C++ programmer, I know its hardwork building a quality product. But doing it under a stressful environment until you go sick...That's just wrong.

Regards to all those hardworking EA folks.
From: blue_line
2004-11-14 05:00 am (UTC)

were with ya'

(Link)

I cant even begin to read all the comments. but I'm with ya. I work for a game company. Its teh same everywhere.
From: unionjosh
2004-11-22 09:55 pm (UTC)

Re: were with ya'

(Link)

My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE 16. We represent cg workers at ILM. It is time this industry grew-up and workers are going to have to stand-up. I am at 415-441-6400 or unionjosh@local16.org
Talk to you soon.
Josh
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 05:06 am (UTC)

WOW.... here is my responce

(Link)

You might not get to read this because of the thousands of responces but I have gone through and continue to go through the fight with my employer for having hazardous conditions in the workplace.

You and your fmily will have to sit down and discuss what you are going to do about the situation. I believe this is what you should do:

For the next 6 months, record everything that is going on at the job site. Your husband should be as discrete as posible, but record his hours and what he has to do. Even record the policy of "if you don't like it, just quit".

You can get unemployment, I REPEAT, you can get unemployment if you can prove a reason why you left your job. Speak to an unemployment representative today if posible.

Secondly, after colecting data over the 6 months, write to OSHA and to the Human Right Division.

Then, write to your representavives in Congress, in detial, of what is happening.


While it will take time for results, be sure that you will get them in time. This will be hard on your family, but lets face it, isn't it already hard?
From: ea_spouse
2004-11-14 07:34 am (UTC)

Re: WOW.... here is my responce

(Link)

I am reading all of the comments, though I'm not replying to as many of them as I'd like. =) We have been recording daily goings-on for awhile, actually... and not necessarily even intentionally, but simply by way of how we normally communicate. Thanks for your suggestions, they will definitely be put 'on the burner', so to speak.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 05:14 am (UTC)

Capitalism...

(Link)

I've often seen large corporations function within our society stating they are law abiding. They likely are. Are they ethical? Hell no. Captialism can be synonymous with exploitism. Captialism claims to be fueled by innovation, progress or technological advancement. Its not. Its fueled solely by greed. Governments in capitalistic societies divise their laws to accomodate the rich before the poor. That is why big companies can exploit employees ethically, but still be innocent legally. Stock markets and stock prices become the company head's primary concerns.

We claim that we've evolved from the age of Kings and peasants, where you worked for the King and received just enough to survive. Did we really evolve beyond that? No. Today we have many Kings. Corporate Kings, who make millions as they work and exploit their peasant employees.

I hope the employees take EA to the cleaners.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 04:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Capitalism...

(Link)

Right... and the answer is Socialism right (that's laughable) Capitalism isn't without its evils, but overall it's proven to work better than any other system in terms of fueling an economy.

If these companies are viloating laws then they can be fined and if any damages are owed they will be paid. These people aren't forced to work at this companies, they can escape, they can change career paths.
They can even open their own business and become the next EA or Lucus, that may be extreemly difficult to do, but the opportunity is there no less. This doesn't seem to be the case in most non-Capitalistic countries.

People who think Capitalism = Evil are brainwashed and the US is the #1 hated country, because it remains the sole "super power" (thus, again proven the success of Capitalism). China is quickly rising in the ranks, but the still do not have the same GDP, the only reason China is growing so rapidly is because of their adoption of Capitalistic economic practices, so fuck off and educate yourself.




From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 05:21 am (UTC)

A Different Perspective

(Link)

Okay, to get a few bits out of the way, I work for EA. I have been there a long time and I plan to be until I retire. I am also a manager, although I started at the entry level.

ea_spouse's story is awful, and I am sure it's true although there are some data points wrong. I am glad it was posted anyway. I have input things here and there amongst these threads but thought I would add my own subthread as many of those comments are a bit buried.

A few notes about how I manage, and about the company:
1. I refuse to manage my team by assigning mandatory overtime UNLESS someone is late because they did not do their work.
2. I would never fire someone for not working overtime. I might give them less compensation than someone who does. Is there anyone here, really, who questions the fairness of that?
3. I _LOVE_ to work at EA. I wanted to make games since games came into existance, and now I do. EA has its problems, but the vast majority of coworkers are fun, interesting people who are a pleasure to work with.
4. Some teams (too many) are screwed up. I am high up enough in the food chain to know that sometimes higher management is blind to this, and sometimes it's not. Believe it or not, EA is working on this issue. It is training its management (I already have appropriate training myself, but many of our managers do not).
6. I give my team members comp time at the end of projects.
7. I do everything in my power to keep my teams from having to work more than 50 or so hours. I happen to think that 50 is a reasonable minimum.

When you are confronted in your workplace with a situation like this, you have a list of choices:

- You can put your head down and do the work and the hours. Sometimes that sucks - trust me, I've been there. Sometimes it's actually fun, as much as that sounds like rationalization. It is certainly very tiring, although I personally never let it get to the point where it damaged my health.

- You can quit. This was mentioned as a bad attitude on management's part, but is it? Seriously: there are other companies and other industries to work for. I don't say that to be mean - the hard work is not for everyone, and I don't think any less of the people who would rather work less.

- You can form a union. Dangerous devices, unions. A company I used to work at had a union vote, and even though I was one of the lowliest engineers there I rallied against the idea. I would rather not lose my own right to negotiate my circumstances, which in all my time at EA I have occasionally been frustrated with but never felt like anyone was forcing me to do anything I didn't want to do. If I had felt that way, I'd have quit. In fact I _did_ quit the previous company...even though I got overtime pay there. There are other important factors in the workplace. EA was an immediate huge bump in salary for me, with a bonus program that has ranged from okay to great and a stock option program that essentially bought the house I live in...and remember, I'm a manager now but I started at entry level. Unionizing would have other consequences as well, but I don't want to sound like the bad manager trying to scare people away from unions.

From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 05:23 am (UTC)

A Different Perspective (continued)

(Link)

One more thing about working hard: some people (I would call it a significant minority) do it to themselves. They surf the net, they shop, they take long lunches, they play Magick the Gathering in the middle of the afternoon, they visit or IM with their friends. If these people would just sit and do the work, they could cut 3-4 hours out of their day. I don't mind when people do this, because it's an informal environment - as long as they don't turn around and complain about the hours, or leave after eight hours when three of them have not been spent working.

Regarding "Challenge Everything" and Madden. I do not play Madden, but anyone who does will tell you what an awesome product it is. Madden took video game football from ridiculous little pseudo-3D sprites to a presentation that at medium distance on a monitor is often mistaken for the real thing. It is and has been the best damn football game in the industry pretty much since its inception. If you don't think that's a challenge, or that it's a challenge to do that year in and year out without fail, then you don't understand the industry.

Your challenge, ea_spouse, is just as valid and whether anyone wants to believe it or not the company is addressing that challenge as well.

EA has problems. Vivendi has problems. Eidos has problems. Sony has problems. Microsoft has problems. I don't know anyone that works there, but I'd bet Nintendo has problems. I also know that this hard work is NOT restricted to larger companies - if anything, people at smaller studios sometimes have to work harder. Me, I choose to work on the system from within, to help defeat EA's problems. I have had success at it, and I am doing everything I can to try to get that success to spread to other teams so that letters like ea_spouse's are unnecessary and unheard of.

Slave labor? I think not. There is only one person who can force you to work under conditions you do not want to work under, and that is yourself. EA's talented staff can just about all go work wherever else in the industry they want, and most teams I've had the good fortune to work with have the talent to work in any other industry they apply themselves to as well.

Oh, and no question: I think Larry Probst is overcompensated too. :) Of course, I think I would be hard-pressed to name any CEO who's not...
Game Cult Managers - (Anonymous) Expand
OMG... - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: uberalan
2004-11-14 05:26 am (UTC)

(Link)

I've never been a big supporter of video games to begin with, but I work in sales for the largest computer retailer, and I'll be not only boycotting these practices, which are much worse than outsourcing overseas, but I'll be showing a printout of this to my customers who mention any ea product. thank you.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 05:37 am (UTC)

(Link)

For the past year I have worked for a video game development company. The project I was on was very difficult we put in insane amounts of overtime in an attempt to appease the demands of our insane publishers. Eventually the project was cancelled and our entire development team was laid off. One of my friends had been putting in extra hours above and beyond the already insane schedule we were on in order to have an opportunity to be a character modeler. A few weeks after the cancellation of the project he had a heart attack and died. Unfortunately he will no longer be modeling characters or making video games.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 05:53 am (UTC)

Videogames and Health

(Link)

I almost had the same thing happen to me, maybe. I was working at another game company with an even worse crunch time schedule/habit. I used to get pains in my chest but I couldn't take time off to see a doctor because management laid a heavy guilt trip on me. I ended up smoking hash all day - it was the only way to relieve the stress and I think it actually saved my life. I'd spend every day at work in a daze - getting high in the bathroom at the company cafeteria until I eventually got fired for botching up a meeting with an exec from Paramount. I walked in all red eyed and everyone could smell it on me so I got all paranoid and freaked out. All this happened three months ago. The job stress in these companies can get so high but I didn't think I would have made it if I hadn't turned to drugs to ease the stress. The only way they'll listen is if you form a union.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 06:35 am (UTC)

Lord of the Slave Drivers

(Link)

-----Original Message-----
From: Gray, Steve
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 2004 12:22 PM
To: LOTR3 Team @ EAHQ
Subject: Drive to Beta, CQC and Final!
Importance: High



While we’ve put two really important milestones on the road to shipping this game behind us – Alpha and Asset Lock – there is still a lot of work to do debugging the game and putting the final touches of polish on.



We can’t slow down quite yet. Because debugging and tuning are such a critical part of making any game, we need everyone to help out in every way they can.



First of all, we all need to be clear on the order in which Dev Track entries should be processed:



1. A Bugs

2. V Bugs (Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft standards violations)

3. A Tuning Tasks

4. B Bugs

5. A Tasks

6. B Tasks

7. C Bugs

8. C Tasks



If you don’t have any of these things to do, you should test the game. I’m going to send out instructions on how to do this. Also realize that “A Tune” tasks need to be turned around ASAP. I’ve asked the Producers to work with all of you to make sure all A Bugs, V Bugs and “A Tune” tasks are completed by the end of each day. Realize that these tasks will be generated during that same day, so clearing out Dev Track on one day is no guarantee you won’t have more tasks the next day.



A significant part of the team is working very hard to debug the game. If you don’t have DevTrack entries assigned to you, please follow the game testing instructions I distribute and spend your time between DevTrack assignments helping to debug the game.



As we close in on the final stretch, here’s the approach we’re taking to ensure we all are working in synch to close down bugs and put the necessary efforts into tuning to make a great game:



1. Core Work hours – be here during core working hours; those start at 10:00am and end in the mid-evening

2. Outside Core Work hours – please make arrangements with your manager to be reachable in case of a key problem with your part of the game and stay within 45 minutes of the office when possible



I’ve also asked the Producers to work out shifts for Pod members to make sure that at least one person from each Pod is on-site while engineering is working on their bugs, generally until midnight. The shifts should ensure that that this doesn’t impact any one person too severely.



This is the final stretch and we need to make all of our hard work really pay off by finishing on time.



Thanks to each one of you for your continued creativity and drive. It’s inspiring to me how much we’ve accomplished in such a short period of time. You all are great.



Steve
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 06:52 am (UTC)

If I worked for you, I'd quit.

(Link)

So basically you're not allowed to go home. In fact you'd prefer if we lived in the office until the game is in the box. Thanks, Mr. Slavedriver. I'll take may sanity and leave now. Buh-buy.
yes, March - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 06:50 am (UTC)

the first company email about the lawsuit

(Link)

-----Original Message-----
From: Earl, Nick
Sent: Monday, August 02, 2004 3:51 PM
To: STUDIO RFT @ EAHQ; Testing RFT@ EARS
Subject: FAQ on Recent Legal Action



On Friday, we were served with a class-action lawsuit claiming that Artists in our California studios are not correctly classified under California labor regulations regarding overtime pay. This suit was filed jointly by two law firms – one in San Francisco and a second in Boston – with one employee named as the plaintiff.



Unfortunately, under the rules of class-action lawsuits, the one short-tenured employee and lawyers now speak as a representative voice for every one of our Artists on this matter -- whether the Artists know they are included or not.



We believe EA has been fair and we will vigorously defend our position. Still, the lawsuit could drag on for many years and could have a significant long-term impact on our compensation, benefits and development process.



The two law firms may use the media to draw attention to the case. If you get any questions from the outside, please do not comment and instead refer them to Jeff Brown at x87922.



Because you all may have questions, I have attached a FAQ below which I encourage you to review. Because none of us are lawyers I urge you to use caution in what you say and write on email regarding this issue. Additionally, we will talk about this in further detail at our next All Hands.



We remain, regardless of challenges, committed to keeping EA a growing Company that will deliver successfully on our mission and objectives.



Thanks,

Nick





FAQ

What’s this lawsuit about?

This is a very sensitive issue that the entire digital entertainment industry is grappling with. Fundamentally, it is about re-defining who makes creative decisions in the development process. There’s no clear cut, final answer as each new generation of technology forces us to re-examine jobs and responsibilities.



What’s a class action lawsuit?

In essence, it’s a suit that aims to resolve legal questions for categories of employees rather than a single individual who has worked for us a very short time.



What are they suing for?

This gets into complex legal questions that our attorneys are sorting out and addressing. In most situations the attorneys fund and fuel these suits and take a large percentage of any settlements.



Why does EA oppose the suit?

We’re concerned any time one employee and a group of lawyers takes any action that could significantly change our compensation, benefits and studio development process.



If EA’s a #1 People Company, why don’t we just pay them?

EA succeeds because we combine good wages and benefits with a tightly managed cost structure. We believe that we’ve paid our people fairly and legally and EA pays for a lot of great benefits such as gyms, cafeterias, day care, game rooms as well as bonuses, benefits and stock options. On a global basis, it would be very challenging to pay for all that and then add additional compensation.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 06:56 am (UTC)

And I should stay quiet why????

(Link)

Go get them all you ex-EA artists, programmers, testers, CS people, etc. THIS is your finest hour!
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 07:05 am (UTC)

I want to cry.

(Link)

After reading ALL the posts to date, I feel the need to congratulate you on your actions. I posted my experience too because I felt it was the right place to share it. After reading how many other (ex-)EA SOs have been through that so closely mirrored my situation, I felt like crying. The injustice of it all, to the employees, the families, the hopeful wannabees who looked to these companies for their future. It's a sick industry and it must not continue unchecked.
I am glad something is being attempted and I so hope it makes the industry change for the better without sacrificing so many able and talented people. My heart goes out to all of you who have been through harsh time and please take some small comfort in the fact that you are not alone.
Strength, determination and success to EA_Spouse for getting the snowball started.
Sincerely,
SO of former art director at another stupid video game company
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 07:42 am (UTC)

Re: I want to cry.

(Link)

You know the best way to hurt EA is TO NOT BUY THEIR GAMES... I should think. But unfortunately this practice is widespread and not just at EA. And as for hiring younger talent to replace the older one's hah hah hah! Nothing is more short sighted.... I left a video company a year ago and held the position of engine programmer. The CEO in his ultimate wisdom decided to take my salary and hire three college kids instead of someone with EXPERIENCE. He figured if he could hire three for the price of one everything would be golden.... WRONG.... In two short months those "kids" took a well designed engine and tool chain that artists loved to work with and turned it into an abomination that would crash if you sniffed at it. Then the crunch started setting in, and not a normal crunch, a hellatious straight out of hell type of crunch began by all accounts. And why did this happen? Well the engine and tools stopped working and everyone had to find work arounds\hacks\patches\fixes to get their work done. Before the company had manageable crunch times of 1 or 2 months. So as a result of the shortsightedness of management, what was once a productive and efficient team disappeared into thin air.

Hopefully something good will come out of all these discussions. As for me I already knew what to do when a recruiter comes calling about a position at EA................. Click.
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 08:21 am (UTC)

(Link)

Pure class. lol



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