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EA: The Human Story [Nov. 10th, 2004|12:01 am]
ea_spouse
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 08:52 am (UTC)

Suggestion for all fellow EA employees

For all of us who have been reticent in filling out the "anonymous" Talk-Back survey, perhaps we should just fill it in with a hyperlink to this journal entry. That should make the point.

Or perhaps the deadline for participation has already passed?
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 10:05 pm (UTC)

TALKBACK

Rusty is helping us out with a deadline extension. Apparently he didn't meet his 85% participation goal. Given the wholesale gloss-over and the ridiculous conclusions drawn at the end of the last talkback survey, not to mention the 'semantic adjustments' to the company mission statements like '#1 People Company -uh - for high performance individuals' , i think the talkbalk survey is wasted effort.

rusty knows about this blog. frankly, i think he should just resign.

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[User Picture]From: northanger
2004-11-14 09:06 am (UTC)

You go gurl!

I know an ea spouse who told me about what was happening several months ago. She's probably heard of your post by now, but I'll print it out for her.

Your post, and the responses to it, helped me a lot. It educated me about my rights, it made me reflect on my 10 year career in software & web development -- and for the first time, began to heal the caustic experiences of the last four years. Sincerly....thanks.

It's ironic. I'm developing the web design process for an after school program ... and then I read your post. When my QA manager told me years ago that I knew the QA process, I didn't have a clue what she was talking about. Defining this process made me realize how much I knew. We all use some type of process (or a methodology) whether we're developing software or teaching a child the ABCs. Seems to me that EA's methodology is ... crunch. I await the day that (1) "ea spouse" appears in Websters, and (2) a college course or book evaluates the crunch process.

My copy of Death March is in storage, so I looked it up and found a site talking about DeathMarchValues that led me to the Manifesto for Agile Software Development:

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 09:09 am (UTC)

So very true

I got started in the industry pretty young, with a company with similar if not worse labor policies. The reason I stayed is because it was my dream and my employer took advantage of this.

There is no excuse for treating employees like this, which is why I left. I would say to anyone working for a place like this, just leave, trust me life goes on. The key to fixing this problem is to stop putting up with their shit, and to start your own companies or find another, they can't continue without you, but they pretend this isn't true.

There are a lot of mean things I'd love to say about my former employers, however I'd rather just tell other young people facing this same situation, that you can't be intimidated by your boss. If you don't like your job, leave, its the only thing you can do. If you don't stand up for yourself, I'm not going to cry over your pitiful existince, and neither will anyone else.

Free your mind, enjoy your life, do what you love and do it with people who are human beings and will treat your right. If you just keep on working for these people and complaining behind their backs, you're no better than they are, you're still helping them get rich so they can abuse more young people.

More power to you all, I know how hard it is to leave something you love but its better than losing your dignity and self respect, and the relationships with those you love. Don't trade the best years of your life for something that is promised to you, because trust me, promises are only a comfort to a fool.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 10:21 am (UTC)

Aboutr unions, fear, and ignorance.


I hear a lot of talk about unions in this discussion. A lot of people saying that they want a union, and a lot saying they don't want a union to "ruin" thier industry.

I have found there is a lot ignorance about the role that Unions play in the market economy, becuase yes, Unions form an integral part of the market solution. They are not just parasits leaching from the system, as they are sometimes portrayed.
The econmic system we live in based around markets and competition. That competition includes competition for employees as well. That is why it is called a JOB MARKET. The problem with EA is not the extreme hours per-se, it is the way it misrepresents the nature of the job. It is the way that it expects it's employees to do the hours IT finds neccessary, what ever this is. It's like asking them to write blank cheques. Time is money.
The problem is made worse by vague promises of bonuses. It is common practive in the industry to expect workers to work hours dictated to them, on the promises of bonuses which may or may not actually get paid.
Under these circumstances, how are employees supposed to make informed choices about which companies to work for. The market economy breaks down and survival becomes a question of "playing the system". Bad employers thrive, good employers are driven out of business.
Moving companies is a slow and complex business, a bit like moving house. Imagine what would happen to the housing market if the seller could change the price after you'd been living there for 6 months? What if landlords could come around and demand "I'm a bit short this week, so you pay double or your evicted?"

There has been a lot of talk about EA moving jobs to India/China. The truth of the matter is that health of the US economy is reliant on strong domestic economy, regardless of what goes on abroad. That has always been best delivered by the free market system. Justifing using unpaid overtime as a way of making US companies more effieciant, is tantamount to saying that companies should be allowed to steal from thier employees. Legalising stealing from employees would certainly make the America more atractive to business, but what would it do to the economy???

That is why employees need a collective body to help them enforce thier legal right. That is because the contract of employment is the legal way for companies to set out thier terms of employment. It is almost impossible for a lone employee to afford the legal cost in enforcing legal contracts. That is why companies can stretch, twist, or even break the law outright, with impunity.

That is why unions are part of the system. That is why we need a union.

(Reply) (Thread)
From: unionjosh
2004-11-22 10:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Aboutr unions, fear, and ignorance.

Well said! My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE Local 16. We represent cg workers at ILM. If there is anyway you could help me with our effort to organize EA, it would be greatly appreciated.
415-441-6400
unionjosh@local16.org

thanks
josh
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 10:41 am (UTC)

Join the Boycott

http://www.penny-arcade.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=81073
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 10:45 am (UTC)

ea criminality

my name is alex jones i live in england and have travelled extensively i don't know where you are but how about the european court of human rights because the work practice you have describe are tantamount to slave conditions of the 16th century
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 12:32 pm (UTC)

Re: ea criminality

I hate to burst your bubble Alex, but I work in games in England. This is common practice in England too. At EA, Sony, and a bunch of other places too. (Although sackings are rarer).
Most companies claim that the Working Time Directive does not apply to games industry workers.

(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 11:08 am (UTC)

I've seen criminals with more respect for other people.

First off I'll be honest and say I've read only the first few pages of replies so if I'm missing something, or beating a dead horse.. forgive me, the more I read the more irritated I got so I just stopped.

I've never been a fan of EA's games, sure the first one you play may seem great, but after that it's just some cheap sequel designed to milk your wallet for all it's worth. It's been a mystery to me how the company managed to retain such high profits in light of the poor quality I've seen in most of their games. (No offense intended to the people who made them, I have my own particular tastes, not everyone likes everything.. etc.) I've seen EA swallow some VERY good game companies time after time, Maxis, Bullfrog, Westwood (EA royally fucked the C&C series when they got a hold of it) and so many others.. it's a pattern that one needs only get dig a little to see.. they absorb smaller companies, steal their best and brightest ideas then mutilate them in whatever fashion they see fit.. is it any wonder that so many of the great games these smaller firms put out only last for one more edition/sequel once EA slaps it's name on it?!

But then I'm getting a bit off topic here, forgive me. This thread is about you and your SO, and the horrid shit that EA has no problems putting them (and their other employees at that location) through. I must say it doesn't shock me, very little does anymore. I've worked for some terrible people, and some terrible companies, but honestly, small fries compared to this. I suppose that the business world is fast becoming very sociopathic, though not nearly as severe, situations like this are becoming alarmingly commonplace. I can think back to the stories I'd hear about the company my grandfather 9and my father) worked for.. back companies actually gave a shit abotu instilling a sense of loyalty amoung their employees and cared about retaining their employees. But the fact is, it's an employers market now, so the employees will suffer unless they're lucky enough to find a place where the higher ups still have souls.

My sympathy for your situation, I do hope your SO finds more agreeable employment, and soon. Noone should be made to suffer merely for money. It's truly sad what people will do in this age simply to make a couple extra dollars.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 11:11 am (UTC)

fun emails from EA managers

-----Original Message-----
From: Seeholzer, David
Sent: Friday, May 07, 2004 4:16 PM
To: MOHPA
Subject: We are almost there...
Importance: High


We have made great progress this week on pulling together an incredible E3 demo of MoHPA. Everyone’s hard work is really showing and it is looking more and more positive for a kick-ass showing at E3.


However…….. we are not quite there, yet.

We still have many pieces that need to come together, along with some bug fixing, find-tuning and lots of polish.

As such, we will clearly still be putting the final touches in on Monday.

So, here’s the deal. Tomorrow (Saturday) is a full workday. If we have a successful day tomorrow and get things under control, we can enjoy Mother’s Day on Sunday and then come back in on Monday morning for the final touches. If we don’t get our work done tomorrow, Mother’s Day will not be so nice.

So, please be in tomorrow promptly by 10:00 and let’s finish this off to the high level of quality that we have been driving toward.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 01:58 pm (UTC)

Re: fun emails from EA managers

again, after working 3 plus years in QA never had a mother's day off either.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 11:15 am (UTC)

fun emails from EA managers part II

Guys -
Before the day is cut short because of Halloween festivities (both here and at home), understand that as a team we are obligated to get this franchise movie done. That means the engine needs to function as needed, the art is in the level, the AI is working, the gags fire as needed, animations are finaled, etc. In short, this is a team effort for conclusion.

That means, that weekend hours are needed so that we can get the engine/level/gags together and prepped to do this movie.

For those with tasks associated to the franchise review level - we anticipate seeing you here this weekend particularly if your tasks are not completed. If you're not here or you're on weird hours ('Hey John Doe, I'm only available from 2pm to 4.30pm because I'm taking my friend's sister's poodle to the dog show'), it is imperative you both relay that information to your lead, and talk to your lead to make sure your tasks are being addressed or redirected. Unresolved tasks are not acceptable. Bailing out today, thinking you've done the tasks and we find out late Saturday night that they're wrong or broken is also unacceptable.

For those not directly associated with the franchise review level - confirm with your lead that you are not needed for franchise review tasks and that you're in the clear.

Don't mean to sound critical here, but if you think the pressure is on now, I guarantee you that a boot will be up all of our collective asses if we cross the weekend into Monday with nothing to show but a broken level, with broken gags, and semi-functionality.

How's that for horrifying?
JG
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 06:48 pm (UTC)

Re: fun emails from EA managers part II

This is the managerial attitude that drove me nuts when I worked at EA:

"Don't mean to sound critical here, but if you think the pressure is on now, I guarantee you that a boot will be up all of our collective asses if we cross the weekend into Monday"

If everyone on the team is busting their butts already and they are missing the deadlines, then it should not be the programmers' and the artists' problem. It's the management's problem for understaffing the project and/or having too high expectations from too small a group of people. The Development directors and producers were constantly trying to push us harder so that they would not bad at the next milestone review.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 11:48 am (UTC)

These guys may be able to help out. (IWW)

Has your spouse or anybody in the games industry considered joining the Industrial Workers of the World (AKA the Wobblies)? Their aim is to create one big union across all trades.

For more info, see
http://www.iww.org/ (http://www.iww.org/)

Remember, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

Here is their mission-statement taken from their website.

Where We Stand

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."

It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 12:40 pm (UTC)

Re: These guys may be able to help out. (IWW)


You are the sort of left wing lunitic that is destroying the union movement. The job of a union is to protect its members from abuses of the system, not to bring the system down. The job of reforming the system is for democraticlly elected polititions.

Go find yourself another bandwagon to jump on.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 12:37 pm (UTC)

It's normal

It's normal here in Brazil to work 12 hours a day.... and u can be sure the work here is harder and the salary lower.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 06:33 pm (UTC)

Re: It's normal

And how can you be sure of it? Do you know the conditions and salaries of American game developers?
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 12:53 pm (UTC)

Personal Experience working for EA

I don't know if anyone will read this post. I noticed there are already a ton of replies but after the way I've been treated-I have to tell my story.

I was originally hired by EA as a 2D artist and relocated across the country to work full time. I left my home, my friends and my family to work for EA. For over a year I worked with constantly changing deadlines and little to no direction. I was given a number of different assignments from a number of different producers, leads, directors, and other artists. I met every deadline by working late-sometimes all night, coming in on weekends and working at home. I had development directors who had either quit, were transferred or promoted. In the end I was laid off because EA had the money to hire someone with a lot more experience in both the feature film industry and game industry. Worst of all I was laid off by someone who had been transferred to another title months ago and had no idea what I had been doing. There I was, on the other side of the country with no friends and no family and out of work.

I decided to return to school and learn 3D. After a year in school I graduated and before too long I was once again hired by EA, this time as a 3D artist-much to the disappointment of my family. I thought maybe as a 3D artist things would be better. I was hired on contract during "crunch" time. We were finaling a title and it was asked of all employees to work late and come in on weekends. Due to the fact that I was on contract I thought the best way for me to prove myself and land a permanent position was to show that I was willing to work hard and that I could produce quality work. Therefore during my 3 and half month contract, I came in everyday at 9am and I left no earlier than 2am. I came in every Saturday and Sunday. Most of the time I was the only one there. I pulled as far as I can remember, at least 5 all-nighters. I remember going to team meetings where the producers would constantly request that more people show up on weekends, that they were disappointed with the number of people who showed up on the weekends. We don't get paid overtime-those on contract get no benefits, no bonuses, no comp time-nothing, all we got was dinner and only if we stayed past 8:30pm. I got extremely sick, irritable, and my relationship with my girlfriend was nearly over. I remember they would come around and tell me how much they appreciated the work and the effort I put in.

I have now been out of work for a month. Once my contract was up, we were told that there was no headcount and that all temporary full time employees would be let go. I worked at EA's largest production studio-one that employs over 1500 people. The very same studio that had published a full page article in the local newspaper claiming they were experiencing a huge expansion and growth and were looking to hire hundreds of people. The very same studio that advertises on their internal website that they are constantly seeking out talented artists. One that also has current openings for 3D Environment Artists and Character Modelers. Yet here I am having proved my self to be willing and able to do the work and no one at the studio has stood up and helped me transfer to one of the open positions within the studio-in fact I was told that I was lucky that they had even TRIED to place us. That I should've been looking for work elsewhere before my contract was up. Now I have to wonder where in that 100+ hour work week was I supposed to find work elsewhere? Some of you may wonder why I would want to work at a company like that? Truth is I have already relocated once and I have no desire to do so again. I have a life here now and I want to stay here. In fact, I would prefer not to work for EA again-but at this point I'll take anything I can get.

In the end I guess it doesn't matter what I say or how hard I worked. I'm still here trying to find work. And regardless...EA still looks good on a resume.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 01:03 pm (UTC)

Re: Personal Experience working for EA

EA on your resume just shows that I can hire you and work you to death. ;-)
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 01:46 pm (UTC)

Though i wonder

All this is good awareness but I wonder if there is no visible sign of this acknowlegement from staff to management like a walk out. I wonder if everyone will only talk in shadows and management will just play the game 'i'll know you know but will pretend i don't ' and then everything will blow over after time..This really needs to be made public in a visible manner so they can't just blow these issues off. We need the uncomfortableness to be brought to the forefront so our efforts don't just fade. Else it really is our fault..

EAC peon.
They have the power, but we have the numbers.
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From: unionjosh
2004-11-22 10:22 pm (UTC)

Re: Though i wonder

My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE Local 16. We represent cg workers at ILM. You are right on target, but make sure you have an organization behind you that can back you up; lawyers, planning, political weight, etc....
I am at 415-441-6400
unionjosh@local16.org
Josh
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From: nigelknox
2004-11-14 01:59 pm (UTC)
To back up a comment about bad companies driving good ones out of business.





Economic effects of unpaid overtime
------------------------------------


Two startup companies company A and company B are competing for contracts from a publisher. The publisher wants games requiring 5 man years of work, to be in a year. It will pay $750,000 per project.

It takes $10,000 to recruit an employee.

Company A is honest. It plans to hire 5 people complete the project in a year.

Recruitment $50,000 5@$10,000
Wages $500,000 5@$100,000

Costs
$550,000

Income
$750,000
Profit
$200,000



Company B decides to hire 4 people.

After 6 months, the project is only 40% complete, so the company offers a %15 bonus, and tells it's staff to do 25% more work in unpaid overtime (semi-crunch mode, move to 6 day). This seems like a good deal (work 25% extra for 6 months, and get 15% of annual pay for a bonus). However, 4 people working 25% overtime means they are still only working at the same rate as 5 people. This means that the project will come in 90% finished. .So 3 months before the end date the project is put into real crunch mode. The employees are now working 175% of the normal working week (11 hour days, 6 days a week). At this stage, the employees have little choice but to comply, or they risk losing the 20% bonus, and walk away with nothing for their unpaid overtime.

4 people working at 100% for 6 months = 2 man years of work
4 people working at 125% for 3 months = 1.25 man years of work
4 people working at 175% for 3 months = 1.75 man years of work

Total 5 man years of work.

After the project half the staff leave, and have to be replaced, costing another $20,000



Recruitment $40,000 4@$10,000
Replacing staff $20,000 2@$10,000
Wages $400,000 4@$100,000
Bonuses $60,000 4@$15,000

Total Costs $520,000
Income $750,000
Profit $230,000

Company B's method is 15% more profitable than company A. Given this result is hardly surprising that companies who have used the free overtime, but bonus at the end model of development have proliferated. Companies that were honest have been driven out of business.
If this seems a little cynical, then I will point out that scenario B accurately describes every single project I have worked on except the last. ( I joined a union )
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 04:37 pm (UTC)

I am such an idiot for working at ea.

thanks for the new perspective, man. exploitation makes good business sense when you look at the numbes like that.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 02:07 pm (UTC)

boycots

although I think the boycot idea is a noble one, and i too will likely be doing so, i have little hope it will even make a dent. several pessimistic reasons why:

- the number one selling video games from EA FIFA, Burnout, Need for Speed and Madden are mostly played by people who do not pay attention to things like this and therefore will continue to buy these games regardless of how inhumane the treatment of workers is

- i am thinking about all the other even more noble reasons to boycot large corporations and doubting the big corporations even notice them. i remember the 'boycot Taco Bell because of their inhumane treatment of their tomato pickers (http://www.boycottwatch.org/misc/TacoBell.htm) and i cannot say that Taco Bell has been financially affected. i remember the 'boycot this or that cheap clothing store because they use cheap slave labor in southeast asia or south america' and all of these store as still prospering wildly (places like Khols). there is the boycot blockbuster because they put independant business out of business and becuase they sensor their movies (http://bbv0.tripod.com/bbbv.html) and yet, the company is still going strong. And dont even get me started on Walmart! So, the question is, will EA even be worried about all those who have posted boycotting? I kind of doubt it. :(
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 03:28 pm (UTC)

Re: boycots

Another problem is that a Good Game is still a Good Game, no matter the means that were used to make it. I'm not saying the means justifies the end or anything, since as stated in at the beginning, the same result would of been achieved without these means. But take Burnout 3, for example. It is a truely amazing game. I think I would of still brought it even if I knew it was made with stuff means. It isn't like with boycoting Store A which sells the same things, at the same quality as Store B, since all computer games are different. Appart from maybe the majority of EA's Sport games.

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 02:49 pm (UTC)
My husband used to work in v.g. production at EA but we have since found that a nice steady job in an unrelated industry is much better for family life. He's unionised, and our family gets dental, medical, accident and travel insurance. It's a very good plan. He works rotating shift, which is a bit of a drag, but heaven compared to what he went through at EA. There isn't the constant stress of veiled threats, backstabbing and broken promises in our lives. He really is a different man now. He helps me with stuff and he plays with the kids. He finds the time to draw on the side to outlet his creativity. He seems happy and there's much more sense of stability and fulfillment in our lives. You can't possibly know the cost you are paying until you've led a soulful, happy life!

Now we are talking about a very talented man here folks. So imagine he could find all this fulfillment and job security in a creative line of work? Now that would be something really wonderful!

All I can say is anyone who says UNION is a dirty word is out for lunch or fleecing you again. You need to go with a bunch of seasoned union experts who know the ropes and understand the nature of the beast- not some whacked out left wing job with political agendas. So I say ea_spouse, pick up your phone and call a union guy. Have him show up at EA this week and start poking around, distributing flyers.

You started all this, now do something about it!;)

And union guys, don't stop there for heaven's sake. EA has branches all over and each one of their offshoots has the same work practices. There are people suffering all over the place. It's time we had some conscience in a field that's got away with way too much for too long!

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 03:14 pm (UTC)

I'm hoping to get into the Game Industry One Day...

And I now know to Avoid EA like the Plague. Thanks! Good luck with the situation, and Good Luck to all those involved in the Lawsuit.
-A Student Studying Computer
Science At Oxford University.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 03:20 pm (UTC)

Better consider changing your mind.

All game companies are like this. If you like working on games then nut up and we will welcome you as a brother. If you don't, then please for our sakes go work at Oracle.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 03:20 pm (UTC)

It's not Just Electronic Arts

I really sympathize with your story and with the comments from other developers around the country and the world. It simply doesn't make sense to treat your employees this way. It seems that quite a few of these companies make use of these practices. I was in a similar situation at a Game Development company. The managers there used the same tactics. They would constantly tell me how talented I was and how far I was going to go. Be a team player. All while asking me to come in on weekends and work late hours. I bought in to it for the first six months. I regularly put in 80 to 90 hour weeks. One week I clocked in 94 hours. I was never paid overtime. Finally I started to catch on that this wasn't just a short crunch to get things done before a milestone. It was just the standard procedure for the duration of the project. I began attempting to send out demo reels to other companies in the area. I got no response whatsoever. Despite the fact that I knew other people getting hired with less experience and less quality work on their demo reels. Eventually Our project got cancelled we were all laid off. At that point the lead artist of the studio did me the "favor" of making some phone calls to different studios in the area and putting my name on a list. I got calls immediately. Every studio that I had tried previously was suddenly calling me. They knew that I didn't want to move again and so they offered me a job. At 2/3 of my former salary. And their work hours were exactly the same as my previous employer. It's sick these people should be ashamed of themselves. During the interview at the company I ended up at I was told that "we're not a crunch house we treat our employees well." I thought well that sounds great. Upon starting my new position I was told that we would be starting out on a 6 day a week schedule for the next 2 to 3 months and after that we may go to seven. They even told me not to make plans for the paid holidays on my job offer because they may or may not need me to come in during that time. So why even offer paid holidays? Why not just admit that there are no paid holidays. What they are doing is making their employees sick. That is illegal period. Don't just sit around trying to hide the fact that you are having anxiety attacks in the bathroom. Unionize.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: unionjosh
2004-11-22 10:27 pm (UTC)

Re: It's not Just Electronic Arts

My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE Local 16. We represent cg workers at ILM. I would like to hear more about your experiences and see if we can do something to change this industry. I am at 415-441-6400 or unionjosh@local16.org

unionize
josh
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 03:25 pm (UTC)

EA slave workers

honestly, what EA dumbarses are willing to work 85 hours for 40 hours pay?
even mcdonalds droids get paid OVERTIME. i'd simply refuse. when they fired me i'd collect unemployment and get a lawyer to sue on any grounds i could. if the entire developement group would just agree to ONLY work 8-5 then management would HAVE to accept it...or fire them ALL and then NO work would get done. in the old days...i.e. back when unions were forming...some patriots would suit up in black and pay a visit to management with some baseball bats and take care of this nonsense.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 03:38 pm (UTC)

I think the Problem is with the Francises as well...

I can see, almost, why EA think they need to do stuff like this. It all boils down to one of the worst things about them. They keep churning out near identical francise games like FIFA, Madden, Each Year, with very real deadlines. I mean, Heaven forbid they not release a game for the New Footie season (I'm English), or for the new Golf season, or for the New Harry Potter film, or whatever. Now if they actually tried making a new game for these francises without these awful time restrictions, maybe I would stop reading the reviews in my Games mag telling me "Umm it is kinda good, but almost identical to the game they released out last year...".

The idiots are most likely doing the Majority of this evil thinking "Hhhhmmmm We don't want those nasty reviewers pointing out it is the Identical game, so we have to work on the game so much, that is no longer the same game. But We need to release it in a Year. I know! We make the prgrammers, designers, etc, work as hard as they would in 5 years, in the space of One! Ah, I am a genius!"

No one seems to realise these days that games are like wine... wait, no they are not, I love computer games, but I am a T-Total... But they are similar, in that they need time to develop and Mature to be really good. Or Something. I don't know how you make wine fully. Does wine go off if you leave it too long? Games are like that too, since a game can take too long to make, then when it comes out, it is old hat compared to current games. Like that Daiketa or whatever it was called.

I hope if I ever get into the industry, I can find an employer who knows that time is needed to make a game, not just work.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 04:05 pm (UTC)

UNIONIZE BEFORE YOU END UP DEAD. YOU MIGHT BE ALREADY.

Stress takes a tremendous toll on the human body. The Brain is a chemical reaction and if you hope to exercise any kind of creativity you have to treat it right. That means sleeping at night eating healthy and exercising. If you are working more than 45 hours a week you won't have time for any of those things. It's a fact. Creating artwork and programming for video games is difficult work. It takes energy and hard work to make it happen. Companies that ignore these facts are not acting in anyones interest, not even their own. How can anyone expect to come up with innovative ideas while physically exhausted?

http://www.stress-and-health.com/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3034410.stm

You will experience symptoms of stress if you are working in a video game company. You may find yourself going to the bathroom frequently, Having headaches, or possibly self medicating with alchohol and or medication.

Don't fool yourself you can have a heart attack. You can get sick. You can die. It has happened to other people in the industry. It can happen to you.

Ask yourself is it worth being on an SSRI just so that you can have a cool job. What the management at EA is doing is called brainwashing. It is nothing different from Jim Jones getting his cult members to drink poisoned cool aid. It's not worth it. Either join the Union. Get a different job. Or leave the industry.

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 04:29 pm (UTC)

Excellent point!

Good post! It may seem dramatic, but the reality is that our health needs to be our bottom line. It's the one thing that money cannot buy, folks! There is abundant scientific evidence to support claims that these employers are knowingly endangering the health of their employees. If the law upholds that abuse, then the laws need to be adapted to acommodate the kind of jobs that have been created since the laws were created. Widespread computer use is a new thing and it is being widely abused. WAKE UP EVERYBODY!! PROTECT YOURSELVES NOW WHILE YOU STILL HAVE YOUR HEALTH AND YOUR YOUTH!!

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 04:20 pm (UTC)

This has now made it to FARK.

http://forums.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=1213869 (http://forums.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=1213869)
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 04:35 pm (UTC)

Why Being a Computer Game Developer Sucks

http://slashdot.org/features/99/08/20/143215.shtml
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 04:38 pm (UTC)

Re: Why Being a Computer Game Developer Sucks

I should also mention that the games industry has little respect for experience. What the games industry runs on is youthful energy. It loves to exploit 19 year old programmers who work 10-12 hours a day, get paid less than the standard wage for programmers in other industries, and don't know squat about software engineering principles.


Part of the problem is that our industry labors under the illusion that it is "like Hollywood". Film producers are usually able to turn out a film on time and within budgetary limits. But there's a difference -- film producers don't have to re-invent the camera each time they do a production. There are no "stable" technologies in the computer games industry, and the average useful life of a game "engine" is about two years.
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From: rhalin
2004-11-14 05:14 pm (UTC)

Possible solution?

Personally, I've long looked upon EA as a bad company. They've taken great studio's like
Westwood and Maxis and turned them to producing crap - very fast. I want to put the power of game developing back into the creative minds that -make- the games. These last few years have seen a heavy decline in the quality of new games that come out, usually a new one is just a clone of something else with a new story slapped on. It's been a long time since I've seen a truly original game, and I hope that I can do something to see the days of innovation again.

I work for a company currently working at providing a solution to the corporate machine approach to game development. The idea is to create an extensible game engine - something that would handle an RPG as well as an RTS, sports game, or deathmatch special. The initial development is done by a closed team, but the eventual product would be open source, were individuals can contribute both to code modules and to an "ever expanding cache of free content" such as models, textures, etc. The engine would be free for non-commercial use and provide client/server support for internet based games. For commercial use, development would be free, and "distribution" licenses would only have to be acquired once a project is finished, and shipping.

The major driving force behind it is that it is -dynamic-. Everything can be updated and changed without having to rewrite half the code. The code behind the core system that handles this is a little complex, but it makes writing modules much much easier. And we hope that the "community support" approach can help keep the engine at the top levels of technology, much the way that current open source projects such as Linux keep themselves updated. We want to create a game engine that isn't outdated in a year, or two years, or possibly ever. We've been calling this approach the "zero budget game," While not exactly true, it's a phrase that’s kept us moving with the project.

Hopefully, with this engine, we'd be giving small development companies the tool they need to be able to create games and undercut the large corporations. We've considered working out licensing model to favor small teams, but that’s undecided as of yet.

We are open to any suggestions anyone may have, our goal is to ultimately even the battlefield for the small dev vs. large corporation (or possibly even make it easier for the small devs), and we'll consider any comments or suggestions on how we can do that.

-Rhalin
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 09:16 pm (UTC)

No future....

I am a gamer. Not the sort of gamer that EA and relative companies target and I am proud of it. In fact apart from Desert Strike and the first FIFA on Megadrive, I have never enjoyed playing a single 'game' pumped out of the licence-based powerhouse of EA. Even then I was not impressed at these two games. I just rented then for a day or so. Personally I dont care about sleak graphics and licenced crap. I like innovation, immersive-subtle control and passion in games. I refuse to give my money to EA! Their games are not even worth downloading...

EA is evil because its all about the money. It doesnt give a f**k about how games are or should be made. Where is the intelligence put into games by companies like SEGA, CAPCOM or ATARI in their golden days??? -to name a few that cross my mind- That is how I understand evil EA as a gamer. It screwed the gaming world and it continues to do so. I see now that this evil is reflected on its employing policies.

But nothing will change... People, in majority are idiots. EA just wanna make MONEY out of them! The pure gamer does not exist anymore. Games went mainstream and gamer turned to a mere consumer-idiot. It not about innovation anymore. Its all about demographics and marketing.

LONG LIVE SUPER MONKEY BALL!!!!!!!!!!!
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 05:15 pm (UTC)

In a similar boat...

That’s the horrible trend in big business today. No longer are they concerned with the lives and well being of the people that keep the company running. Everyone is expendable. They waste millions of dollars a year training new employees to replace the ones they burnt out, yet refuse to re-direct any of that money toward keeping the hard working talent they already have. My husband comes home every day exhausted. The weekends (when he gets one) are used to catch up on sleep. We have a 4-month-old daughter that he barely gets to see, but because of her and the exponentially decreasing job market, he can’t leave. They have him by the balls.
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