|EA: The Human Story
||[Nov. 10th, 2004|12:01 am]
My significant other works for Electronic Arts, and I'm what you might call a disgruntled spouse.|
EA's bright and shiny new corporate trademark is "Challenge Everything." Where this applies is not exactly clear. Churning out one licensed football game after another doesn't sound like challenging much of anything to me; it sounds like a money farm. To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?
I am retaining some anonymity here because I have no illusions about what the consequences would be for my family if I was explicit. However, I also feel no impetus to shy away from sharing our story, because I know that it is too common to stick out among those of the thousands of engineers, artists, and designers that EA employs.
Our adventures with Electronic Arts began less than a year ago. The small game studio that my partner worked for collapsed as a result of foul play on the part of a big publisher -- another common story. Electronic Arts offered a job, the salary was right and the benefits were good, so my SO took it. I remember that they asked him in one of the interviews: "how do you feel about working long hours?" It's just a part of the game industry -- few studios can avoid a crunch as deadlines loom, so we thought nothing of it. When asked for specifics about what "working long hours" meant, the interviewers coughed and glossed on to the next question; now we know why.
Within weeks production had accelerated into a 'mild' crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad. Months remained until any real crunch would start, and the team was told that this "pre-crunch" was to prevent a big crunch toward the end; at this point any other need for a crunch seemed unlikely, as the project was dead on schedule. I don't know how many of the developers bought EA's explanation for the extended hours; we were new and naive so we did. The producers even set a deadline; they gave a specific date for the end of the crunch, which was still months away from the title's shipping date, so it seemed safe. That date came and went. And went, and went. When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm.
Weeks passed. Again the producers had given a termination date on this crunch that again they failed. Throughout this period the project remained on schedule. The long hours started to take its toll on the team; people grew irritable and some started to get ill. People dropped out in droves for a couple of days at a time, but then the team seemed to reach equilibrium again and they plowed ahead. The managers stopped even talking about a day when the hours would go back to normal.
Now, it seems, is the "real" crunch, the one that the producers of this title so wisely prepared their team for by running them into the ground ahead of time. The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm -- seven days a week -- with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week. Complaints that these once more extended hours combined with the team's existing fatigue would result in a greater number of mistakes made and an even greater amount of wasted energy were ignored.
The stress is taking its toll. After a certain number of hours spent working the eyes start to lose focus; after a certain number of weeks with only one day off fatigue starts to accrue and accumulate exponentially. There is a reason why there are two days in a weekend -- bad things happen to one's physical, emotional, and mental health if these days are cut short. The team is rapidly beginning to introduce as many flaws as they are removing.
And the kicker: for the honor of this treatment EA salaried employees receive a) no overtime; b) no compensation time! ('comp' time is the equalization of time off for overtime -- any hours spent during a crunch accrue into days off after the product has shipped); c) no additional sick or vacation leave. The time just goes away. Additionally, EA recently announced that, although in the past they have offered essentially a type of comp time in the form of a few weeks off at the end of a project, they no longer wish to do this, and employees shouldn't expect it. Further, since the production of various games is scattered, there was a concern on the part of the employees that developers would leave one crunch only to join another. EA's response was that they would attempt to minimize this, but would make no guarantees. This is unthinkable; they are pushing the team to individual physical health limits, and literally giving them nothing for it. Comp time is a staple in this industry, but EA as a corporation wishes to "minimize" this reprieve. One would think that the proper way to minimize comp time is to avoid crunch, but this brutal crunch has been on for months, and nary a whisper about any compensation leave, nor indeed of any end of this treatment.
This crunch also differs from crunch time in a smaller studio in that it was not an emergency effort to save a project from failure. Every step of the way, the project remained on schedule. Crunching neither accelerated this nor slowed it down; its effect on the actual product was not measurable. The extended hours were deliberate and planned; the management knew what they were doing as they did it. The love of my life comes home late at night complaining of a headache that will not go away and a chronically upset stomach, and my happy supportive smile is running out.
No one works in the game industry unless they love what they do. No one on that team is interested in producing an inferior product. My heart bleeds for this team precisely BECAUSE they are brilliant, talented individuals out to create something great. They are and were more than willing to work hard for the success of the title. But that good will has only been met with abuse. Amazingly, Electronic Arts was listed #91 on Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" in 2003.
EA's attitude toward this -- which is actually a part of company policy, it now appears -- has been (in an anonymous quotation that I've heard repeated by multiple managers), "If they don't like it, they can work someplace else." Put up or shut up and leave: this is the core of EA's Human Resources policy. The concept of ethics or compassion or even intelligence with regard to getting the most out of one's workforce never enters the equation: if they don't want to sacrifice their lives and their health and their talent so that a multibillion dollar corporation can continue its Godzilla-stomp through the game industry, they can work someplace else.
But can they?
The EA Mambo, paired with other giants such as Vivendi, Sony, and Microsoft, is rapidly either crushing or absorbing the vast majority of the business in game development. A few standalone studios that made their fortunes in previous eras -- Blizzard, Bioware, and Id come to mind -- manage to still survive, but 2004 saw the collapse of dozens of small game studios, no longer able to acquire contracts in the face of rapid and massive consolidation of game publishing companies. This is an epidemic hardly unfamiliar to anyone working in the industry. Though, of course, it is always the option of talent to go outside the industry, perhaps venturing into the booming commercial software development arena. (Read my tired attempt at sarcasm.)
To put some of this in perspective, I myself consider some figures. If EA truly believes that it needs to push its employees this hard -- I actually believe that they don't, and that it is a skewed operations perspective alone that results in the severity of their crunching, coupled with a certain expected amount of the inefficiency involved in running an enterprise as large as theirs -- the solution therefore should be to hire more engineers, or artists, or designers, as the case may be. Never should it be an option to punish one's workforce with ninety hour weeks; in any other industry the company in question would find itself sued out of business so fast its stock wouldn't even have time to tank. In its first weekend, Madden 2005 grossed $65 million. EA's annual revenue is approximately $2.5 billion. This company is not strapped for cash; their labor practices are inexcusable.
The interesting thing about this is an assumption that most of the employees seem to be operating under. Whenever the subject of hours come up, inevitably, it seems, someone mentions 'exemption'. They refer to a California law that supposedly exempts businesses from having to pay overtime to certain 'specialty' employees, including software programmers. This is Senate Bill 88. However, Senate Bill 88 specifically does not apply to the entertainment industry -- television, motion picture, and theater industries are specifically mentioned. Further, even in software, there is a pay minimum on the exemption: those exempt must be paid at least $90,000 annually. I can assure you that the majority of EA employees are in fact not in this pay bracket; ergo, these practices are not only unethical, they are illegal.
I look at our situation and I ask 'us': why do you stay? And the answer is that in all likelihood we won't; and in all likelihood if we had known that this would be the result of working for EA, we would have stayed far away in the first place. But all along the way there were deceptions, there were promises, there were assurances -- there was a big fancy office building with an expensive fish tank -- all of which in the end look like an elaborate scheme to keep a crop of employees on the project just long enough to get it shipped. And then if they need to, they hire in a new batch, fresh and ready to hear more promises that will not be kept; EA's turnover rate in engineering is approximately 50%. This is how EA works. So now we know, now we can move on, right? That seems to be what happens to everyone else. But it's not enough. Because in the end, regardless of what happens with our particular situation, this kind of "business" isn't right, and people need to know about it, which is why I write this today.
If I could get EA CEO Larry Probst on the phone, there are a few things I would ask him. "What's your salary?" would be merely a point of curiosity. The main thing I want to know is, Larry: you do realize what you're doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that? That when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it's not just them you're hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?
This article is offered under the Creative Commons deed. Please feel free to redistribute/link.
2004-11-15 02:43 am (UTC)
All you people do is play games all day anyway...
I will be leaving EA very soon.
Everyone who thinks making games is fun should do their homework. Sure I play games at work. I play the game that I've been making for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end, to try to tweak every little thing I can to ensure that you, the consumer, has fun. I am a professional game developer.
My job duties include writing design documentation multiple times, constantly adapting really great ideas to work with really shitty ones because the people who hired me as a consultant have the power to usurp my ideas. These people are aged 40-60, multi-millionaires, and play about as many games as Mother Teresa. They know what you, the consumer want in a game. Really they do. *wince*
I sacrifice time with my wife and children in order to keep a job that I love to do, because I have done it for so long I don't really think I could transition into something else. Where does a game designer go when the games industry isn't there anymore.
I put up with the shit because although there are a thousand kids fresh out of college ready to take my place, the lack of knowledge and professionalism is really starting to show in today's games and I'd like to help change that.
I investigate dump reports, pour through pages of ini data, craft levels, import and tweak art and art hookups, deal with version control, and generally do the job of most people involved in software development. I am fluent in at least 5 programming languages, multiple OSs, countless proprietary editors, and many large-scale development suites like MAX and Maya.
I play games constantly, whether they are "fun" or not. It's called research and you have to do it to stay competitive. I'm my own QA, because QA is often unreliable. I'm my own boss, because my managers are always too busy to direct me. I am my own producer. I am not, however, a mechanism.
Despite all of this very time consuming and expensive knowledge that must be updated and maintained, my job is not software development. My job is to predict and anticipate what you will like. Based on evolutionary trends within games, music, movies, and other media, I must craft something that's worth $50 to you. I devote ALL of my free time to this craft, whether or not I am at work. I adapt and create. Constantly.
I know what makes games fun. Games are linked to our very being in the same way music, religion, love, and pain are. I've dedicated my life to expand these horizons and deliver products that are not only worth their price, but worth playing because they teach you something, or provide a friendship on a rainy day, or an outlet when a day at the office is crappy. To you, this should be invisible. It's becoming less so.
Games are not a form of advertising.
Because of a greedy and naive few, most projects are "designed" by EPs and producers. The project is expected to be finished on par with or better than past projects. But the ranks below are flooded with new talent, people who are untrained and unprofessional. They can't possibly do the work of veterans with decades of experience on them. Therefore... massive scale crunch. When it happens the next year, and the year after, it becomes industry standard.
Meanwhile we have moved on. We'll be making our games in half the time, and they'll not only be better, they'll have twice the lifetime or your games. They'll define what game's you'll have to make next year, and the year after.
And we'll stop selling out... Won't we?
Here are some people to irritate. They definately deserve it.
email@example.com - medal of honor ep
firstname.lastname@example.org - lotr:bfme ep
email@example.com - former eala gm
firstname.lastname@example.org - current eala ep
email@example.com - eala hr
Here's a few more really rich guys to bother...
2004-11-15 03:08 am (UTC)
Re: All you people do is play games all day anyway...
Done. Emails sent, copy of email addresses posted on Penny Arcade.
2004-11-15 03:07 am (UTC)
ea: the human story
(posting annonymous because I'm not a live journal user, I came over here via xanga...)
I remarked to our workgroup just the other day "have any of you noticed there aren't any young folks working here anymore?" The youngest is 40. Now I know where everybody went. Where am I? Printing. The scene you describe is exactly the the scene I was part of ten years ago. We were excited about the changes in the industry and oblivious / didn't care that we were being taken advantage of. I hope you don't work in Texas where industry can do what it pleases. But from the sound of it, you live somewhere just like it. My deepest sympathy. Any hope at all for legal action? If not, the only sane choice is to either Get Out or Take the Money and Suffer Through it.
2004-11-15 04:46 am (UTC)
yes, what ea is doing is wrong, but so what? do you people who have such strong ethics and morals about the work industry also fight for the rights of cheap laborers in asia and other countries? do you boycott those non-american-made clothes that were made in sweatshops by hundreds of women and children who are being paid far less than minimum wage and working far more hours than ea employees?
if you are really sick of working at ea, then just quit. and yes, i have read the whole blog talking about how its hard to just quit the job and expect to find another one, but i still believe that if you don't like the place, leave and look elsewhere. otherwise, just be grateful you have a job.
2004-11-15 05:21 am (UTC)
Re: quit complaining
And so because things suck someplace else or in another industry, we should sit back and do nothing here?
And yes, I do boycott companies which I'm aware that they have unethical business practices.
That's what this is about -- awareness.
2004-11-15 05:03 am (UTC)
We really appreciate the support...
Just wanted to pop in to thank everyone for their outrage and words of support.
I have been in this industry for close to a decade and can sympathize with everything that ea_spouse and the others have been talking about. This industry does have some very big problems and they need to be worked out for the sake of the workers that love it and bear it upon their backs.
I was once in a car with a producer friend of mine and he let me in on a bit of insight... he said (paraphrasing): "We love you guys... artists, designers, programmers... you are the best. Why? Because you are doing what you love and are doing it for the love of it... That means we can take advantage of you financially"
Those words were very enlightening.
To this day I'm not exactly sure why he told me this, but it certainly illustrated one of the roots of the problems we face.
For many of us, perhaps the majority, making games isn't about nerf guns, playing games all day or personal ego. It's about our love for story telling, our love of bringing challenge, enjoyment, reward and entertainment to our friends, our families and our fans. It's for the love of games and the people that play them.
For this we are often willing to endure quite a bit, and for this our loved ones will often be forced to endure right along with us.
But this cannot last forever.
Every donkey has his last straw.
Many of us in the development community (not just at EA) have been reading these posts as well as all of their children with much interest.
Thanks to all of you for speaking your minds and your hearts.
Thank you ea_spouse for getting this ball rolling.
May it roll for as long as it needs to...
2004-11-15 06:32 am (UTC)
ATTENTION ALL EA EMPLOYEES
Somoen pointed me to this site... all EA employees should go there...
It is the actual overtime lawsuit. I suggest you ALL join it! That way they can't single you out because they would have to go oafter all of you
2004-11-15 07:35 am (UTC)
Just a game, lmao making a huge deal about it. There trying to make money like the rest of us.
2004-11-15 07:37 am (UTC)
Nvm they suck, yeah fuck ea.
2004-11-15 08:08 am (UTC)
die, fucking die u fuckers
2004-11-15 08:26 am (UTC)
What woud happen if this was in another country?
What i find quite (will, funny is not quite the word), is that if this indistry wide labour practice was being carried out in other, less developed, parts of the world, the liberals would be up in arms. There would be protests, petitions, world wide product boycotts, and the western governments would bow to this pressure and do something about it, to be seen as caring.
But, because this is mainly a western problem... nothing... The liberals are more concered about industry's abroad, the home governments don't want to act due to the revenue this industry gives them, so its up to the people this effects to do something, and until they do, there is no point complaining your unhappy about it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those "Shut up or quit" fools, but I am of the mind "Only complain about it, if your gonna do something about it!"...
2004-11-15 09:38 am (UTC)
never actually thought about things like that, but it's true... in my time i've played a good number of games, and EA games tend to be among the buggiest (acclaim being the most buggy)
i suppose this would be as a result of pushing a team of 10 people to do what it would take 30 people to do, and to do it in half the time as well.
2004-11-15 09:53 am (UTC)
DICE gets bought by EA
I'm game developer from Sweden, I recently got a job offer from DICE, I was seriously considering it but this morning DICE posted a press release announcing that EA had made a bid for the company.
Now, Sweden has different labour laws than the US, but DICE no longer looks like a place I would want to work.
2004-11-15 12:29 pm (UTC)
Re: DICE gets bought by EA
quote on that page
[March] The world’s leading games publisher, Electronic Arts, becomes the biggest owner in Digital Illusions with 19 percent of the stocks. At the same time the companies seals a strategic cooperation agreement.
thats march 2003 ;)
2004-11-15 11:00 am (UTC)
Not surprised at all
As a former employee there, I'm not surprised something like this finally came. When I was let go, it was after 25 days straight of working, and the only reason why it wasn't higher was that I took a 1 week vacation. Among other things they did: Threaten a write up/firing for those who did not volunteer to work O.T. on a project that came in over the 4th of July holiday, loss or changing of disciplinary paperwork in your file, and management that doesn't care. The work over the holiday threat didn't even come from the DM, he passed that duty to all the sups and he promptly left after telling them to do that so he wouldn't have to experience any backlash.
2004-11-22 10:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Not surprised at all
That is outrageous! I am a union organizer for IATSE Local 16. If you want to exact a bit of revenge for this abuse drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
2004-11-15 11:13 am (UTC)
This shows in their games
Or at least the Battlefield series. Full of bugs and incredibly resource heavy. I just wonder what those coders could have done if they weren't just burned out so badly...
2004-11-15 11:20 am (UTC)
Not as bad as that here. We (the crusties) flat refuse to do overtime for nothing. The newbies (6-12 months) have to say yes or be fired. But it is bad.
2004-11-15 01:04 pm (UTC)
Woah, I had no idea EA was like this. Thankyou for opening my eyes...
wow. For someone who is interested in getting into the gaming indusry this is kind of a kick in the groin.
Granted I've never even thought of working for EA, but I'm very far away from working for any gaming comany at this point, i'm a sophmore in college and i have a program due tomorrow that is like childsplay compared to a game and i'm having problems with it. (stupid java). and considering i've put about 20~30 hours into something simple and small. while a game is a massive project that would take thousands of hours. Just makes me feel quite inferior.
Hope the your SO can get either a better job or better hours.
I think that your situation is horrible, and it should be rectified immeadiately. from reading a few of these comments i have seen that this isn't a problem unique to you, so why not let the whole company go to hell? organize a strike. not just of the software engineers, but of anyone who you think might be friendly to your cause. i realizsed that EA would probably just fire the vast majority of the strikers, but if you aren't satisfied with your career, then you should take that risk.
but this is just the opinion of a 15 year old.
2004-11-15 02:04 pm (UTC)
I feel so guilty.
I was planning on buying NFSU2 tomorrow, up until I read this, anyway. I noticed that EA games had short developement cycles but never did I imagine that it was because of this. Thanks for opening up my eyes. :)
2004-11-15 02:18 pm (UTC)
Re: I feel so guilty.
Same here. I don't plan to ever buy another EA game until this is rectified. Thanks for opening my eyes on this.
2004-11-15 02:05 pm (UTC)
This is the philosophy of most corporations; they do not care about the health of their employees unless there is something killing them off. They only want a profit.
2004-11-15 02:21 pm (UTC)
Form A Union
That's all. Do it, don't complain, don't wish you could talk to the CEO. I don't particularly like unions. Once they accomplish the purpose for which they were created they tend to be more harmful than good, but in some instances they are the only answer. So... form a union... go on strike... negotiate better contracts... No company ever got a union who didn't deserve it, and from what you say, a union may be the answer. EA certainly sounds like they deserve it. So, let me close this post by saying, FORM A UNION!
2004-11-15 02:25 pm (UTC)
EA walking on the backs of the bruised...
It's not a popular point of view in the current political administration, and no-one ever thought it needed in corporate America, it's usually started as a "blue collar" thing, but start a Union.
Get out. Now.
I've been burned out, though not as badly as you're describing. The results can be devastating. Almost 30 years later and I can still see the effects in myself.
I've been burned out again, and this time it wasn't the job -- it was dealing with an autistic daughter and a wife who burned out dealing with that daughter. She's recovered better than I have. Inherent flexibility? Relative youth? (She's 6 years younger.) Or maybe it's tougher for me because I've already been burned out before. Maybe all of the above. I don't know. Recovery is slow. Losing my job didn't help either.
In any case, I've found that burnout creeps up on you. You don't know you're burning out until it's too late. That's how it worked for me, anyway.
Depression and anxiety are almost guaranteed. From the sound of it, he's going to go through a bad time even if he quits now. If he waits until he can't function any more, it's going to be worse.
My own recommendation: Get out now. I realize your situation may not make that easy, but it's going to be harder when you have to quit anyway, or get laid off, and there's no more resilience left.
I've been out of work since March 2003. The money is starting to run out. I was lucky enough to have some retirement money to tap, and my father has been lending me some cash so I don't have to keep paying penalties on early disbursements. But we're selling the house and moving in with our parents in the hopes that the situation will be better where they are. Starting over in my late 40s with two kids (one autistic) in a depressed economy isn't fun, but we have no choice. Try not to let yourself get into the same situation.
Best of luck.
And I won't be buying any EA games either.
2004-11-15 03:20 pm (UTC)
Not just the game industry
I think the problem complained about here extends beyond EA and the game industry. Many businesses (not the least of which is law firms, from which I recently escaped) seem to have determined that hiring fewer and expecting more is good for the bottom line, even if turnover goes through the roof. And there seem to be fewer and fewer companies that are competing to provide saner work hours. To some extent, professional-type services are becoming commodified.
The answer seems obvious to me: we need new wage-hour laws that reduce the incentive for companies to overwork employees. Right now, in a loose labor market, turnover is a minor annoyance at best, while reduced labor costs (by avoiding hiring more people to share the load) go straight to the bottom line.
An irony: economists consider it good news that worker productivity has continued to increase during this past recession. I always wonder if increased "productivity" statistics are simply a result of the same people working longer and longer hours (with no increase in pay).
2004-11-15 03:35 pm (UTC)
Now I am a Canadian but in times like this, there's nothing like the good ole' American way! I don't mean to be heavy handed, but please read on here and remember why we here in North America have had it so good for so long.
The Liberty Song; information:
The tune is the English air, Heart of Oak. These American words were written by John Dickinson and published in 1768. Dickinson was one of the leaders of the American Revolution, a famous lawyer and Governor of Delaware and Pennsylvania.
The music to Heart of Oak was by Dr. William Boyce (1711-1779). The English words were by David Garrick.
Dr Boyce was a songwriter in London, beginning around 1730. In 1757 he reached the peak of his career, being put in charge of the King's Band of Musick, a position which Purcell held much earlier. He received a doctorate in 1749. In 1758 he was the organist at the Chapel Royal. His first compositions to appear in print were published in 1747. Boyce retired from music due to deafness and retired to Dorset.
Garrick is credited with the theatrical blessing, "Break a Leg" as he was reportedly so involved in his performance of Richard III that he did not notice the pain of a fracture he incurred.
The Liberty Song
Come, join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty's call;
No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim,
Or stain with dishonor America's name.
In Freedom we're born and in Freedom we'll live.
Our purses are ready. Steady, friends, steady;
Not as slaves, but as Freemen our money we'll give.
Our worthy forefathers, let's give them a cheer,
To climates unknown did courageously steer;
Thro' oceans to deserts for Freedom they came,
And dying, bequeath'd us their freedom and fame.
The tree their own hands had to Liberty rear'd,
They lived to behold growing strong and revered;
With transport they cried, Now our wishes we gain,
For our children shall gather the fruits of our pain.
Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall;
In so righteous a cause let us hope to succeed,
For heaven approves of each generous deed.
In Freedom we're born and in Freedom we'll live.
Our purses are ready. Steady, friends, steady;
Not as slaves, but as Freemen our money we'll give. http://americanhistory.si.edu/1942/