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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.

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 12:06 pm (UTC)

Very similar to my own experience

This story echoes my own experience within the newspaper publishing industry, describing the same sort of nonsense I went through during the last three years I was there.

After working as much as 96 hours per week on a regular basis during our corporate-wide email replacement project between 2000 and 2002, I was told to keep up the long hours and no level of appreciation was expressed by management for my efforts. Nor was I given the new title or large jump in pay I had been lead to believe would be mine at the successful conclusion of the project. Within the same week, I was diagnosed with stress induced ulcers in my esophagus.

Perhaps you begin to see why I eventually quit and why the tech industry is quickly becoming youth-centric and out-sourced.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 12:47 pm (UTC)
How about you just don't work there?

EA does not have to take rubbish about long working hours. If they're too extreme for you, don't work there. If everyone did so, they would be forced to cut back on their hours. But no, people like you complain but remain sucking on the corporate teat.

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 05:57 pm (UTC)
You're the prat, you moron. READ THE ARTICLE. They are leaving.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 01:00 pm (UTC)


I cannot believe that this kind of abuse is going on ( and apparently being allowed to continue by seemingly intelligent people) anywhere in the U.S. today....Seems like there are problems on both sides here with the major problem initiating with management practices.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 01:18 pm (UTC)

What can we do to change this?

Firstly having worked in several companies (including the big one) I acknowledge that this isn't a problem limited just to EA. However they do represent a majority of the industry and to a large extent if they can be forced to change their ways, everyone else might just sit up and take notice.

As far as overtime in general goes I see it as falling into two categories:

The first one is when Programmers and Artists, through personal pride in their games (or in some cases obsessive perfectionism), opt to occasionally invest a bit of extra time to make them even better. This kind of overtime is not particularly harmful as it is purely optional, self-initiated, and the project doesn't rely on it to get completed.

The other category - which applies in most cases to EA and which is the source of the problem in the industry - is when the staff are systematically pestered and bullied into working extended hours just to get a product to a merely shippable state and get it out of the door on time, so as not to get the project managers in serious trouble for missing the release date.

The thing I find utterly unacceptable is how the project managers at EA are allowed to repeatedly schedule unrealistic workloads, with seemingly no contingency and no real repercussions.
The reason they do this is because they know full well that when it comes to the crunch there is always the safety net of doubling the staff's work hours and audaciously telling them they need to try to work more efficiently.
Doing this does not increase the budget of the project, rather is goes mostly unnoticed outside the studio - and in getting everyone to 'pull together' to hit the street date on time and on budget the managers know they will be rewarded for doing their job well.
So why would they feel the need to change?

If EA knew that they had to pay overtime in full, then they would think twice about using it as a contingency. Right now the project managers have no incentive to become more effective themselves at planning and running their projects as they know for the price of a pizza they can always pass the problem down the line to the development staff when things start to slip.
If however the cost of a project suddenly doubled in overtime payments in the last 3/4/5/6 months of development, then it wouldn't take long for the senior exec. to notice they have a big problem. That would be enough of an incentive for the managers to become more effective at their jobs - with the knowledge that it was their asses and bonuses on the line should the cost of the project suddenly spiral due overtime payments.

I don't necessarily feel that unionization is the best solution, however it is a big problem that seriously needs to be addressed if we are not going to burn ourselves out before hitting 35.

All I believe that it will take is for all EA development staff globally to somehow unanimously and clearly say: 'We are no longer going to work unpaid overtime'. They can't fire everyone can they? After all managers don't make games, the workers do. (And I don't buy the notion that they will just move to outsourcing as a practical option)

So the question is how do they do that? I'm sure 100% of EA staff would be 100% in favor of not -having- to work for free, but individually they have too much to lose in instigating such an action. Does anyone have any ideas about how they can go about approaching this without law suits. It is too big a problem to do nothing about and will only get worse, but it would be good to think we in the industry have the power to change things ourselves.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 10:57 pm (UTC)

Re: What can we do to change this?

Unionize again EA? I can't agree more. But I don't think this will ever happen.

1) These people who work for Big Brother (EA) have families and use their wages to pay the bills; no matter how unfair it is that they are making $7/hr if you figure in the hours they work. Maybe slightly more $ if you are not a "team player" and go home at the 12th hour.

2) Organizing something that large will most certainly be intercepted and people will be made examples of, to "convince" the remaining emploies what would happen with their positions. EA is a modern day mafia family. We can only hope to catch them in a tax evasion fraud many years from today; but for time their muscles are bigger than our.

3) Big Brother will just get a team of recruiters and visit every university of hungry students and start the whole thing over again. That, with the addition of some extra $money for the top 5% talent to come back to work and they are back in business as usual. Because EA has such a following of gamers the crap that comes out the following year will still sell millions and that gives them 2 years to really get back on top.

4) Big Brother is watching!
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From: bwingb
2004-11-21 03:53 pm (UTC)

You'd better believe...

You'd better believe if everyone stuck together and agreed to walk out there would be big time press coverage. Maybe that's all that's needed to start the ball rolling towards change.

I say you all agree on a date and just do it.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 11:58 pm (UTC)

Re: You'd better believe...

They would have to wait for next years november 15th crunch.
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[User Picture]From: joggingguy
2004-11-21 04:04 pm (UTC)
I read an article this morning on page D6 of the Sunday Business section of the Houston Chronicle regarding your post and your situation. I had followed your journal posts, so I already knew what it was about. Publicity is a good thing :-)
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 06:18 pm (UTC)

Houston Newspaper

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 10:21 pm (UTC)

New York Times Article

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 10:22 pm (UTC)
no wonder ea makes such bad games
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 11:38 pm (UTC)
Yes, they're so bad that they sell millions upon millions of them and are the clear market leader on most platforms.

You may not like them, but I am sorry to say that you are sorely outnumbered.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-21 11:56 pm (UTC)
I heard about this blog entry a bunch of times but never actually read it because I have too many friends that already went through this shit. I luckily never had the misfortune of working for EA (because I always knew people that did).

EA's strategy is to just throw as many bodies as possible at a problem. They don't care about their employees (although I guess everyone at this blog already knows that). I don't think EA can get away with this treatment for ever. They are quickly losing talent and replacing it with junors. At some point they are going to lose their ability to keep up with the competition (they already lost the ability to inovate).

Anyways, there are companies that are good. Companies like Neversoft never make their employees work weekends. They do crunch of course (I think like 12 max day), but that weekend keeps their employees sane, their projects on schedule (no tony hawk game has ever shipped late), and low turn over. So I say, before signing your life away, do some research, because being "in the industry" is pretty worthless if you kill your self after a year.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 12:04 am (UTC)

A solution

There's a time honored solution for those who are overworked, and if not underpaid, paid less then is commesurate for the time, energy and sacrifice to their lives and the lives of their loved ones this sort of sweatshop like work entails, not to mention the disproporionate profits their toil brings to their bosses. It's a solution that has virtually disappeared from the American economic scene, along with a living wage, a graduated income tax, a decent pension, and time off for personal existence: it's call a STRIKE! That's right: you remember? Collective bargaining, a picket line, and death to scabs? Think about it, before they send you jobs to India and China.
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[User Picture]From: juan_gandhi
2004-11-22 12:25 am (UTC)



As a former Soviet citizen and a former trade union organizer (back in the USSR) I have to tell you something.

Don't count on other people taking care of your problems. Either trade union leaders betray you, or you betray them, or both. That's what happens all the time; that's why I left the trade union in the USSR (rather hard thing to do).

Count on yourself. Count your hours. Even being exempt does not mean you have to work 84 hours a day. Learn your rights. And when you leave the company, THEN ask them to pay for all the extra hours. They won't; okay, go you can to the court.

I have a friend who was laid off after long hours on an urgent project - he got a pretty good package after just mentioning extra hours at the management request.
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From: unionjosh
2004-11-23 10:01 pm (UTC)

Re: unions

I'm not sure it is fair to compare unions in the USSR to unions here. Have you ever spoken to a union cg worker? At ILM for example. I am a union organizer for IATSE Local 16 which represents ILM workers. I ask you to contact any of them, ( I won't give you the name of a hand picked person, talk you anyone.) Unions have done a lot in this country to create overtime laws, end child labor, create the weekend (ever heard of one of those?). Now the games industry is totally non-union and it seems to me that they have many of the problems that unions in this country were created to solve. Am I begging the question? If you want to talk about this more I am at unionjosh@local16.org
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 12:37 am (UTC)

EA company meeting and insight

Tiburon had a company meeting which is an annual Thanksgiving lunch-state of the union address. It was shameful how quickly and unprofessionally they dismissed this entire posting and all it's related press. Making jokes about who was "ea-spouse" and how this was not helping us. The suggestion was then for us to not post on here, but go talk to our managers and HR,as apparently they are here to help. So of course, nothing will happen as employees who speak candidly will be fired, and EA is going to brush this under the carpet because everyone is afraid to speak up without a unified front.
They are more worried about filling more open positions and how this is hurting their recruitment efforts. Not a word on us, the current employees who have sacrificed blood, sweat and tears, and all we are doing is training replacements. EA has to change their philosphy and make this a career for it's employees, not just a job. They also need true, trained management at this studio, not former programmers in charge.

Fair pay is also needed. Programmers make the most, but it's very varied, and then artists, followed by us producers and QA who are the bottom scrapers. It's a team, right? Why does management make the $70-120K range and all they do is hire more supplemental managers and go home at 6:00?
Plus shouldn't the pay be based on an EA scale? Living in Florida shouldn't automatically make us earn 35% less, it should be an added bonus and advantage. If my counterpart makes $80K in California, so should I, not half that.

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 03:38 am (UTC)

Re: EA company meeting and insight

dude your probably getting jipped. Do what I did to get a raise... send our your resume and reel to other studios and force EA's hand. Your worth what your worth and EA won't pay you that unless it is forced to.

I went from making 55k to 78k a year just for sending out a few resumes. Oh and don't forget the severance package. 8-12 weeks severance + 1 week for every year you have been there. Severance makes it economically less viable to let you go as opposed to someone else.

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 12:55 am (UTC)

So What-------how bout the Dept of Defense!!!!

Big deal,,, at the shipyard I work at we have been working 300 to 1000 hours for the last 3.5 years.....the f###ing Bushy "WAR ON TERROR", dum dum dah
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 12:57 am (UTC)

Re: So What-------how bout the Dept of Defense!!!!

That Overtime by the way!!!!
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 01:31 am (UTC)

I'm boycotting EA Games

I just came across this article on Slashdot and The New York Times. I'm a hardcore gamer and I buy an excessive amount of games every year, mostly for the PC. I'm always reading the industry news and keeping up with insider scoops as much as I can.

This article has really moved me and I have decided to boycott EA Games until their practices change. I was really looking forward to playing the new Lord Of The Rings RPG and upcoming RTS, and I know that now I will miss out on many good games since they are in my opinion the best publisher/developer there is in the industry right now. This is one of the reasons why I feel so betrayed, I can't believe I held them in such high regard and happily gave them my money just to help treat these poor people like this.

I'm going to talk to all my gamer friends, I have already begun to post this link in all the gaming forums I frequent, I hope to rally as many people as I can to join me, but even if it's just me it's a few hundred dollars they won't be getting every year to help their horrible business practices.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 01:44 am (UTC)

Re: I'm boycotting EA Games

The entire gaming industry is like this.
Ea, Atari, Activision, Ubisoft, LucasArts...
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 03:02 am (UTC)

Re: Can anyone beat this?

"Am I a sucker or what?"

yes you are.
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[User Picture]From: colorofsakura
2004-11-22 04:09 am (UTC)
Wow...just wow. Thank you for such an insightful article into the business of large Gaming Developers. I really never was big into EA Games, but with the advent of games like The Sims 2 and GoldenEye: Rouge Agent, I had been pulling more towards the company. However, after reading this, I cannot believe such a highly regarded company would do this...but it all follows the path of greed and corruption. Sad, really. Once a company hits the bank on something, they'll stop at nothing to continue their earnings.

No one should have to hold an obligation to work beyond reasonable hours without compensation at all. That's total crap and thank God that GameSpot.com seemed to notice this: http://www.gamespot.com/news/2004/11/11/news_6112998.html

Myself, I've been posting this post on multiple Message Boards that I frequent to help get this out (ParaParaStage.com, DDRSTL.com, DDRFreak.com, among others) so that this kind of behavior isn't kept hidden under the rug where no one knows about it. It needs to be known.

Thank you again for writing this, and my condolences to your Significant Other.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-27 05:19 pm (UTC)
Once again: EA employees are compensated for overtime - just not with overtime pay. It is up to each individual employee to decide whether the wages/bonuses/stock options earned are worth the work.
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From: dirtsnake
2004-11-22 05:03 am (UTC)

EA not all bad

I'm not denying that problems exist, but I worked for 2 years at EA and it was overall a positive experience. Our team was never pushed even close to the extreme limits that people are talking about here. Crunch time was maybe 3 months out of a year, but this only involved the occasional 60 hour week, usually much less. It was all about the bug count - if you had zero bugs, you didn't have to work weekends. I think there were only 3 or 4 weekends where the entire team was asked to show up for work. With respect to scheduling, we felt totally empowered - no one rammed new features down our throats - if we didn't agree with what was happening, we had a dialog with management and we worked it out. Were we special ? :) I didn't think so... We were just a bunch of cool and talented people who did what we could to make the greatest game possible within the given constraints.

Aren't there any other EA people present/former who had positive experiences there ?! Common, speak out ! BTW, I was on the NHL team, in Vancouver [EA Canada]. And you'd think I would be biased *against* EA, since they fired me for no good reason a couple of months ago :) But that's a topic for another post...
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From: bwingb
2004-11-22 05:05 am (UTC)

a question:

How much of this is because of stupid chauvinism and immaturity?

I just had a run in with a self-confessed "manager" here on his L.J. who was pulling all kinds of fancy footwork when I attempted to engage him in a straightforward discussion about feasible solutions. I ended up deleting all my comments because it was like banging my head on a wall. The minute he saw I was not going to worship his every word, he was bent on making me look bad. He called this "disagreement". Well correct me if I am wrong, but doesn't some kind of listening need to happen before one is able to recognize a "disagreement"?

I was told that since my husband was a modeler and animator, we didn't have the knowledge necessary to join the discussion. Is that all a person needs to know? How to play video games and create code? Do these activities promote strong communication skills? And would it be ineffective to apply transferable communication skills to a given conflict if the principals of fairness and mutual respect were in full grasp? Of course not. Some things are common to all of humanity, and it is these things which allow us to find common ground; to reach consensus when there are issues effecting many.

While I am certain this person had a lot of good to offer, just how is someone like this placed in charge of _other people_? Shouldn't one of the key skills of a manager be communication? If one is so needing of emotional gratification that they are unable to handle feedback without subverting and lashing out in covert, counterproductive ways, then how can there be progress in all this? If even one person of authority in a group situation is unable to handle the weighty responsibility of his position, then this _will_ bleed through the morale of an entire organization.

He swayed to and fro and basically manipulated the discussion away from any progress. He was good at spouting all kinds of p.c. terminology, and at feigning some kind of self-effacing introspection, and even had a bunch of zen like quotes in his live journal-- but you know all this is for show; calculated to appease those in power. He just wasn't finished learning _how_ to communicate-- how to maneuver himself through an objective discussion. It was kind of an emotional immaturity; it seemed more important to him that he was 'winning' the conversation, and there was that continued sense that he couldn't help polarizing concepts and inserting political dogma even into the most abstract of core principals.

Is our social conditioning so entrenched that we are unable to see objectively? Have we been so trained to compete; to win, that everything else falls to the wayside? And if so, can we blame others for exploiting us when there appears to be no possible chance at conciliation?

I just wanted to put these questions out on the table.

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From: rhalin
2004-11-22 01:28 pm (UTC)

Re: a question:

Many of the current managment practices found in big business today rely on miscommunication rather than communication skills, I think. It's not about how happy your customer or employee is, it's about how to make the most money the fastest with the least amount of effort. If you can talk yourself out of any kind of direct question, it's usually considered an appropriate level of communication skills. After all, this is a "computer science" related field, and those geeks dont need to be social, right? Right...

Bottom line though, management is a lot more about the almighty $$ and a lot less about proper communication these days. They hire other people to do that if they -really- think they need it.
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Re: a question: - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 09:56 am (UTC)

EA intern

Right out of high school I applied at EA for a games testing job. Through family connections I was able to get an interview with the testing team for Sims2 during the summer of 2003. I interviewed with three employees on the testing team and all three asked me how long I had ever played a game straight without a break. I guessed somewhere between 8-10 hours at a LAN. They said I could expect 10-12 hours, 6 days a week if I got hired...I guess I'm glad they were looking for a long-term employee.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 10:45 am (UTC)

my law

i work for a small software company as a developer.

i dont get much a year, and we did a tremendous amount of work in the high times of our project, but i'm still young, and i dont have a real life.

in my free time i work on my own software project which, i hope, will feed me in the future.

during the high times, where we worked 10-12h a day, even on saturday, i learned one very important rule for work:

"after 8pm, strange things happen."

which is: bugs turn up that can not be solved easily. machines behave unexpectedly. problems occur that can not be solved lightly. the longer you sit on this, the worse it gets. all you can do is go home and come early the next day. if you leave too late, in the following weeks you will find bugs in your code you will wonder how they ever got there.

of course you could say that this is all projection. that those are stress symptoms. but it doesnt really matter what it really is. this is, what long work hours lead to. and looking at all the recent game releases of all the major companies i can say that those games suck incredibly. its almost as if all creativity is dead.
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From: rhalin
2004-11-22 01:23 pm (UTC)

Re: my law

Yeah, I'll vouch for that one. The strange part is that those "unsolvable problems" seem miraculously simple to fix in the morning and usually only take 5 minutes of your time, but the previous night you were up till 10 trying to figure the dang thing out.

Often times I've found that if something -is- giving me significant trouble, sometimes the best thing to do is ignore it for a few days, work on some other part of the code, and come back to it (if you can anyways). Usually by then, it's been processed in the back of my head and the solution seems to just come from nowhere. ;)
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From: nprreporter1
2004-11-22 07:24 pm (UTC)

another inquiry from National Public Radio

I'm wondering if there is anyone out there who has been through the awful experiences at EA who would actually go on the record with their name. It would also be great if that person were in the San Francisco/Bay Area. Maybe there is someone out there who has left the industry and isn't worried about retaliation anymore, or perhaps just someone who is fed up. Get in touch if you want to help out. I'm at 415-596-4616. Or you can email me at LSydell@npr.org. Send a phone number and a way to reach you if you do respond by email. Thanks. Laura Sydell
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[User Picture]From: duality_of_love
2004-11-22 09:27 pm (UTC)

Thank You

To all who have posted here,

From an aspiring game programmer, currently obtaining a minor in the field at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, thank you for the warning and the insight. One of my dormmates linked me to your article... I knew that there would be crunch time in the gaming industry, such is the nature of a deadline (I've had plenty of experience with this helping out at a local newspaper, where my mother would have to work 40, sometimes 50 hour weeks when she was only being paid for 20). But I never knew that it could ever be this bad...

Have you any specific advice for those of us here who still aspire to work in the gaming industry? I would be more than happy to pass this information on to everyone I know in the EMAC (Electronic Media Arts & Communication) program. News spreads quickly here, as I'm sure it does on other campuses that have similar tight-knit communities, and none of us take kindly to being pushed around. Perhaps one method of ending this is prevention, to get the word out to as many college students as possible who are looking to work in the field.

If any of you wish to contact me, my AIM SN is XTwinAngelX, my e-mail watsod3@rpi.edu. ea_spouse, and all others in the industry and their families, I wish you well.

[David Watson]
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 06:35 am (UTC)

Re: Thank You

Here are some realities that your school won't tell you about:

1.) Very unstable career path. Only a tiny tiny fraction of games ever being developed ship to market. Of those games that somehow make it, only a small percentage break even or turn a profit. This basically means that unless you work at one of the major publishers that own licenses(EA, Sony, Ubisoft, Activision, LucasArts, Midway, THQ, Sega, Nintendo, Konami, Capcom, Vivendi etc) you can pretty much expect to get laid off of work every 12 months or so.

2.) Be prepared to relocate a LOT in life. The game industry in the U.S. is very small. Approximately half the industry resides in LA/Southern California with pockets in Texas and Northern California. The rest are scattered about randomly around the nation. If you expect to stay in this industry long term, you have little choice but to move to one of these locations. Don't expect to apply for a game job somewhere out in Oklahoma and settle down with a house and kids for the long term. You WILL get laid off within a few years and be forced to move again.

3.) Extremely competitive job market that can also be feast-or-famine. Small studios get dozens of resumes for a position. Large studios get HUNDREDS of resumes for a position at times. Of all these resumes out there, only a tiny fraction qualify for the job or are considered a fit for the team. If your skill level is top-tier you can do very well. If your skill level is adequate or poor, you may have a tough time. While average applicants fight each other for a studio position, exceptional applicants get fought over by studios. Thats why EA may disregard 20 animators that work cheap and can do the job, but pay six figures for that one person with feature film animation credits.

4.)Long hours with no overtime pay(no explanation needed here)

5.)Outsourcing. Studios are just now starting to escalate their outsourcing. Currently it is mainly art but engineering and design will follow next soon(although to a smaller extent than art). By the time the Playstation 3 and Xbox 2 arrive, it will be just too damn expensive to do eveything in-house. Expect a development structure in game production where there is a small core staff of senior developers in-house with the work reserved for junior artists/programmers being farmed out to India or Eastern Europe. This will possibly make it more difficult for entry-level people to break in due to these positions going overseas.

6.)Education and long term outlook. The turnover rate in our industry is very high. The constant job insecurity combined with the family burden created by long hours/constant relocation causes a large portion of developers to leave after 5 years. Many of you will at some point get burned out of game production and look for something more stable to raise a family. Don't pigeonhole yourselves by getting a "game degree". Do yourself a favor and get a good solid 4-year degree from a proper college(many of them have game design courses). If your going into game programming, get a proper engineering degree so that you may cross over to other companies later in life. If your going into game art production go to a proper art school that teaches the basics of design theory. Many of these schools just teach you the software which is useless since it will be obsolete in a few years. With a game degree, your options may be limited as we have yet to see how other industries feel about them. An engineer with a 4-year college degree can get into games but an engineer with a "game degree" may not be able to get into Oracle or Microsoft. Just food for thought

Although the game industry has its good points such as creativity, informal dresscodes, smart coworkers, free beer during crunch, and being on the cutting-edge, please be sure to factor in the above points and decide if this is the path you want to take.
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Re: Thank You - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 10:22 pm (UTC)

EA:spouse - comment on

I am an ex-EA employee. I think EA has many good things.
But I have also seen a lot of what you wrote like the long hours, "If you don't like it then leave" attitude (actually, if you don't tow the line, then sometimes they will "help" you leave so you're probably wise not to mention your name), etc. There's very many hard-working, decent, talented and great people at EA. But in my opinion and observation there are also some people who basically don't contribute all that much to the company, possibly even know that much, but who just the same earn fantastic salaries. These people are clever and know how to manipulate and use others who do the actual work (they say it's called "management" (?))- it seemed to me that's how some of them survive i.e. at the expense of others and once some of these more talented people have outlived their purpose (or refused to be manipulated further), out the door they went and then the next sometimes unsuspecting individual(s) is/are hired ....
I've also noticed some people are actually so afraid to lose their jobs, that they are careful who they sit with, who they talk to (or are seen talking to),what they say in their e-mails etc. I suppose all companies have their politics but I was surprised that EA had so much. Plus, as many have already noted - how old you are is another factor.
I liked many things about EA and have met some fantastic people there but was also disappointed about some of these other things - kind of de-motivates one. I hope someone (HR ? senior management ? ?) takes a look at some of the things you/I/others have observed/experienced because EA can be a great and fun company to work for (otherwise like you wrote, many will continue leaving, voluntarily or helped, and long-term that can't be good).
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From: unionjosh
2004-11-23 10:26 pm (UTC)

Re: EA:spouse - comment on

Have you noticed that everyone is too scared to use their name? Maybe someone who no longer works there has the courage to take a stand. Are you that person? I am at unionjosh@local16.org
Josh Pastreich
IATSE Local 16
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 11:19 pm (UTC)

What about the other EA studios?

It seems a lot of the comments posted are related to the USA - in particular California
What about the other EA studios, like EA Canada or the UK - are they the same?
I have known people who have worked at both these studios and heard similar stories. Although it seems that some teams are probably not quite so bad, it does still appear to be a global problem.
How does the law in these countries compare to the States regarding unpaid OT?
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From: bwingb
2004-11-22 11:39 pm (UTC)

Re: What about the other EA studios?

We had a very similar experience with EA Canada. They are known to wiggle out of overtime laws as well. Seems to be in the 'culture' (if you can call it that).
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 11:24 pm (UTC)

Your Message to CEO Larry Probst


I am really glam you decided not to remain silent about this. Practices like these gave long existed in the gaming, and other related industries, but most people feel they have no choice, or that since it is an industry wide phenomenon, it is "just the way things are", etc.

Since EA is a public company, information about offices' compensation is public. I think you would be surprised (unpleasantly):

As for the rest of your message to him, instead of an appeal to human decency (of which I am sure there is little to be found), there are more pragmatic reasons (not no mention the fact that this kind of corporate behavior is ILLEGAL!) they should consider altering their attitude. Studies have shown that there is a finite number of productive hours in a workday. There is a reason that day is usually 8 hours. Some companies in the industry have realized over time (and often great cost in failed products) that good management, happy employees and efficiency are far more likely to produce results than longer and longer hours. There is a breaking point where you start to introduce more bugs than you fix (as you pointed out in your article), and ultimately will delay the schedule rather than accelerate it.

Fight on!
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