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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?

Right?


===

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-22 11:40 pm (UTC)

EA

All you EA employes are fat ugly losers. I'm glad you getting screwed over
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 12:16 am (UTC)

Re: EA

Thanks Larry Probst. Glad to work for you.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
Re: EA - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 12:27 am (UTC)

DIe EA

EA should burn and die. (BTW: WOrk at some nice componys like Nintendo or Sega or Blizzard!)
(Reply) (Thread)
From: gaming_widow
2004-11-23 01:11 am (UTC)

Similar experience

When I read the posting by ea_spouse, I thought, “I could have written that… I SHOULD have written that!” I, too, am a gaming “widow.” I, too, wish to keep the details anonymous, so as not to put my husband’s career in jeopardy.

My husband worked at EA a few years ago, and we dealt with the same things: long hours, never-ending crunch periods, no overtime pay. So when we had enough, my husband decided to take a job at a start-up gaming company that promised to be “different.” They promised to be an artist-driven, employee-driven, family company. Well, two years and one game later, we’ve learned that the new company practices were no different than EA’s. Except that at EA, my husband actually got paid. Now that the game is made, and with no contract for a new game, we’ve been 7 weeks without a paycheck. If my husband were to leave his job tomorrow, the company wouldn’t be able to pay him for the 7 weeks of work or the 4 weeks of vacation time he’s earned. Legal?? Hardly.

California State Law says that “All accrued but unused vacation must be paid out at the termination of the employment relationship, at the final rate of pay.” But what do you do when the company has no money?

And the hours at the new company? No better than at EA. If possible, I think it’s been worse. We are talking core hours of 10 am – 10 pm, 7 days a week, for months and months on end. One crunch would lead up to a deadline, and instead of hours returning to normal, we would just roll over into another deadline for another milestone. All of course, with no overtime because he’s an “exempt” employee. At the worst of it, I was in my ninth month of pregnancy, confined to bed rest, and my husband was working until 2 o’clock in the morning. He barely saw our baby during the first 3 months of her life, because he’d get home long after she went to bed, and leave before she woke in the morning. As for me, I felt like a single mother. The only time he got to see the baby was on the rare occasion I’d bring her by his office for a visit. Tell me, how is that a “family-based” company???? I guess they meant that the family would be based in the office.

My question is: what do we do now??? How do we change this industry “standard?” If I hear one more time “This is how the industry is,” I think I’ll scream. Just because this is how it’s been, doesn’t mean it’s legal… or moral or ethical, either. Will unionizing help? Will lawsuits? When is enough enough? Because I will not let the industry ruin my marriage. We work in order to have a life. What kind of life are we living now? I have more questions than answers, but I know we need a solution soon. This is no way to live.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 02:53 am (UTC)

Re: Similar experience

put in your 72 hours notice. They have the money. They just say they don't. force them to pay up or force them to file bankruptcy. All companies are required to pay you back wages and vacation when they terminate you. If you quit, they are legally required to pay you all earned wages and vacation within 72 hours or penalities add up.

If they cant afford to make payroll then its an extreme longshot that he would get paid anyways reagrdless.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 06:32 am (UTC)

OK EALA employees..here is the union rep card link

http://www.mpsc839.org/_Info/Info_h/REPCARD.HTM

The link is on this page. It is totally ANONYMOUS. . mpsc839 studios get overtime I believe. Now or never


(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 10:31 pm (UTC)

SWEET!

I'm joining...
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
I signed! - (Anonymous) Expand
From: jif_1979
2004-11-23 09:10 am (UTC)

New York Times Investigating

I haven't seen this article in the replies yet, so I tought I'd post it here.
go to the article
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 08:51 pm (UTC)

Re: New York Times Investigating

This is the best written article concerning the EA buzz. Thank you for posting it!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 10:11 am (UTC)

steve chaing

you know, several years ago when we had the cruise at christmas time still, i had a chance to actually sit down and speak with steve. he was a very down to earth, nice guy who seemed to genuinely care about the employees at his company. its possible that he has not actually been following this as closely as some of us and therefore has a misimpression about how many employees feel strongly about it, especially from Tiburon as so few people made Tiburon specific posts.

has anyone considered just attempting to sit down and have a conversation with the man? its possible, if you treat him like a human being and address the issues in a nonconfrontational and rational manner he might well listen!

it seems like people on this post are very riled up and its possible that their initial approach might well scare people into being defensive. this probably wouldnt really do anyone any good. you get more flies with honey than vinegar they say!
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 12:37 am (UTC)

Re: steve chaing

You're very sweet.

'its possible that he has not actually been following this as closely as some of us and therefore has a misimpression about how many employees feel strongly about it'

Steve Chaing knows. EA managers KNOW.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 11:58 am (UTC)

Have read all posts

Yes, pretty bad stuff happening there.
I do agree that most comments about things going on in industry are pretty true. Meanwhile I do agree that some work will be outsourced to Eastern Europe, where people are skilled, they receive less and can be abused the same. Also communications will be easier to keep, because many people know at least 3 languages and time barrier ir less. Having the same western culture also helps in understanding.

Why I know it? I am from Eastern Europe, and see the trend. Good luck in fighting, IT industry should be cleaned up for "common people" working there. I will not sacrifice life for 3 or 4 games with my title somewhere down there, besides in related industries they pay good salaries. And games can be played in free time :)
(Reply) (Thread)
From: bwingb
2004-11-23 03:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Have read all posts

Yeah well this is how we deal with our problems these days-- we sweep them under the proverbial rug. But guess what folks, that pile gets bigger and bigger under that rug, and the effort you're saving in the short run is gonna result in a whole lot of people tripping and a nice big hole in that rug.;)

I wish I had the ability to find that amusing. But it's just not there.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: bwingb
2004-11-23 03:23 pm (UTC)

RE: Steve Chaing

Do PLEASE enlighten me, kind madame / sir!

How is it the employees' responsibility to direct the company's policies? Particularly in an environment that's so stringent; where one really has to 'go with the flow' or else get fired? What do you think happens to people who try and say, "Hey, wait a minute, before you escort me out of the building, I want to speak to upper management!". Hah!! What a pile of baloney. If people _need_ to unionize before they are heard, that's precisely what they'll do.

And it's not the employees who made it that way.

And you know what? Unionizing is a perfectly acceptable response given the circumstances. If people are worried about the direction a union may take, well then it's up to _them_ to become active voices in their union and keep it on track. If I sat around all the time and worried, "what if..."what if"... well then I'd have no one to blame but silly ole me if nothing got fixed.

Considering this has been going on in significant pockets (I am seeing a majority vote here of negative opinions-- people TOO FRIGHTENED to disclose their identities, for goodness' sake) for over a decade, I think it's management who is failing to "treat people like a human being". It's like blaming the children because the parents are negligent... eventually you get angry kids and then society says, "those are bad kids!" But when do people accept responsibility for the influences they hold over those under them? We humans are equipped with emotions because these are a vital part of our motivation to evolve and adapt. I am just sorry we learn so young that we have to wait until we are stifled and angry before we are motivated enough to take action. It should be enough motivation to observe that there _are_ problems, and in a well run company, there would be REAL room set aside for feedback like this.

My husband spent over $40 grand on an education which uses his abundant gifts and now he's stuck working rotating shift at an unrelated industry because of this "stuff" going on and you can't blame me for feeling ripped off when his magnificent talents, which could be enriching so many lives, are going to waste because of other people's shortsightedness, greed and malice. Do you think we have been able to feed our children _and_ pay back our loans? Hardly. Who do I blame? I blame current big business trends and their souped up hiring/ firing/ management practices which trickle all the way down into the minutest parts of our society; stifling out any growth or life which "gasp" might actually provide those that 'have' with a bit of healthy competition. Whatever happened to free enterprise?

I am sick and tired of illogical ideas passing for truths. And judging from the response here, so are many, many, many people here in on this continent, which is supposed to be a pleasant place to live.

(Reply) (Thread)
From: dirtsnake
2004-11-23 05:53 pm (UTC)

Re: Steve Chaing

Why shouldn't it be an employee's responsibility to help direct management and policies ? Do you try to effect change, or just let it happen to you ? Drawing a parallel with citizens and government, it's a citizen's right and social obligation to try to change situations or policies they don't agree with. Any relationship becomes more valuable when the partipants let their feelings be known rather than pathalogically ignore or suppress them.

And maybe it is the employees who 'made it that way'. By sitting back and taking the shit that management throws at them, it's a classic case of codependency.

It's easy to paint large corporations such as EA or Microsoft as evil empires with managers trained in the art of deception and subjugation. But the truth is such large corporate structures take on a life of their own that is beyond their individual constituents. People who rise up through the corporate pyramid and acquire power do so gradually, and can start effecting policies that screw those on the bottom, without being entirely conscious of it. Enlightenment, such as that exploding here, can only help the situation. There will be a few truly evil power-hungry bastards that may try to quash any semblance of a revolt, but there's many more who will listen, like any good politician.
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Re: Steve Chaing - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Steve Chaing - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Steve Chaing - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 06:04 pm (UTC)

I don't care

Good. I want my videogames and I want them now, dammit.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 06:31 pm (UTC)

Re: I don't care

Yup. And I am sure many will agree when I say, "You know what you can do with that joy-stick!!";-)
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Re: I don't care - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 07:25 pm (UTC)

You took the words right out of my mouth

I cannot begin to explain how loud and true your words ring. They represent my exact situation. My husband too works in the gaming industry and for the last 5 years I could probably give you an exact number of times my husband and I shared an evening at home or a full weekend together. It saddens me to think that so much of our marriage has been spent at his place of work: me bringing him dinner so we can share a half hour together. Me going up there to just say Hi since he rolled in way after I went to bed and was up and out the door before I ever woke up. There were even some instances when he wouldn't come home until the following afternoon, only to sleep for a couple hours and return to his job. There were even guys who simply started bringing their sleeping bags to work!

For those of you out there with an established family my heart goes out to you. I cannot even begin to imagine children in our present situation.

Like many others, we too have been led to believe the same kind of promises that you all have experienced. You would think that we would get the picture after a year or two. The truth is, aside from the hours, my husband loves what he does. And so year after year we clinged to those promises of change. Endless promises is what they are.. things are changing...things will change once we get through this crunch. They get our hopes up, allow us to plan these "easy" going days ahead.. only to arrive at the same conclusion...just one more week of crunch time.

After the release of their last game, the company had the nerve to lay off 13 people! 13 less supposed royalty checks or "hard work" bonuses to be given out. Their way of saying thank you for dedicating the last two years of your life to the company, I guess.

We have finally opened our eyes and seen the industry for what it is. We have finally realized that no, things aren't really going to change, this crunch period really isn't going to last a couple weeks, we really are not going to receive royalty checks off the games that are produced, there will be no significant bonus for all the hard work and unimaginably long hours and dedication.

The truth is, there is no way of claiming back all of that time that was lost.

I am so glad that people are finally taking a stand and speaking out. There is no reason why these men and women should be subjected to the hours they are required to work, without some form of compensation. I guess the industry can't afford to hand out comp time because if they did, our significant others, friends, and family would probably be sitting on a years worth of comp time.

If they were out saving the world.. I could maybe understand and accept the hard work and long hours. But in the end.. it's just another video game.

If there is ANYTHING I can do to help change things, PLEASE let me know. And thanks for sharing your story.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 08:48 pm (UTC)

Putting off children...

Thank you for your response! It all rang true from one game-making SO to another! I have been married for 12 years and have put off having children because I kept believing that "it would get better" once my SO put in the hours and "earned" a great spot in the industry. My SO is gifted and has been promoted and moved on to "great" companies, but we still lack the finances or time to create a family. At this point, I know that I would very much be raising children as a "single parent" in spite of the fact that I have a loving SO. I in my early 30s and even now I am scared that we are missing our chance. Short of my SO getting out of the industry, I am starting to lose hope that we will be able to ever have children. It is one thing for my SO to explain long hours and deadlines to me, but how do you explain them to a child who simply wants to have both parents present? I have so much faith in my SO, but I have lost faith in the fact that his hard work will provide any long-term stability or rewards. The other downer is that I HAVE to work to pay our bills in the expensive city that the company is located -- what good would I be to a child with both of us working long hours? If my SO was rightly compensated for the hours worked, at least I could stay at home and provide the kind of environment that a child deserves. At this point, I feel like bringing a child into this kind of environment would be selfish. I pray to God that things change somehow so that we can move on with our lives. Thus far, this industry seems to have proven to me that it is almost impossible for anyone over 30 to find long-term happiness in it. How do we have a family when the company demands and gets more of our SOs than we do?
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 10:12 pm (UTC)

fear of being hanged or beheaded

<< Drawing a parallel with citizens and government, it's a citizen's right and social obligation to try to change situations or policies they don't agree with >>

That is a good point - in any reasonably civilized democracy where freedom of speech is actively encouraged, change -will- often arise as a result of public pressure.

It's not quite so effective however when people are faced with a regime that not only forces them to tow the line and remain silent for fear of being hanged or beheaded, but also promotes the individuals responsible for the administering the punishment.

Under these conditions, the only way to force change at EA is for -everyone- to somehow unite and collectively demand fair overtime compensation. After all they can't execute the whole workforce, and they might just be forced to address the -real- problem, which is purely organizational.
The point is: with realistic scope, a genuinely solid design, and honest planning, games -can- be made without dramatically increasing budgets, without running everyone into the ground, and without outsourcing overseas.

It seems to me that despite the potential downsides of unions, perhaps we don't have a great deal of choice. I can't see anyone wanting to initiate some kind of uprising, but I would also hate to see this just blow over - that is exactly what EA are hoping for and there is too much at stake.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 10:43 pm (UTC)

Re: fear of being hanged or beheaded

You are *so* right. And you know, maybe if these companies were forced through unionization to pay out overtime, they'd be a little more thoughtful about how they used their resources. Better planning, better managers, better policies could be the direct result.

As for the union, the bigger it is, and the more people who care participate in union meetings, the less likely it is to become corrupt. It has to be the voice of many, and reflect only the most common needs. I believe it can be done, and I am wondering what people are afraid of since the related union has been considerate enough to set up an anonymous system! Hey, what is everyone waiting for?
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-23 11:48 pm (UTC)

Unions in the UK

As an employee of an EA owned studio in the UK, I'm interested to know how the idea of unionisation would work worldwide.
As far as I know, union laws are different in each country, therefore does that mean there could be potentially more than one union, ie - individual ones that represent the interests of each country's studios?
Faced with similar overtime issues, many staff at the European studios would favour the option of union membership.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 12:51 am (UTC)

Re: Unions in the UK

What a concept! Imagine talent costing the same in every country? What better inentive could there be to nurture our respective domestic workforces!
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 12:25 pm (UTC)

Don't let this controversy slow down..

You'll notice most DD's and managers are not talking about this Blog too much upfront or dismissing it somewhat. Apparently it's because their plan is to keep prolonging a response in hopes that meek programmers and artists just get bored or lose hope. But there is a big worry about a 'rebellion' since the power lies with the workers. HR already has a standard response to this letter..funny.

Keep the channels of communication open, you should all sign up for the union card from the middle of this page, even if you don't want it too much and it doesn't mean that you will have to have one but, once enough people sign up it will show ea a very real sign of proactiveness and this will scare them because it's the very opposite that they are hoping you will do, which is the way it has always been and why things are this bad now.

Also anyone notice how EA has such a hard on for film industry people and pay that one guy in the group 100,000 + and everyone else 40 k, and this person knows nothing about how games work and the technical ramifications ...wtf is up with that...i can just barely make my rent.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-25 06:00 am (UTC)

Re: Don't let this controversy slow down..

I have confidence that EA's HR machine will deal with this effectively. There's a reason the VP of HR is showered with money (no, it's not because he succeeded in making EA the number 1 people company). It's quite easy actually. Make sure that your top decision makers in all fields are happy and well compensated, and simply keep refueling the 75% core that burns out. Experience is over rated, especially with quick technology transitions. It makes sense to work the low and mid level people as hard as possible. Some will naturally survive and adapt. The rest can be thrown out and replaced with intelligent, eager, subservient, high energy new graduates, ready to be molded. I recommend either a one year or four year burn out cycle. You don't want someone who was intended to burn out in one year surviving and dragging things down with all the extra lugagge.

The great thing is that this industry is absolutely perfect for the type of resource utilization I'm talking about. That's because people are very passionate about wanting to work in games. They love the rebelliousness, the youthfulness, and apparent freedom (come in at 10, wear what you want, go for a 2 hour lunch, play some games).

Now I may sound harsh, but the truth is that 99% of you take advantage of people as well. Maybe not directly, but certainly for much less. At the end of the day Larry takes advantage of a few thousand people and makes several hundred million, a portion of which he gives to charity. And you? Well, you'll take advtange of some poor QA guy, forcing him to stay late to find a bug that's due to your shit coding. You'll go and buy your Fiance' a worthless piece of diamond, mined by people exploited 10 times worse than you. You'll browse the internet for teenage and other illegal pornography, and take pleasure in that exploitation.

I guess what I'm saying is that this will slow down and eventually disappear, because it's understandable, logical, and justifiable in the context of human behavior (so people will not fight that hard). And EA has willpower that far exceeds your own. Think about this. If this amounts to a Union, for example, and the result is a stock price that falls by $5 (which it will if a Union comes in), someone like Larry would stand to loose more than $10,000,000 due to option devaluation.
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[User Picture]From: sonicalpha
2004-11-24 01:44 pm (UTC)
And this is why I'll never work for EA (unless things change drastically).

I'm currently working for a small company, the hours are great and my over time is paid (there are other benefits, but I won't go into those).

Apparently this isn't industry standard, which is a total ass pain. If I'm going to be working on a game, and I have to work extra I damn well better get paid for it.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-27 05:48 pm (UTC)
Good luck, SonicAlpha. If your own LJ is any indication of your work, as an EA employee I am glad you're not one too.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 02:32 pm (UTC)

EA Sweatshops

Excuse my language, but FUCKING HELL FIRE mate, what kind of fuckry people are they? Can't they be sued under the Health & Safety Act? Surely it cannot be safe to work such hours. Slavery days are over for most western countries. I will be forwarding this to all of my gamer mates who will be equally as mortified as I was.
As I am sure that everyone else has said the same but TELL your man to QUIT that hellhole.

DAMN!

mfp
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 03:00 pm (UTC)

What's going on?

Hiya,

haven't heard anything from ea_spouse on here for a while, just wondering what's going on? I know you've been speaking to the press, have you got lawyers involved, are you forming a union?! I need closure! :) Sure it's going to run for a while though...

I hope everything is working out for you, you deserve it for being brave enough to take a stand. Good luck!
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 03:13 pm (UTC)

Re: What's going on?

Best of luck, the world is watching and praying for your success :)
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 04:28 pm (UTC)

EA Execs. Salary Info.


This is public info. Aint it great. Available Here (http://prod.ecomponline.com/cobrand/cobrand.asp?cobrand_id=1&symbol=erts)


ELECTRONIC ARTS INC

209 REDWOOD SHORES PARKWAY

REDWOOD CITY, CA
650-628-1500

Executive Comp Summary
Name & TitleYearSalaryBonusTotal Direct Comp.
Warren C. Jenson
Executive Vice President, Chief Financial and Administrative Officer
2004$522,087$450,000$972,087
Don A. Mattrick
President, Worldwide Studios
2004$585,607$565,000$1,150,607
Bruce McMillan
Executive Vice President Worldwide Studios
2004$472,709$371,000$843,709
Lawrence F. Probst III
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
2004$672,759$781,000$1,453,759
John Riccitiello
President and Chief Operating Officer
2004$576,764$475,000$1,051,764


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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 04:45 pm (UTC)

Went away because there's no story.

There's no story here. People work hard in different industries all over the world. The only difference here is that some of the folks in (or who's friend/SO work in) the game industry are a bunch of whiners.

Comparing EA's labor practices to modern day slavery is like comparing Ghandi to Hitler. Let's be serious here folks.

1. You can leave whenever you want.

2. Nobody is making you work in this industry. If the hours are too long or too stressful then try something easier like working part time at Pet Smart.

At EA you get to ship games that are played by millions around the world. That is part of your compensation. You get to create something that is enjoyed by people all around the globe. The individuals who work on the title are critical components in making that happen in many cases to the point where one person not pulling their weight could potentially drag down the entire product (or make it late).

Some people thrive under that kind of environment, they are the real EA. That is why at EA you get paid according to what you produce and the responsibility you have. If you have no responsibility then you don't get paid extra. If you have lots, you get paid more. That's basically it. You want rewards? Do you have the talent and work-ethic to take on more responsibility? Go for it.

If you don't like doing that then why are you doing the job in the first place? Working in the industry should be fun for you to the point where you can't wait to get to work to continue improving your title. If it isn't then you have the wrong job and you should work somewhere else. How did EA get on the top 100 companies to work for list? They interviewed people who recognize what they have. Besides nice (but trivial) things like gyms and nice benefits what you really get is unlimited opportunity to excel. I have never worked at a company where I thought that was the case until I started working for EA.

ea_spouse's real problem isn't the industry, it's the fact that his/her SO is not at home when she/he wants him/her there. It doesn't take the game industry to cause this situation (alcohol, drugs, cheating, hobbies like Everquest, etc...) and the answer is always the same. Address the actual root of the problem. Each person needs to decide their own life priorities. I have seen marriages crumble because the husband wants to keep working on games and the wife doesn't get it. That's what we do. We make games. If you don't like it then take it up with your SO but don't try and drag our industry through the mud. Doing that will never fix your real problem which is that your SO either likes money or working on games more than hanging out with you.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 05:03 pm (UTC)

Re: Went away because there's no story.

"You get to create something that is enjoyed by people all around the globe."

Have you ever actually played an EA game? :P
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FUCK OFF - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: FUCK OFF - (Anonymous) Expand
How sad - (Anonymous) Expand
From: bwingb
2004-11-24 05:13 pm (UTC)

A wakeup call:

How am I mirroring EA's behavior by pointing out that some spoiled boneheads didn't take the time to read before they responded? By sticking my neck out and risking this backlash just to try and educate others about the pitfalls of selfishness and ignorance? Because they weren't listening to the nice stuff... and because tolerance is the most valid lesson a human can learn.

If people can't take a little ribbing; a little criticism-- they have a lot of growing up to do. I have no problem with taking criticism, but only if it's genuine criticism coming from someone who took the time to read and consider my words and my actions. After all I've been through in my thirty years, (and trust me, it's probably WAY more than most of you will see in a life), I _am_ able to recognize _genuine_ , _objective_ criticism. I welcome it.

You know, as I type, I have two children running under my feet, begging me to read them books, to pay them attentions, laundry piling up around my ankles. Because I take care of my own kids. My ten year old has been doing the dishes for me for over a week now so I can continue to try and help people move forward. But all I see are people trying to drag me down and step up on my efforts. Not one of you has even tried to imagine what time this is taking me-- what I might be giving up to type here for you all. How sad is that? But you know I expected it. That's how it always is in a group where everyone is self centered; where carrot and media dangling of bonuses and hand held gismos has conditioned us all to put #1 first.

When this movement began to slow down, I kept posting. Because I felt I had some life experience to contribute to a crowd who thought I was a big dumb nerd because I don't play video games. Newsflash: we don't even get cable. We don't watch t.v. How weird is that, huh? We read books in this family. I didn't get all offended and sulky because you all thought I was a misfit. I took it in my stride because I realized there were bigger issues than me, and I felt I had something you all could use. So I gave. Not for personal gain, but because I care. I really care. And so does my husband. We care if a whole pile of people will never know the boundless joys we've had as a family with children. A family who eats and plays together often.

I am also juggling production on our personal work here, which is behind deadline and has been going a lot slower since this began. We've got subscribers, folks. I also operate a yahoo group for parents who's been left hanging for over two weeks. They love my insights, and even when they don't, they know how to use the delete button like mature adults ought to. But this movement is bigger than me; bigger than all of us. I've read EVERY SINGLE POST on this journal. I've sweated every single sad story, hoping people would find the courage to unite; to recognize the time.

So to those of you who want to throw all my dedication back into my face, go right ahead, but there's no hope for you then. Because you don't have the ability to differentiate between abuse and concern. And if you are that confused, you'll most likely never find common ground. Especially if you get jealous when someone has the spotlight because THEY EARNED IT. Get _over_ yourselves and you might get somewhere. Then maybe some true leadership will stand a chance in all this.

---continued below---
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From: bwingb
2004-11-24 05:13 pm (UTC)

continued...

You're on your own now. I'm going back to my work. My son is hungry- he's on a growth spurt and these days he's always hungry. I remember when not so long ago the fridge was almost bare, and I had to ration milk for my daughter, but these days, it's a bit better. And I am off to feed them, to put the rest of my laundry in the machine. It costs $16.00 every time we do laundry because the landlord's stuck up wife needs a silver mercedes. Then I am going to pick our bed off of the living room floor and stick it back in the sofa, vacuume up the fallen fronds of my neglected ferns. They are the true victims of the time I've spent here.

You know, I never had a father growing up, so damned if some blood sucking board of directors or dumb jock, clued out manager is going to rob my children of one now. At the end of the day, I am just grateful that we can see our father when he is finished work. Because our time with him means more to us than any stupid video game, fancy ass car, or bullshit poser MTV attitude.

And he feels the same way.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 05:18 pm (UTC)

Re: continued...

Lady you need professional help...
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 05:21 pm (UTC)

It's amost over.

This post will fade away like it came.
The lesson here is work your ass off and one day if you put enough efforts you may get a salary like Larry or Don because those guys have been putting the hours for EA for the last 20 years.
If you don't like it or think you should be payed the big bucks at 40 hours a week, then my friend you are dead wrong and move on.
In life you can get it all if you want to put the time and efforts or as little as you need if you want less challenges, pick your battle and stop the tears.


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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 06:42 pm (UTC)

Re: It's amost over.

They pay people to work. Let's not get confused. It's not over.

Many have joined the union and many more will. EA is NOT a wonderful utopia for the thousands who want to work overtime. EA is a sweatshop. They exploit people.

Karma. Law of substitution. Newton's Law. Jesus.

Whatever you believe in, change will come. All the people who got mine will get theirs. Believe it.
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Re: So true... - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: merlyn_magick
2004-11-24 06:39 pm (UTC)

< sympathizes >

With 38 pages of responses, I doubt I will get a personal reply to this, but wanted to share my sympathy with you by providing some anecdotal info.

I too worked for a large, third party publisher - Atari\Infogrames specifically. Very similar conditions - mandatory 60 hour work weeks, 90 hour work weeks were common. I watched myself and a lot of my co-workers spiral into depression and bad health after YEARS of these kinds of working conditions. Besides health problems that I had as a result of overworking, bad diet, and lack of rest, I also totalled 2 cars from falling asleep behind the wheel. We worked holidays, weekends, nights, overnights, etc.

Although I did get paid for overtime, we were never really given more than state law required, and eventually, they closed down the Qa dept I worked in. As a result, I no longer work in the gaming industry, as from reading things like your post and my own personal experiences, I made a decision to stick to something that afforded more time to have a life. Most of the people I worked with have done teh same. And it's a shame too, cause like you said - we are all intelligent, creative people, and the industry was lucky to have us.

Just wanted to let you know yer SO is not alone - alot of us have gone through it. I might suggest that he move on to applications, but that is ultimately a decision you guys have to make. Be well

-B
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From: ea_spouse
2004-11-30 06:12 am (UTC)

Re: < sympathizes >

It's taking me a little while, but I'm trying fervently to respond to all posts that ask for or imply asking for a response. =) And I have to admit I've fallen behind reading all of the threads -- I had to turn off comment notification pretty early on in order to spare my hotmail account.

Thank you for posting your story. Your comment about the car still gives me chills even now. I started driving my SO to work because I was extremely afraid he would drive the car into a pole during crunch. Yours is not the first story I've heard like that -- several people have emailed me with tales of cars dented or destroyed in accidents in the wee hours of the morning coming home from work. I'm just thankful none of them are about anyone getting seriously hurt this way.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 06:39 pm (UTC)

EA is a CORPORATION

I am average game developer Joe. I want to make games, so I take a pay cut and join the industry through a friend of a friend. I'm working at a start-up, so all the royalties and bonuses promised me don't get handed over because the company didn't make as much money as they thought they would. Why? EA put out an inferior game with millions in marketing behind it.

We get the call. EA wants to buy our studio. This could be cool. Making money we were promised for a change, making games that sell despite their quality, and working with industry leaders. Sounds great. Under a big corporate umbrella, I should have a more organized, stable role in development. I'm ready. Let's do it.

Wow. We're doing a cool new title based on the one we just finished. That's kind of cool. EA must have really liked our idea. Who's on the phone?

What does he mean, "more blue?" I'd ask him but he's too busy and important to respond. Well guys, I guess the man wants it more blue so let's get to it. We might have to work a little extra, but we can pull it off.

Another call. This time they're coming to visit. This is cool, we're almost done with the plumbing work, and the game is functional, so all we have left is art and story content, which shouldn't take more than 5 months. That should put us with a solid 3 months left to polish the game and make it great. This game is actually playing loads better than the first, and everyone is having fun playing it. Now it's going to have EA marketing behind it. This is great.

Now let me get this straight. You want to make the game more "green" now? What happened to "blue?" And by the way, when you say "green," what exactly do you... Oh, okay I'm sorry I know you're busy. Keep on signing those checks! Wait, have you even played the game? No? Let me send you a copy. Oh, you're too busy?

Ok guys we really have to scramble. Guy says he wants it more green and there has to be turkeys in the game now. I know it doesn't make any sense, and it'll probably make the game look stupid but let's go to it anyway. Since he's coming down next month, we're going to have to work extra hard to get it done. 10 hour days for everyone.

Oh shit he's back again! Well, we've got the turkeys in, sir, but we haven't finished implementing the green. What? Uh. Okay, I was sure you said green, but if you want orange then I'm not one to question. What do you mean you don't like the turkeys? Wombats? Sir, that's just retarded. I mean, yes sir I do like getting paid. Yes sir I'll never speak to you like that again, sir.

Sorry guys we've got way too much work to do. Because I spoke up now we have to have monster trucks in the game. Along with the green transition, and the turkeys, I mean wombats, we will only be able to ship this game if we work 12 hour days for 6 days a week. I know you guys have been kicking ass and will keep doing so regardless, but right now I need you to kick a little more. Now is the time for heroes.

Hello? Yes sir, you can certainly play the game. We've got the wombats driving the green monster trucks on several levels now and we feel... Huh? Yes sir. Yes sir you can come play the game in our office.

Ok guys. The big man himself is here. Don't question him. This guy sucks the dick of the guy who writes our checks, so no outbursts, ok?

Why hello! Yes the game is almost shippable! Certainly! Have a seat right here! Yes sir I'm taking notes. Red. Got it. Salamanders. Got it. Airplanes. Check. Basketball!!?!??

Shit! We can't miss our date or we don't get bonuses and we could get fired! Ok guys now we have to work 7 days a week and really crunch it this time cause the big man wants chickens and salamanders and oh my god what is it now?

Yes mister man. Thank you for the extention date. I know you had to pull some strings to get it to us. We are so grateful.

I can't even tell if the game is fun anymore. I have a sneaking suspicion that it isn't. How come all the levels have "fuck EA" written in the terrain? What's going on here?

Crunch crunch crunch... All work and no play makes Joe a game developer that doesn't give two shits or a piss what kind of game EA ships.

Challenge yourself, chickenfuckers. I quit.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 07:41 pm (UTC)

So true...

EA's games really suck. But they're fun for the first level.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 08:56 pm (UTC)

The ultimate goal here...

I don't think anybody pretends that EA is the only company in the world that engages in treating their workforce like garbage and enforcing long hours. And I know from experience that this is nothing new either on EA's part or on the part of many other companies.

It's possible that EA is not even the worst in the world. If anything, I'd expect the little tiny studios to be worse in terms of worker conditions. But when a company as large as EA does it, it hurts that many more people, especially considering how many people might otherwise be attracted to work there so that they could say "hey, I worked for the juggernaut of the industry."

There's a difference between the crunches, which you see in all studios (like the example you bring up of Xmas)... the long hours that need to be put in as you get closer and closer to a deadline. There's the days of long hours that individuals put in for the sake of finishing or polishing up what they were last working on... all that's fine. These are things that are the results of poor planning (of various scale and scope) and rushed schedules.

Now you have the cases of what goes on in Japanese studios where people do work long hours almost all the way through the project, but there are still some key differences here. One, the hours worked through the course of the project are pretty consistent. Two, there is long down time and post-project vacation time (which EA has stated is something they are going to remove from their policy after this year). Three, while the workers are not often paid overtime, they are often paid for every hour they log, if they log their time... Can't say this is true for *every* studio. Four, and this is the big one, there's a huge cultural difference here -- long hours are not just in the game industry over there, but almost every industry, and even in elementary and secondary schools... People are simply raised on that kind of work ethic throughout the country. Five, as much as there are long work hours, there is also a lot of work put in for worker retention and turnover rates are pretty low. Six, a lot of these things have already been addressed throughout various studios in Japan a long time ago. We just never heard about it because it never affected us in North America.

In the case of EA or Atari and such, you see the company deliberately working crunches INTO the schedule and demanding long hours without overtime for no reason other than the fact that they can. I especially have stories about this in regards to Atari, who keeps a lot of their studios in Texas, because Texas labor laws do not require any company to pay overtime to any employee. They're so loose that almost everything is perfectly legal.

When you have a small studio which is on stringent funding constraints and can't afford to pay very many people very high gross salaries, that's one thing. When a big multinational corporation that owns a half dozen studios and employs 10,000 people looks for legal loopholes to try and avoid paying overtime, that's exploitation. Bear in mind that no matter how you want to color the argument or interpret the law, exemptness from overtime pay is not a reason; it's an excuse. It'd be one thing if everybody on your staff was making 6 figures, but that won't happen until inflation puts 6-figure salaries in the poverty line.

Continued below...
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 08:58 pm (UTC)

Re: The ultimate goal here... (cont'd)

At my last company, our employer tried deliberately to hire Indian guys for the programming staff as much as possible. Why? Because like Japan, in India, people are raised under a certain extreme work ethic, and the assumption is that they would bring that with them to wherever they work. By in large, this is absolutely true. And I'm no exception. It's one thing to find a lot more Indian guys qualified for the positions and coincidentally hire them. But when you seek them out because you know you can get more free work hours out of them... that's exploitation.

Another story... we had a programmer go off on medical leave to have some surgery done. The day after he left, our employer canceled his health insurance. Reason? Because while the guy's on leave, he's not on payroll anymore, so it's not fair to provide any benefits during that time either.

Chances are, EA never did anything like that to their employees. The thing is that as much as you can talk about how bad it is in some tiny little microstaffed indie developer shop (and there are probably such studios that are worse than EA in every aspect), what sort of effect do you have on the industry by rectifying the problem at that level? Like so many have said in these comments, this is a problem that covers so much of the entire industry. It's only going to get worse as development takes longer and costs more and the industry gets more media attention. Creating a vicious cycle or leaving it alone to create itself does nothing. If anything, the fact that there IS all this attention and notoriety placed on the shoulders of a big corporate monster like EA, it sends a shockwave throughout the entire industry. And if you can enforce a change on a big company, it sends the message that the workforce is dead serious about being treated properly, and no one is "exempt" from that.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-24 10:45 pm (UTC)

I couldn't cut it

I couldn't put up with the hours at EA because I, myself, am less of a person than the people who work there. Somewhere in my life of ease, of only working 85-95 hour weeks, I did something selfish instead of coming in to work.

If only I had put more effort into what I was doing, maybe the people there wouldn't have saw fit to make decisions that would cause me to redo it multiple times. It's my fault, really. My lousy art that got recycled several times before finally being put back into the game just wasn't good enough the first time.

My designs were horrible, I admit. Though the game ended up almost mirroring my initial designs, sometimes you have to take risks and redo lots of work seemingly needlessly in order to make any real progress. I redid the design 6 times, and when I finally showed the first one again, just as a joke, it was heralded as the best of them all. It was just a test, to see if I really knew what I was doing. Boy, I hope I did ok.

My audio work was so sub par. Even though I screamed about running demos in rooms with obvious acoustic problems, and despite my constant assurances that the average gamer has a two speaker system, I was, justifiably overruled. Perhaps it was my attention to detail, or testing the sound system in my own office, or perhaps I had the volume at a reasonable level. I'm sure it was my fault.

My stupid coding could have contributed, nay, could have caused the problem. I know that the design was changed six times over the course of the project, but it was my job to redo that work six times, even if I had only been scheduled to do it once. I know that the work on the main system and units was for demos and that you assured me that the demo work would be scrapped and time allotted to redo it. Even though you lied to me outright constantly, it was my job to look past your deception and work 32 hours a day to do it correctly the first time. It was my job to make thousands of independant systems synergise without any testing or practical use. It's my job, that's what I do.

Perhaps it was my development direction. I tried to schedule things and make plans and provide people with constructive work to do, but somewhere along the line I got sidetracked. Maybe I shouldn't have spent so much time on the demos you told me were so important. Maybe I should have stuck to my plan even when you told me that gameplay didn't matter and that we would work out the kinks in the system later.

I finally realize the problem here. If I work really hard 32+ hours a day, maybe I can get something accomplished. Fie on your plans and schedules. I don't need them. I've learned that the only way to run a business is to work tirelessly and constantly.

But why didn't I get a bonus this year, or a significant raise? Oh, I see. The company is in a state of transition. We spent a lot of money on this new facility I'll be enjoying. Also there's a new console coming out. Times like these are scary, we don't know what might happen. I'll gladly contribute my share and my piece of the pie to the company, who obviously knows how to spend it better than I, anyway. After all, our company plan is to double the size of the studio and the company within the year. Hopefully my $1500 bonus can help out.

So you see, the problem is with me, the employee. I didn't work hard enough. I can't cut it. My managers and EA marketing obviously know what they're doing. After all, look how great EA's games are selling. Of course when you play them, they aren't all that fun, but fun isn't what counts in games, is it? It's making Lawrence Probst money, right?

Right?
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-25 12:42 am (UTC)

Re: I couldn't cut it

This better be a goddamn joke.
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