|EA: The Human Story
||[Nov. 10th, 2004|12:01 am]
My significant other works for Electronic Arts, and I'm what you might call a disgruntled spouse.|
EA's bright and shiny new corporate trademark is "Challenge Everything." Where this applies is not exactly clear. Churning out one licensed football game after another doesn't sound like challenging much of anything to me; it sounds like a money farm. To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?
I am retaining some anonymity here because I have no illusions about what the consequences would be for my family if I was explicit. However, I also feel no impetus to shy away from sharing our story, because I know that it is too common to stick out among those of the thousands of engineers, artists, and designers that EA employs.
Our adventures with Electronic Arts began less than a year ago. The small game studio that my partner worked for collapsed as a result of foul play on the part of a big publisher -- another common story. Electronic Arts offered a job, the salary was right and the benefits were good, so my SO took it. I remember that they asked him in one of the interviews: "how do you feel about working long hours?" It's just a part of the game industry -- few studios can avoid a crunch as deadlines loom, so we thought nothing of it. When asked for specifics about what "working long hours" meant, the interviewers coughed and glossed on to the next question; now we know why.
Within weeks production had accelerated into a 'mild' crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad. Months remained until any real crunch would start, and the team was told that this "pre-crunch" was to prevent a big crunch toward the end; at this point any other need for a crunch seemed unlikely, as the project was dead on schedule. I don't know how many of the developers bought EA's explanation for the extended hours; we were new and naive so we did. The producers even set a deadline; they gave a specific date for the end of the crunch, which was still months away from the title's shipping date, so it seemed safe. That date came and went. And went, and went. When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm.
Weeks passed. Again the producers had given a termination date on this crunch that again they failed. Throughout this period the project remained on schedule. The long hours started to take its toll on the team; people grew irritable and some started to get ill. People dropped out in droves for a couple of days at a time, but then the team seemed to reach equilibrium again and they plowed ahead. The managers stopped even talking about a day when the hours would go back to normal.
Now, it seems, is the "real" crunch, the one that the producers of this title so wisely prepared their team for by running them into the ground ahead of time. The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm -- seven days a week -- with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week. Complaints that these once more extended hours combined with the team's existing fatigue would result in a greater number of mistakes made and an even greater amount of wasted energy were ignored.
The stress is taking its toll. After a certain number of hours spent working the eyes start to lose focus; after a certain number of weeks with only one day off fatigue starts to accrue and accumulate exponentially. There is a reason why there are two days in a weekend -- bad things happen to one's physical, emotional, and mental health if these days are cut short. The team is rapidly beginning to introduce as many flaws as they are removing.
And the kicker: for the honor of this treatment EA salaried employees receive a) no overtime; b) no compensation time! ('comp' time is the equalization of time off for overtime -- any hours spent during a crunch accrue into days off after the product has shipped); c) no additional sick or vacation leave. The time just goes away. Additionally, EA recently announced that, although in the past they have offered essentially a type of comp time in the form of a few weeks off at the end of a project, they no longer wish to do this, and employees shouldn't expect it. Further, since the production of various games is scattered, there was a concern on the part of the employees that developers would leave one crunch only to join another. EA's response was that they would attempt to minimize this, but would make no guarantees. This is unthinkable; they are pushing the team to individual physical health limits, and literally giving them nothing for it. Comp time is a staple in this industry, but EA as a corporation wishes to "minimize" this reprieve. One would think that the proper way to minimize comp time is to avoid crunch, but this brutal crunch has been on for months, and nary a whisper about any compensation leave, nor indeed of any end of this treatment.
This crunch also differs from crunch time in a smaller studio in that it was not an emergency effort to save a project from failure. Every step of the way, the project remained on schedule. Crunching neither accelerated this nor slowed it down; its effect on the actual product was not measurable. The extended hours were deliberate and planned; the management knew what they were doing as they did it. The love of my life comes home late at night complaining of a headache that will not go away and a chronically upset stomach, and my happy supportive smile is running out.
No one works in the game industry unless they love what they do. No one on that team is interested in producing an inferior product. My heart bleeds for this team precisely BECAUSE they are brilliant, talented individuals out to create something great. They are and were more than willing to work hard for the success of the title. But that good will has only been met with abuse. Amazingly, Electronic Arts was listed #91 on Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" in 2003.
EA's attitude toward this -- which is actually a part of company policy, it now appears -- has been (in an anonymous quotation that I've heard repeated by multiple managers), "If they don't like it, they can work someplace else." Put up or shut up and leave: this is the core of EA's Human Resources policy. The concept of ethics or compassion or even intelligence with regard to getting the most out of one's workforce never enters the equation: if they don't want to sacrifice their lives and their health and their talent so that a multibillion dollar corporation can continue its Godzilla-stomp through the game industry, they can work someplace else.
But can they?
The EA Mambo, paired with other giants such as Vivendi, Sony, and Microsoft, is rapidly either crushing or absorbing the vast majority of the business in game development. A few standalone studios that made their fortunes in previous eras -- Blizzard, Bioware, and Id come to mind -- manage to still survive, but 2004 saw the collapse of dozens of small game studios, no longer able to acquire contracts in the face of rapid and massive consolidation of game publishing companies. This is an epidemic hardly unfamiliar to anyone working in the industry. Though, of course, it is always the option of talent to go outside the industry, perhaps venturing into the booming commercial software development arena. (Read my tired attempt at sarcasm.)
To put some of this in perspective, I myself consider some figures. If EA truly believes that it needs to push its employees this hard -- I actually believe that they don't, and that it is a skewed operations perspective alone that results in the severity of their crunching, coupled with a certain expected amount of the inefficiency involved in running an enterprise as large as theirs -- the solution therefore should be to hire more engineers, or artists, or designers, as the case may be. Never should it be an option to punish one's workforce with ninety hour weeks; in any other industry the company in question would find itself sued out of business so fast its stock wouldn't even have time to tank. In its first weekend, Madden 2005 grossed $65 million. EA's annual revenue is approximately $2.5 billion. This company is not strapped for cash; their labor practices are inexcusable.
The interesting thing about this is an assumption that most of the employees seem to be operating under. Whenever the subject of hours come up, inevitably, it seems, someone mentions 'exemption'. They refer to a California law that supposedly exempts businesses from having to pay overtime to certain 'specialty' employees, including software programmers. This is Senate Bill 88. However, Senate Bill 88 specifically does not apply to the entertainment industry -- television, motion picture, and theater industries are specifically mentioned. Further, even in software, there is a pay minimum on the exemption: those exempt must be paid at least $90,000 annually. I can assure you that the majority of EA employees are in fact not in this pay bracket; ergo, these practices are not only unethical, they are illegal.
I look at our situation and I ask 'us': why do you stay? And the answer is that in all likelihood we won't; and in all likelihood if we had known that this would be the result of working for EA, we would have stayed far away in the first place. But all along the way there were deceptions, there were promises, there were assurances -- there was a big fancy office building with an expensive fish tank -- all of which in the end look like an elaborate scheme to keep a crop of employees on the project just long enough to get it shipped. And then if they need to, they hire in a new batch, fresh and ready to hear more promises that will not be kept; EA's turnover rate in engineering is approximately 50%. This is how EA works. So now we know, now we can move on, right? That seems to be what happens to everyone else. But it's not enough. Because in the end, regardless of what happens with our particular situation, this kind of "business" isn't right, and people need to know about it, which is why I write this today.
If I could get EA CEO Larry Probst on the phone, there are a few things I would ask him. "What's your salary?" would be merely a point of curiosity. The main thing I want to know is, Larry: you do realize what you're doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that? That when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it's not just them you're hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?
This article is offered under the Creative Commons deed. Please feel free to redistribute/link.
2004-12-21 12:27 am (UTC)
EA just bought 20% of Ubi Soft in a hostile manner. They will monopolize everyone, especially the companies doing cool stuff. This is bad news.
2004-12-22 04:29 am (UTC)
Re: Ubi Soft
Yeah I just read about it on Gamasutra.com My favorite part is the quote from an analyst saying EA is not likely to stop at the 20% threshold mark. And they're also trying to gain control of DICE, another company.
EA is just going to buy out the competition and originality is going to fly out the door because of the lack of competition. What a shame...
2004-12-26 05:05 am (UTC)
To you, condolences and accolades are in order.
I can only pretend to imagine the immense stress and pain that must come with having your partner working such slavish hours. You've done a good thing by starting this avalanche of response, and I only hope that your life will be affected by it in a solely positive manner.
Please receive my sincerest condolences and accolades.
2004-12-26 08:12 pm (UTC)
KILL THEM ALL! (EA SUCKS)
2004-12-29 03:00 pm (UTC)
Everyone loves EA
The general public will continue to buy from them because they don't know anything. They don't read gaming magazines or download demos before they buy games. The general public likes football.
That's really all EA has. Football.
Quick. Somebody make a better football game.
2004-12-29 03:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Everyone loves EA
Granted, it would be easy to do. The last Madden had so many bugs, I started playing 2003 again.
2004-12-29 09:02 pm (UTC)
Care to comment?
I was doing a little research this past holiday weekend on EA and found this bit from Fortune magazine's web site:
"At videogame developer Electronic Arts, employees are invited to wander at an on-site labyrinth - which measures 81 feet in diameter - and amuse themselves during those stressful moments when creativity levels are running low. 'Most creativity comes at one of two times: when your back is against the wall or in a time of calm,' says senior vice president of human resources Rusty Rueff, who came up with the idea. 'Since we have plenty of the former at a growth company like EA, we wanted to be sure that we had ways to find the latter.' Game developers can also refresh their energy with free espresso or by playing volleyball or basketball. If all the fun becomes too much, seven-week sabbaticals are available after seven years with the company, and 12-week breaks after 12 years." -- Christopher Tkaczyk
from the January 20, 2003 issue
Just wondering: did anyone who was at EA in 2002 talk to this reporter with the eye-chart last name? Did anyone with Fortune magazine talk to employees about Rusty's amazing labyrinth? Is there really truly a Rusty-designed labyrinth, and if so, did running it help you with, in Fortune's words, "those stressful moments when creativity levels are running low"? After running Rusty's Amazing Maze, were you "amused?"
I'm just asking, and not only about that.
If EA employees burn out after 5 years or less, then what good is a seven-week sabbatical that's only available to employees who have been with EA after seven years?
After reading ea_spouse's testimony, then reading what's printed as gospel in Fortune, I just had to ask.
2005-01-05 06:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Care to comment?
7 weeks after 7 YEARS?????
Yeah. Ok. Newsflash - Europe (at least where I am), I get 5 weeks off per year starting from Day 1, on the job, paid in full. Wake up, North America. You may have had a head-start in productivity since WWII but, in the words of Malcolm X, "the chickens are coming home to roost, y'all".
I don't think I'll buy any more EA games... I feel bad for the workers.... and it'd probably do them good to know all their hard work was appreciated by SOMEBODY.... but... *shakes her head* I"m not going to reward a heartless company like that!! Assholes!
2005-01-09 08:52 pm (UTC)
Don't fund the next project that guy/girl is going to be working on so they have to be laid off. That's an awesome idea, then they can rest at home collecting unemployment. Someone call Larry.
2005-01-01 11:38 pm (UTC)
For those who want to boycott EA, here's a list of addresses of corporate headquarters for major retailers and their CEOs/Board Chairmen.
If you want a boycott to have an impact, then let these guys know about it. Tell them straight: If they sells EA games, then you won't buy from them.
9950 Mayland Drive
Richmond, VA 23233
phone (804) 527-4000
CEO - W. Alan McCollough
Best Buy Co., Inc.
P.O. Box 9312
Minneapolis, MN 55440-9312
CEO - Bradbury Anderson
Bentonville, AR 72716
CEO - Lee Scott
(Note: I realize this address looks skimpy, but when you consider the size of this Arkansas town, and then the size of WalMart, then this may indicate that the only thing in Bentonville *is* WalMart's HQ.)
3100 West Big Beaver Road
Troy, MI 48084-3163
CEO - Aylwin Lewis
Board Chair - Edward Lampert
3333 Beverly Road
Hoffman Estates, IL 60179
CEO/Board Chair - Alan Lacy
(Note: This gets interesting. KMart purchased Sears in Nov. The companies will formally merge operations in March 2005. According to most recent news, Alan Lacy will be CEO of both companies and Edward Lampert will be Board Chair. The Hoffman Estates address looks to be HQ for both companies.)
1000 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Corporate switchboard (612) 304-6073 8am - 5pm (CT) Mon - Fri
email - Guest.Relations@target.com
CEO - Robert J. Ulrich
19701 Hamilton Avenue, Suite 200
Torrance, CA 90502-1334
CEO - Jerry Comstock
Now, for companies that have financial deals with EA:
280 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Commissioner - Paul Tagliabue
Reebok International LTD
1895 J.W. Foster Blvd.
Canton, MA 02021
CEO/Board Chair - Paul B. Fireman
Proctor & Gamble
1 Proctor & Gamble Plaza
Cincinnati, OH 45201
CEO/President/Board Chair - A.J. Lafley
email - go to www.pg.com and click on "Get In Touch With Us"
(FYI - I'm not sure if this is ongoing, but last year, P&G linked with EA to help revive one of its products: Old Spice deodorant sticks. To market to the 20-something crowd, P&G came up with Old Spice Red Zone, and EA incorporated the phrase Red Zone in their NCAA 2004 Football games. So, if this is correct, and if you want to send P&G your half-used Red Zone, you now have an address. That, and you can tell them that you won't buy their product in the future.)
Anyone is welcome to add onto or correct this. I tried to find email addresses when possible, but it was a pain.
Hope you have a better 2005, ea spouse.
2005-01-02 04:06 am (UTC)
Re: boycott info
Dude, get a life and give this a damn rest. This was interesting for a while but it's yesterday's news now.
2005-01-03 12:20 am (UTC)
From the views of an EARS tester
I'm just going to tell about the practices and treatment I've observed as a newb to the game industry who worked at EA as a tester starting in early 2004. No one could tell me anything wrong about EA, as my head was in the clouds. Then the storm came rolling in.
Some of the testers have significant others and friends working in production or development over in the 250 building and some in the other two buildings, etc. Talking and listening to them being upset about not getting to see their friends/spouses/bfs/gfs hardly at all and about them having to literally live at work for almost a week or more at a time was just overwhelming for me. Being together with your team so close for months and months, you're gonna share your life with them, because you've made new friends with fellow gamers who aspire to be something more in the games industry. One example: a friend had to bring their significant other (in the production dept for a major title) clothes to change into after they had been at work for 3-4 days. I guess thats why EARS has showers on property, right?
Things like this occured constantly during 2004. I kept thinking to myself: "Why are all these people so negative?" (the testers). Sadly, now I know.
When I say I was lucky to work with the great people I did, I really was. I did OT on a few other games that were released last year, as well as my main one, but had a decent ride along the way and learned alot. Don't take this as whining, because testers are paid hourly, so we get paid for worked hours, but are not treated as people, IMO.
But other people (testers AND developers) did OT for most of their test schedules and contracts for the EA and EAP games released last year. My co-workers that just started on their game, about 3 weeks in, OT was started on Saturdays, and longer days during the week. Getting off at a normal hour on Saturday and being off Sunday was considered a "gift". Just about every game EA released last year, had OT for the test department almost as soon as the teams were formed for the duration till the game shipped and after for patches.
From the other testers I talked to, this was the norm, this info from testers who have done this for many years as repeat contractors (victims) for EA. I asked why they kept coming back. Some were hoping to move up. Some were just doing it as a side job to school or another job. Others have actually been in alot better positions in the game industry and other entertainment industries just to take a break from things, or to think about getting into/back into the game industry. Then there were the newbs like me with dreams to make fun games because of the art and love for it, no matter what.
What a reality check to those dreams. I haven't been discouraged, and I am not going to stop working on my goals and dreams. I just don't feel the creativity and vibe that I thought EA had, at EA anymore. From enjoying EA games as a kid (Starflight, Syndicate, Populous, Mutant League Football/Hockey, General Chaos, etc.) to actually getting to be at the center of my gaming universe by working for EA, all I see is the dark green black hole of greed. Listening to EA executives and full time employees at quarterly meetings, lunch, around campus, etc; it is all over.
Does anyone else not have a problem with this type of thinking? Does a company really care that little about ANY of their employees to treat them like cattle?
EA is not a game company. They are a software factory. I understand the need to make money, which takes money. But the love and passion for making fun games which others are drawn into, just doesn't seem to be on the radar for EA anymore (and hasn't been for a long time) and some other big game companies as well. EA's marketing people are the best in the industry. If EA ever loses them, they are screwed. I sincerly believe how EA is percieved among the average consumer by EA's marketing pros is what soley keeps them profitable. Sadly, there are people in OT now who are at the beginning of new product cycles for 2005.
Just make the best games you can, and do what's right for your family and happiness!
2005-01-04 06:27 am (UTC)
Re: From the views of an EARS tester
EA is not a game company. They are a marketing company. Games just happen to be the "widget" that they are marketing.
People are not human to EA or most other companies for that matter. They are a "factor" (input) of production that creates an output. They are like the yeast in a loaf of bread -just one cog that is neccesary for the product.
x(InputA) + y(InputB) + Z(InputC) = output
A = artists
B = engineers
C = designers
output = the game
I am a lead(aka manager) at a competing studio
2005-01-03 11:24 am (UTC)
Good to make it public
I am a small investor and as such I also have shares in this company. I feel disgusted with EA practices. It's good to know what's happening inside the company. Personally, I don't want to participate in this. I'm withdrawing my money from this company. I hope other investors will do the same. Maybe we should start putting our money in small businesses with ethical and moral values.
2005-01-03 04:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Good to make it public
Shareholders in a publicly traded company have a voice as well.
When you consider the Disney trial, and the sweetheart deal CEO Michael Eisner cut for his friend, Mike Ovitz, it is right and proper that shareholders revolt. The trial is a nightmare for Eisner and a black eye for Disney.
Do the same for EA and Lawrence Probst.
2005-01-04 03:19 pm (UTC)
If you make less than $90.000 in the gaming industy you are either delivering the mail, or an extremely bad negotiator.
Come on. You make moore than that! With all your stock options and stuff like that. I've seen on TV how former Microsoft employees now are retired, with millions on their Bankaccaunt.
I'm working for the Danish Postal service, making $50.000 a year. I'm working 7 hours and 24 minutes monday to friday. 6 weeks of vacation a year. If I work one hour overtime, i'm payed or get compensation time, double up!
So, if you're not satisfied with the long hours, you can come work with me, we have an open job.
- Jesper Henriksen
2005-01-04 04:29 pm (UTC)
Re: the pay
"If you make less than $90.000 in the gaming industy you are either delivering the mail, or an extremely bad negotiator."
Heh, I guess that means the majority of us are delivering the mail.
Come on, assumptions don't help any of us.
As for being extremely bad negotiators. That might be partially true, but what is even more true is that the studios and publishers in particular are the ones currently negotiationg from a position of strength. I am not exactly a supporter of Unions, but that is one of the things that they are said to equalize.
2005-01-04 07:46 pm (UTC)
Well treatment of EA employees.
It's subjective and punative as to how EA treats their employees. Notice that the Upper Management people get paid quite handsomely for their services, whilst the middle and lower levels....you know, the ones that hold up the sides of the pyramid...get paid farkall.
Hypocracy is saying one thing and doing another. EA promises that you will be treated fairly and compensated for your work. Then they play the shell game, where what you signed on for has got to be under the next hat, or behind the next door, or at the next big money project.
2005-01-08 04:33 am (UTC)
Re: Well treatment of EA employees.
you must be new to the working world.
2005-01-05 04:53 am (UTC)
May Have Changed My Mind
I am currently a thirteen year-old computer enthusiast. My one main ambition in life was to become a programmer. Now I don't know if this will ever get read among the mess off comments on this post, but I will say it any way. I may now have to reconsider my goals in life, there is enough evil corporate mumbo-jumbo in America, and the world, today. I thought that the gaming industry would be one safe haven from it, but I suppose not. Look at Wal-Mar, they are using cheap child labor in china to make their products, we feel like that will not happen to us in the United States, one again, perhaps I am wrong. If there is so much corporate greed in the world in this era that even a company that I believed a company that was decant can not abide by the law of the state of California, even just by paying more, or by giving time off for many tedious hours spent making YOUR
product that it is driving their employees to near insanity, I may flea this country to free myself from the horrible deeds that are aloud to go unchecked here!
If there are any readers of this message, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org (mailto:email@example.com)
2005-01-08 04:34 am (UTC)
Re: May Have Changed My Mind
give up computers and get your ASS outside and
LIVE GOD DAMN IT!
2005-01-06 02:22 am (UTC)
My situation is similar to the above. I am older, but I am nonetheless a pre-college teenager that has always wanted to join the game development industry. I offer my condolences, and hope you extract some pride in knowing that due to your excellent article, I will never even consider working for EA Games.
2005-01-08 04:36 am (UTC)
don't consider working for ANY video game company.
It's the same situation at all of them!
2005-01-07 01:44 pm (UTC)
i feel for your situation unfortunately this is not just confined to the games industry.I work for a very large subcontractor in the electronics industry we are low paid and have to work long hours to make ends meet, we are also promised certain things that would take to long to write about, but the jist is promises are not kept, recently we were asked to work long hours to keep to a deadline and quality level, this we were promised would make our company stronger this was no lie except our work was moved to another plant in the far east yes we made the company stronger but not our factory, the result was 60 lay offs at indirect labour level none at direct labour level as yet, but in my mind this is on the same level as your issue a company that makes promises then dumps on the people who have worked so hard to make a success of the given product.This cannot be allowed to continue.We are talking about people who give there all for the success of a company only to be dumped on from a high level by people who know there job is secure as long as business is kept within the company no matter which plant.Just to let you know this is also an american company hell bent on dominating the industry no matter what the human cost is.
2005-01-07 04:22 pm (UTC)
Check this out:
On Yahoo financial message boards, traders weigh in on EA's current barrage of lousy game reviews, including this:
". . . talent is being absolutely smothered under a layer of incompetence somewhere, which is a terrible shame . . ."
Oh, and because of EA's management failures, this trader recommends Strong Sell.
2005-01-07 04:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Latest review - link correction
Sorry about the typo. This is the link:
This is outrageous! As an avid video game player, I love what these people do for us. I can't imagine my life without Mario, Link, and Samus to hang out with. As much as I love Battlefield 1942, I'm going to be boycotting EA games untill they change their ways. It pains me to say that, but the video game makers have been so good to me, it's time for me to do something good for them.
2005-01-10 08:19 am (UTC)
"the video game makers have been so good to me"
how the hell have they been good to you?
you pay them for a product. that's it! if anything they've be using you like a drug deal selling to a crack head.
CRACK IS WACK!
2005-01-09 08:48 pm (UTC)
Seriously quit, change jobs, free up spots
I don't mean to be rude, as I don't know you it could be easy for an anonymous flame mail here. If your partner doesn't like working at EA then quit. It sounds like the project was Sims 2.0 judging by the crunch time laid out in the original post. I too worked on Sims 2, in QA, and I racked up my highest number of hours in a 2 week period of 206 hours. I would also do it again if needed.
The reason is not because I am mashocistic, or because I need money. Its because I understand the cycle of products. The importance of shipping something like Sims 2. Which shipped 6 months late. That's two quarters that was missed due to bad planning on the production side of things. I only work the OT that is needed to ship a sucessful project.
I am currently working for another game company, and the hours are greatly reduced than that of EA, but at what cost? No one wants to stay past 8 hours ever, there is no sense of urgency to get anything done in one day, because you go home after 8, it will have to wait until tomorrow. The only OT I incurred has been an occasional 8 or 16 hour weekend, and not the same level that EA requests.
I will end my contract with this other company and seek employement again at EA. I will probably be temporary, as the people who are perm continue to whine about the place they work, and hour they hate it there. If all these people would just leave, they would see two things. The company survive with out them, and the young hungry talent pool that easily replaces them.
Any questions or comments, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
2005-01-10 07:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Seriously quit, change jobs, free up spots
This comment is both funny and sad at the same time. The funny bit is the skewed vision of what's "normal". The sad bit is, he's not really wrong.
I am a coach for an Extreme Programming team. Extreme Programming, if you don't know, is an agile development methodology especially designed to deal with fluid or vague requirements. One of it's core practices is "sustainable pace". This used to be called "40 hour week".
The driver for this practice is the understanding that tired employees make mistakes at a drastically higher rate than fresh, rested employees. Overtime is not forbidden, but it is viewed for what it is: a symptom of poor planning. Generally, a developer would be discouraged from working overtime two weeks in a row.
What's interesting is how solidified the attitude that "software == overtime" has become. There are many anecdotes among XP practitioners of projects where the development team has been criticized for having no sense of urgency (sound familiar). As if urgency was a primary goal of the organization.
I have heard of extreme cases where XP was terminated in some organizations, despite producing good results, because of this. Ironically, projects in death march mode were viewed as good because people were obviously busy. They were working long hours. They showed commitment.
We've forgotten a few things in our industry:
1. The efficient use of programmer time is not generally a corporate goal. The sale of software is. Overtime for developers is neither normal or desirable.
2. A schedule is a guess. One of the primary anti-patterns of project management is allowing the schedule to become the project. When your schedule proves to be wrong there are a number of options including changing the delivery date, cutting scope, adding resources. There are pros and cons to each of these. Trying to compress the work by using massive amounts of overtime is probably one of the least desirable responses to scheduling error.
We allow ourselves to fall into this trap because we usually have an incorrect concept of what "done" means. To many developers, they are "done" a task when they check the code into the source repository. Using this definition of done, massive overtime looks pretty good since you've got people working longer hours and presumably checking in more code more often.
If we bothered to track re-work, however, the picture wouldn't be nearly so rosy. Tired developers make mistakes. Mistakes take time to correct. I would not be the least bit surprised to find that some of the projects in EA actually experienced NEGATIVE net advances towards the release goals in a week because of errors and rework.
EA feels they can get away with this due to the large "young, hungry talent pool" waiting to take the place of those that drop out. To a certain extent, they may be right as most game projects are "one offs". However, I can't help but feel that the loss of experience is part of the reason they find themselves in the overtime bind in the first place. Anyone with enough experience to know that the schedule was fubared to begin with would be gone.
2005-01-11 10:14 pm (UTC)
Grin and bear it...
It certainly sounds like a pretty hellish existance, but I don't think you have much of an alternative... There are some very, very good programmers overseas in India, et al... Even some of the best programmers there make only a 5th of what your spouse probably makes and since it's an entirely different work ethic there, they WILL work 90 hour weeks with no complaints... It won't be long until EA, and a lot of other major software makers figure out the proper managerial and quality control strategies to take some or all of their program production offshore to places like India... Not long from now, the place where most hardware is assembled will be China and most software will be made by Indians. I think you're going to have to come to grips with that... I would suggest he quit, move to a small community and try to make a living building software for mom/pop operations.
2005-01-14 05:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Grin and bear it...
I wonder what you base this on? I have over 15 years of experience as a programmer and I know for a fact that there are some excellent programmers in India and there are also some extremely poor ones. Sure some programmers from India will work 90 hour weeks but if the result is garbage what is the point? Here is a true story. I worked for a very large software company on a medium sized project. Myself and two other experienced programmers created a detailed design where implementation would require 10 months of work. However, management insisted the project had to be completed in 5 months. The soultion was to outsource the development work to a team in India. The team consited of very nice and hard working people. The team worked in shifts 24 hours a day. Unfortunately the team consisted of inexperienced programmers. At the end of 5 months we received what was easily the most bug ridden, poorly written code I have ever seen in my career. So me and two other experienced programmers embarked on an effort to fix and clean up the code. We couldn't rewrite the code because this would be admitting to management failure (not to mention wasting the huge expense of outsourcing). Also the idea was to do a quickly clean up and ship within a month. Eight months later we finally shipped the product with barely acceptable quality. So at great expense we shipped the product in 13 months when we could have shipped a much better quality product in 10 months and at a much cheaper cost. So much for outsourcing to countries with better work ethics.
2005-01-13 12:26 am (UTC)
better elsewhere? THINK AGAIN!
IT'S IN FRENCH.
2005-01-14 04:11 am (UTC)
AE internship questions
Someone I am close to just received an internship with AE. Are they known for extending and forcing this sort of sweatshop torture onto unsuspecting students? Any experiences from anyone? How did they handle it? To say the least, this individual is not that interested in accepting the job that will most likely be offered at the end of the project. I am greatly concerned for this person in the meantime. Is this founded?
2005-01-14 01:56 pm (UTC)
unions are evil...
Why any programmer would want to join a union is beyond me. That's just plain stupid. It will kill healthy competition.
If you don't like your job as a game programmer, envy the people in charge, don't like your salary/bonus, etc.:
c) QUIT and go find something more productive to do with your time. There are several programming jobs in the business sector. Lots of database maintenance jobs. Perfect 9 to 5 hours, no crunch time, that can be your dream job.
d) QUIT and stop all your bitching and moaning I'm sick of hearing about it. For that you don't belong in this industry.
Thank you for going away.
2005-01-14 02:59 pm (UTC)
Re: unions are evil...
Out of curiosity, what aspects of a union would kill healthy competition? If you have a pair of companies, both of which have fifty unionized programmers working for them, making two similar games, wouldn't you agree that the better-conceptualized and planned project has a better chance of financial success?
Also picture a unionized company's programming team versus a non-unionized company's programming team. If we agree that the unionized team would be more likely to move forward with a detailed plan and schedule, with a few contingency plans built in, and folks worked 8 or 9 hour days, then proceeded to go home, they'd certainly be better rested and have more time to spend with their families and loved ones, which would allow them to concentrate more fully and contentedly on their work. If a team has to rush at the last second as many do now, well... you end up with things like Windows XP.
I'm very bewildered. I didn't think that asking for humane working conditions was such an unreasonable request in modern post-industrial society.
2005-01-14 02:44 pm (UTC)
Sadly these techniques have spread to Midway Games also
Just a heads up for everyone. Midway Games uses the exact same techniques as EA and described by ea_spouse. They hired a few of EA's middle managers (some of the worst people skills I have ever seen) and learned the process from them. Sad, it was once a good place to work. Avoid.
2005-01-14 06:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Sadly these techniques have spread to Midway Games also
Let me know if you want to do something about it. email@example.com
IATSE Local 16
EA sucks. Their industry policies suck. Their games suck (OK, that's mostly untrue, but I hate a lot of their games). The fact they are trying to own the entire industry sucks.
My big issue with EA is that they've been taking up major licenses as of late and producing crap product. This would have never happened during Trip Hawkins reign at the company. EA should be ashamed of themselves and the way they handle themselves. I see them repeating Acclaims mistakes (Overworking staff,bad software,ect..), as they're heading in the same direction(Bankruptcy)
What needs to happen is true reform in this business, game development houses and publishers need to realize that employees can and should work from home,as well as have adequite time to recoup and relax in the development cycle. Remember, these are human beings,not machines.
2005-01-19 04:58 pm (UTC)
with nearly $2 billion of cash, bankruptcy will be WAY out in the future in with bad releases.
Your story has truly moved me. I was not a big fan of EA to begin with (I think the only EA game I own is Burnout 3), but this story, in concurrence with their recent attempts at global software domination, has finally convinced me to boycott EA.
God bless you, and may better opportunities flow your way.