ea_spouse (ea_spouse) wrote,

EA: The Human Story

My significant other works for Electronic Arts, and I'm what you might call a disgruntled spouse.

EA's bright and shiny new corporate trademark is "Challenge Everything." Where this applies is not exactly clear. Churning out one licensed football game after another doesn't sound like challenging much of anything to me; it sounds like a money farm. To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?

I am retaining some anonymity here because I have no illusions about what the consequences would be for my family if I was explicit. However, I also feel no impetus to shy away from sharing our story, because I know that it is too common to stick out among those of the thousands of engineers, artists, and designers that EA employs.

Our adventures with Electronic Arts began less than a year ago. The small game studio that my partner worked for collapsed as a result of foul play on the part of a big publisher -- another common story. Electronic Arts offered a job, the salary was right and the benefits were good, so my SO took it. I remember that they asked him in one of the interviews: "how do you feel about working long hours?" It's just a part of the game industry -- few studios can avoid a crunch as deadlines loom, so we thought nothing of it. When asked for specifics about what "working long hours" meant, the interviewers coughed and glossed on to the next question; now we know why.

Within weeks production had accelerated into a 'mild' crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad. Months remained until any real crunch would start, and the team was told that this "pre-crunch" was to prevent a big crunch toward the end; at this point any other need for a crunch seemed unlikely, as the project was dead on schedule. I don't know how many of the developers bought EA's explanation for the extended hours; we were new and naive so we did. The producers even set a deadline; they gave a specific date for the end of the crunch, which was still months away from the title's shipping date, so it seemed safe. That date came and went. And went, and went. When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm.

Weeks passed. Again the producers had given a termination date on this crunch that again they failed. Throughout this period the project remained on schedule. The long hours started to take its toll on the team; people grew irritable and some started to get ill. People dropped out in droves for a couple of days at a time, but then the team seemed to reach equilibrium again and they plowed ahead. The managers stopped even talking about a day when the hours would go back to normal.

Now, it seems, is the "real" crunch, the one that the producers of this title so wisely prepared their team for by running them into the ground ahead of time. The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm -- seven days a week -- with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week. Complaints that these once more extended hours combined with the team's existing fatigue would result in a greater number of mistakes made and an even greater amount of wasted energy were ignored.

The stress is taking its toll. After a certain number of hours spent working the eyes start to lose focus; after a certain number of weeks with only one day off fatigue starts to accrue and accumulate exponentially. There is a reason why there are two days in a weekend -- bad things happen to one's physical, emotional, and mental health if these days are cut short. The team is rapidly beginning to introduce as many flaws as they are removing.

And the kicker: for the honor of this treatment EA salaried employees receive a) no overtime; b) no compensation time! ('comp' time is the equalization of time off for overtime -- any hours spent during a crunch accrue into days off after the product has shipped); c) no additional sick or vacation leave. The time just goes away. Additionally, EA recently announced that, although in the past they have offered essentially a type of comp time in the form of a few weeks off at the end of a project, they no longer wish to do this, and employees shouldn't expect it. Further, since the production of various games is scattered, there was a concern on the part of the employees that developers would leave one crunch only to join another. EA's response was that they would attempt to minimize this, but would make no guarantees. This is unthinkable; they are pushing the team to individual physical health limits, and literally giving them nothing for it. Comp time is a staple in this industry, but EA as a corporation wishes to "minimize" this reprieve. One would think that the proper way to minimize comp time is to avoid crunch, but this brutal crunch has been on for months, and nary a whisper about any compensation leave, nor indeed of any end of this treatment.

This crunch also differs from crunch time in a smaller studio in that it was not an emergency effort to save a project from failure. Every step of the way, the project remained on schedule. Crunching neither accelerated this nor slowed it down; its effect on the actual product was not measurable. The extended hours were deliberate and planned; the management knew what they were doing as they did it. The love of my life comes home late at night complaining of a headache that will not go away and a chronically upset stomach, and my happy supportive smile is running out.

No one works in the game industry unless they love what they do. No one on that team is interested in producing an inferior product. My heart bleeds for this team precisely BECAUSE they are brilliant, talented individuals out to create something great. They are and were more than willing to work hard for the success of the title. But that good will has only been met with abuse. Amazingly, Electronic Arts was listed #91 on Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" in 2003.

EA's attitude toward this -- which is actually a part of company policy, it now appears -- has been (in an anonymous quotation that I've heard repeated by multiple managers), "If they don't like it, they can work someplace else." Put up or shut up and leave: this is the core of EA's Human Resources policy. The concept of ethics or compassion or even intelligence with regard to getting the most out of one's workforce never enters the equation: if they don't want to sacrifice their lives and their health and their talent so that a multibillion dollar corporation can continue its Godzilla-stomp through the game industry, they can work someplace else.

But can they?

The EA Mambo, paired with other giants such as Vivendi, Sony, and Microsoft, is rapidly either crushing or absorbing the vast majority of the business in game development. A few standalone studios that made their fortunes in previous eras -- Blizzard, Bioware, and Id come to mind -- manage to still survive, but 2004 saw the collapse of dozens of small game studios, no longer able to acquire contracts in the face of rapid and massive consolidation of game publishing companies. This is an epidemic hardly unfamiliar to anyone working in the industry. Though, of course, it is always the option of talent to go outside the industry, perhaps venturing into the booming commercial software development arena. (Read my tired attempt at sarcasm.)

To put some of this in perspective, I myself consider some figures. If EA truly believes that it needs to push its employees this hard -- I actually believe that they don't, and that it is a skewed operations perspective alone that results in the severity of their crunching, coupled with a certain expected amount of the inefficiency involved in running an enterprise as large as theirs -- the solution therefore should be to hire more engineers, or artists, or designers, as the case may be. Never should it be an option to punish one's workforce with ninety hour weeks; in any other industry the company in question would find itself sued out of business so fast its stock wouldn't even have time to tank. In its first weekend, Madden 2005 grossed $65 million. EA's annual revenue is approximately $2.5 billion. This company is not strapped for cash; their labor practices are inexcusable.

The interesting thing about this is an assumption that most of the employees seem to be operating under. Whenever the subject of hours come up, inevitably, it seems, someone mentions 'exemption'. They refer to a California law that supposedly exempts businesses from having to pay overtime to certain 'specialty' employees, including software programmers. This is Senate Bill 88. However, Senate Bill 88 specifically does not apply to the entertainment industry -- television, motion picture, and theater industries are specifically mentioned. Further, even in software, there is a pay minimum on the exemption: those exempt must be paid at least $90,000 annually. I can assure you that the majority of EA employees are in fact not in this pay bracket; ergo, these practices are not only unethical, they are illegal.

I look at our situation and I ask 'us': why do you stay? And the answer is that in all likelihood we won't; and in all likelihood if we had known that this would be the result of working for EA, we would have stayed far away in the first place. But all along the way there were deceptions, there were promises, there were assurances -- there was a big fancy office building with an expensive fish tank -- all of which in the end look like an elaborate scheme to keep a crop of employees on the project just long enough to get it shipped. And then if they need to, they hire in a new batch, fresh and ready to hear more promises that will not be kept; EA's turnover rate in engineering is approximately 50%. This is how EA works. So now we know, now we can move on, right? That seems to be what happens to everyone else. But it's not enough. Because in the end, regardless of what happens with our particular situation, this kind of "business" isn't right, and people need to know about it, which is why I write this today.

If I could get EA CEO Larry Probst on the phone, there are a few things I would ask him. "What's your salary?" would be merely a point of curiosity. The main thing I want to know is, Larry: you do realize what you're doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that? That when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it's not just them you're hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?



This article is offered under the Creative Commons deed. Please feel free to redistribute/link.

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That is not the answer. Unions are why so many jobs have already moved overseas. Unionize, and they'll just move all of the jobs overseas.

As long as people are willing to do the work for the pay, they will continue to exploit that. That is called Capitalism. You union democrap junkheads need to quit asking the government to for handouts - do the job or Habib will do the job for you without bitching and for 1/50th of what you're making.

If your S.O., domestic life partner, same-sex friend, whatever, is such a brilliant programmer, maybe heshe should get a job in another area of programming.

"I said to the doctor it hurts when I do that - he said don't do that!"

"That is not the answer. Unions are why so many jobs have already moved overseas. Unionize, and they'll just move all of the jobs overseas."
So what's your answer? That there's no answer?
I would like to extend my sincerest apologies to you, ea_spouse, and everyone else who has suffered while working at EA. The game company I work for has not been the shining example of how software development should be managed either, but it was never that bad. Sure... We had crunches like everyone, but all the employees were treated with the proper consideration.

I recently had a phone interview with EA/Tiburon, and they did a good job of making the studio sound very attractive. I was initially very excited about the opportunity of working there.

However, after having read this post and all the comments, I would rather flip burgers for McDonald's.


November 11 2004, 18:10:30 UTC 16 years ago

I'm so sorry. My husband and i are both in the industry and i can certain sympathize with you. It's really hard to not see your significant other and be worked to death yourself! The previous company i worked at had 65 hr weeks for the last 3 months of production and before that 40-50 hr weeks for 6 months. I was one of the new people that they leech off of. New talent comes into the industry and they are so excited to be working in this industry that they are willing to kill themselves with these kind of schedules, and at first it's ok. But after a few years you can't keep doing it, and realize you're being taken advantage of. That's when you get tired of it and search for a better place like i did. I'm at a much better company now and there isn't much crunching. Something has to be done soon, we have to come together and form a union. Otherwise it will just continue, and i know we can't keep doing this forever.
My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer and I am also helping with the class action lawsuit against EA. I would love to talk to you about what can be done to unionize the industry. Drop me a line at unionjosh@hotmail.com
talk to you soon
Crunch time because you are passionate and believe in and enjoy the project is one thing. Crunch time because a company illegally and immorally mandates it is something else entirely.

I hereby vow not to purchase any EA Games products until I see some sort of evidence in the online or print press that EA Games has corrected its actions.

I hate anonymity. My name is Jason Engel. I live in Chicago. Hey, EA, you just lost a customer.
thanks man. You rock.
I have friends and neighbours who work for EA and although it is an admirable company in many ways, I have to concur with many of your conclusions - that the pace of work is unsustainable. It grinds people up. I encourage you, if you haven't seen it already, to view "The Corporation (http://www.thecorporation.com/)." It lays out, in painful detail, why a public company like EA is forced, by the laws of the land, to always drive for profit at the expense of everything else.

If there is a decision to be made it will always be done in the way that benefits the shareholders the most. EA managers aren't evil, they are doing their job as defined by corporate law. The only way to improve life in a company like this is through laws that control the company. For example fair labour practices. Of course, the "smart" company then moves operations overseas.
Fuck that Canadian drivel, and fuck you for trying to get publicity for it - what are you, one of the producers?

Re: The Corporation


16 years ago

Weeping little things. "Oh we need a union," or "oh we have to go into work even though it's stupid..."

Ok, are any of you folks adults? Do any of you have free wills?

I've worked at Sony. They tried that ridiculous crunch crap with us. I announced at an all-team meeting that there was no way that I was going to work seven days a week because I was actually less productive. The management looked uncomfortable, but the fact remains that I kept getting my work done and since I was actually rested while doing it, I didn't need to redo it later.

Asking for a union is saying that you won't take responsibility for yourself. Take some responsibility. Do what you need to do. If your current employer doesn't understand that, that's their loss not yours. It is my guess, though, even at a place like EA you can work your own hours and they won't fire you as long as you're getting your work done. Sure, they'll grumble about you not being a team player and all that junk, but screw them. They're out to make a buck, and you're out to enjoy your life (right?), and as soon as the relationship isn't working out for either party it should change or end. As the whining employee, make the relationship change. If the EA management wants to, they could end it, but it's again my guess that it's cheaper to keep you around doing your job well than it is to replace you.

Me? I'd never work at EA. F.U.C.K...T.H.A.T. The company I work for still asks people to do overtime. I do what I feel like, and so does everyone else. (Please note that what we feel like is balanced between "what we can physically do without breaking down", "what we want to do because we'd rather be doing something else", and "holy cow the game's gotta be final in three weeks"). The game is coming together. People are burning a bit more than they should, but the end is near and we'll go back to mellow-mode before long.
I've worked at Sony. They tried that ridiculous crunch crap with us. I announced at an all-team meeting that there was no way that I was going to work seven days a week because I was actually less productive. The management looked uncomfortable, but the fact remains that I kept getting my work done and since I was actually rested while doing it, I didn't need to redo it later.

And how long was it before you were fired? I'd say not long.

Re: I weep for you all


16 years ago

Re: I weep for you all


16 years ago

Our family can totally relate to this story. My spouse also got the "job of a lifetime", making games. In the beginning the hours were long, but weekends were not required. But within a year of working in the industry, my spouse was expected not only to keep up the 12+ hour work days, but was it was required to work weekends. One employee even had a cot in his office. If you wanted a weekend off, you actually had to request it. The company presented itself as family friendly, but was anything but family friendly. After a year and half of these kind of working conditions, our family and marriage began to suffer. When the company was told of this, they told my spouse to choose which was more important. Choose your family or your job. Thankfully, our family won, but my spouse left the industry. I don't understand why the industry is allowed to abuse it's employees. The employee's are bright, intelligent, well educated and very creative, but are treated otherwise. I don't know what it will take for the industry to change it's practices, especially when there is a lot of single young men and women that want nothing more than to be in the game industry.
My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE Local 16. I have been working on EA but I am running into people with the same problems at a lot of other companies as well. Which company did your spouse work for? How long ago?
Josh Pastreich
Someone may already have suggested this (there are far too many comments for me to read them all), but have you thought about sending what you wrote to the San Francisco Chronicle? If they're breaking the law, and it sure seems like they are, it's news. You could probably be identified with a pseudonym in any article they publish to protect your SO from retribution. I think exposing how a major software company treats its employees like they were indentured servants would be something any decent newspaper would jump at.

There's nothing quite like the public eye to make a company shape up. Call the news desk, or call the switchboard and ask to speak to one of the many columnists (I don't know the paper well enough to suggest one). Keep trying until someone listens.
I did this initially, and no one was interested, so I came to Livejournal... and now that it's receiving a lot of attention, the media outlets are contacting me. We will have to go through one at a time, since I've been told that the different outlets tend to be jealous of their stories, but it looks like there will be some form of major media attention on this one way or the other.


16 years ago

especially since I have a lot of EA games...

btw, what title was he working on, anyway?
They can't answer that, it would give the identity away.

Re: i feel bad


16 years ago



November 11 2004, 18:24:10 UTC 16 years ago

find another job. some jobs suck. don't work at them.
but whatever you do, remember whining will never get you anywhere.

Re: Quit


November 11 2004, 18:52:29 UTC 16 years ago

Considering the kind of response this article has got, I'd say no intelligent person can classify it as 'meaningless whining'. 'Whining' in public does help when you're right. If you suffer in silence, you die in silence. If you speak up in public, sometimes people listen. Big corporations _Care_ how the public (and prospective employees) percieve them


November 11 2004, 18:25:51 UTC 16 years ago

sorry, but we're is the old programmer spirit, i've been trying to get into a job like this for about a year now, and i'm still stuck in my crappy support job. i would love a job that afforded me to stay in the office for over 80hrs a week. now i understand that a lot of people don't want/like jobs like that but there are some of us that want to be nerds for the rest of our lives. i can still remember when i found out that companies actually made you stay to program and stuff 7 days a week 10-12hrs a day that was one of the best days of my life
That nerds rule attitude changes very quickly when you acquire any sort of responsibility. Get married, have kids, or try owning a home and see how long you can still keep up.
then act accordingly.

Deleted comment

Now I don't feel so bad for downloading all of those free EA games off of Kazaa.

Tiger Woods 2005 - 92% downloaded as I type this :-D
According to Bloomberg, Larry Probst's salary for 2004 was $673,000. He received bonuses of $781,000, so his total compensation is $1,454,000.

Year Salary Bonus Total
2004 673 781 1454
2003 697 1100 1797
2002 611 985 1596
2001 595 213 808
2000 590 512 1102
1999 572 523 1095
1998 538 408 946

Hope this helps!
It is sadly appropriate that this posting comes on the heels of the IGDA's recent white paper on quality of life in the gaming industry. See white paper (and join IDGA) at:


Some of the unfortunate statistics reported:

* 34.3% of developers expect to leave the industry within 5 years, and 51.2% within 10 years.
* Only 3.4% said that their coworkers averaged 10 or more years of experience.
* Crunch time is omnipresent, during which respondents work 65 to 80 hours a week (35.2%). The average crunch work week exceeds 80 hours (13%). Overtime is often uncompensated (46.8%).
* 44% of developers claim they could use more people or special skills on their projects.
* Spouses are likely to respond that "You work too much..." (61.5%); "You are always stressed out." (43.5%); "You don't make enough money." (35.6%).
* Contrary to expectations, more people said that games were only one of many career options for them (34%) than said games were their only choice (32%).

As an ex-producer (now working in a different industry), I empathize with the poster of this entry. On the other hand, there is a lot of talk about fat-cat producers and executives who sit back smoking cigars rolled from Benjamins while their grubby underlings labor in the code mines.

I have to say that as an ex-producer, it wasn't easy to make people work longer hours _knowing_ what effect it would have on their personal lives. Sometimes you feel you don't have a choice if you want a milestone to ship on time and for everyone to keep their jobs. At the very least, if you expect people to work late, I feel that you ought to be there with them as far as personal support allows (to keep people fed and attend to their basic needs). Also, to take on as many support tasks as possible. I wasn't a strong enough coder to keep up with my engineers on the hairier tasks, but I was more than happy to supplement the work of my team by creating and adjusting art assets, processing those assets into the game engine, and working on some scripting and less taxing code issues. As I said, it's only fair.

Also, I hope my team knew that I wouldn't ask them to work longer hours unless I felt it absolutely necessary toward the completion of the project. At least they knew I wasn't holding out on money (partially, because I believed in disclosure regarding financial arrangements and expenditures within my team). Part of that less-than-ideal contract stipulated that we wouldn't see a penny of compensation until we had an approved functional Alpha. This was less-than-ideal for equipment requisition, less-than-ideal for comp time or overtime, less-than-ideal for new hiring (which became necessary to complete level design milestones mid-project).

People ask if I'd ever get back into the game industry. After all, working in my current field (advertising creative director) isn't much more secure or reasonable as far as schedules are concerned. The fact is, I still love games and feel that they are just beginning to realize their potential as an entertainment medium and, if begging some indulgence, an art form. But until the game industry starts to figure out better practices, especially for individuals like myself (over 30, married with child on the way, with schedule and income demands outside of the game industry norm), I am reluctant to even consider coming back. Especially when advertising's best practices, compensation, and career path are so much better defined.

It is a fact that no one in the game industry would be doing what they do unless it were a labor of love. There are many exceptionally talented and hard-working individuals in the business who could be contributing in other fields. But who make the choice to stay because they feel that creating games is their calling. It is a shame that large publishers--in particular--seem to be taking advantage of their passion rather than rewarding it. Of course, this is nothing new in the field of commercial art or entertainment. Perhaps more activism within the developer community would help in this regard.
Thank you for your comment, and I agree completely. I also agree that producers have a greater responsibility to the welfare of the team, a responsibility that EA producers often fail. They are also given unreasonable demands by the executives. I honestly don't know what the producer's solution is -- in your case, you left the industry, and I applaud you for taking a stand against these practices... but at the same time, that often leaves behind the producers who are willing to be abusive. In any case, it falls back to the executive level, but the situation as a whole is just not good. I also feel your pain with having left the industry -- I feel exactly the same way. I haven't left it entirely, but I'm not nearly as embroiled as I once was... my stress level has improved (or it would have if not for this mess with my SO), but I miss it nonetheless. This is the thing that is so ineffable, so difficult to explain to those outside the industry who say 'just leave'. Either you grasp the passion and potential of the game industry (and love it for it), or you don't.

Leaving is not that easy...


16 years ago

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    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,…