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?



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You should be happy your significant other doesn't work for one of Americas most prestigeous or large firms. The longer hours you described are the norm, not the exception for a "crunch" in those law firms.

You should be glad your _SO_ is only fucking 3 of the paralegals, you dumb whore. Now sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.

Re: Long hours?


16 years ago

Re: Long hours?


16 years ago

Re: Long hours?


16 years ago

Re: Long hours?


16 years ago

As a public company, his financial info is public.

See here for his stock trades http://biz.yahoo.com/t/09/947.html

and here for his salary (its $1.45M) http://finance.yahoo.com/q/pr?s=ERTS

For 1.45 Million I would work the hours you talk about, but I doubt the CEO does...

I hope things improve for you all.
Yeah, thanks for posting what a thousand people already posted.

Why don't you read the thread first, then shoot your mouth off?


Re: Larry Probst's salary


16 years ago

My ex-SO had a very similar experience at Impressions (now defunct, was owned by Vivendi). People got sick, people went on anti-depressants, people had to take mental health leaves, people left in droves. The problem is that there are always more fresh-faced newbies who are psyched to work in video games who have no responsibilities yet because they're young, and who will work until they fall apart. The video game companies can hire people, eat them up, spit them out, and find new people. A union is the only solution that I can think of.
Because you are a mental midget. And you obviously voted for Kerry, which reinforces my first point.
I have been a software developer for about 8 years now, and at least 3/4 of the places i have worked have had the same attitude towards their employees and developers. I just quit a job very much like that just a few weeks ago. Unreasonably long hours due to a gross lack of planning by management, but no only that, anytime managements lack of planning created a problem, they just dropped the problem on the already overworked developers.
I find that companies managed by people who have no understanding of software development tend to run like whats described above. They dont understand what it takes to do our job (and dont want to understnad), and so dont understand what takes time to do and what doesnt. They also dont understand that programming can mentally wear a person out, and sitting in front of a screen for hours on end can physically wear on on a person too. The only thing they understand is thier bottom line and how much money will they will make off the project, and there isnt much a developer can do about that attitude other then quit the job and hope to find another better one, AND of course, hope to send a message to management by quitting.
Personally i have found independent contracting to be a nice solution for now. I get to work from home, so i am always in a nice work enviroment. I charge by the hour so the person paying me will not want me working 10-12 hours a day 6-7 days a week, and if they do want me work those hours, then i make a ton of money! I work more like 5-6 hours a day 4-5 days a week, and make just as much, if not more then i did before i went into contracting, and that is after taxes and everything. So, i guess my point is, if you play your cards right and do the leg work to get it rolling, contract work can be a nice alternative the the 9a-9p, 6 days week grind. Also keep im mind i am single with no kids, which makes taking chances like quitting your job and going contract much easier to pull off. If you have kids and want to do what i did, be sure you have a nice chunk of money in the bank to live on while you get things rolling.

My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE Local 16. I am researching a lot of different companies to see how some changes can be made in the industry. Which company did you work for? Did anyone ever fight for overtime pay there?
As I think you all know now, the work conditions at EA are patently illegal. You can fight it individually, or you can unionize. There IS a union for you: The Animation Guild (TAG), local 839 of the IATSE. I'm president of the Guild, as well as an animator at DreamWorks. We represent animators, TDs, writers, etc. at Disney, Warner Bros., DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Sony Pictures Animation, Nick, Universal, and a bunch of smaller studios. We've been around for 52 years, and we've fought the same issues you're all dealing with now.

The first step is for EA employees to sign representation cards. Those cards indicate an interest in being represented by TAG in collective bargaining. When about half of the EA employees have signed rep cards, the company is required to hold a secret ballot election in which the everyone votes. If the majority vote yes, the company is required to bargain with the union.

There's a reason the most stable and successful studios in feature and TV animation have almost all been union. When we have our rights respected, we're more creative and productive. Unfortunately, company executives usually don't respect us unless they're forced to.

Call Steve Hulett at (818) 766-7151. He's the Guild's business agent, and he can meet with you, get you rep cards, and answer your questions. We've already gotten a smattering of rep cards from EA, but the problem is that most people in the games industry don't know about the Guild, and don't know what their rights are, so they stay silent.

Stop taking this bulls**t! Stand up for your rights.

Kevin Koch
Congratulations Kevin; you just made Larry's hit list. :p

In fact, I knew about TAG when I made my post; I just didn't realize that it would extend to game devs. Does it?

Re: How to unionize


16 years ago

Re: How to unionize


16 years ago

Re: How to unionize


16 years ago

I read your article and HAD to respond. As a former EA employee, I can totally sympathize and empathize with you and your family. And you are right, this stuff does need to be said. EA has been like that since I had any affiliation with the company. Unfortunately, EA decided to buy out the company that I used to work for, hire its old employees, run them into the ground, and then lay them off. I guess in retrospect, it was one of the best things that could have happened to many of us, but not necessarily all. Admittedly, some were workaholics and loved the long hours. Some simply loved their jobs (as do most in the game industry) and so put up with the long hours. But when EA started having their own employees train their replacements (which were people from India who were totally unfamiliar and unaware of what was acceptable in American culture) we all lost faith. We lost faith in ourselves and in the company we got kicked by. One of my former co-workers even committed suicide. I hope EA wasn't the reason, but I guess only he and God will ever truly know that. From my own experience, it was hard to pick up and go on. Most of us have gone into other fields simply because of the lack of jobs in the area we are all now in. For some, it's simply because of lost faith due to EA's treatment. Oh, and a bit of advice from someone who has been there... if they ever start talking about "promotion", get it in writing. It's not uncommon for them to "promote" someone, give them the extra responsibility, with more "promises" of pay to come with "the next annual pay raise", and then never deliver. But then again, that's EA's normal operating procedures. They just don't put that into writing either.
I am very sorry to hear about your friend.
The level of abuse at EA is almost beyond belief. I am a union organizer and I have worked in almost every industry you can imagine but I have rarely heard the kind of stories I am hearing from EA employees.
I am writing because I am helping with the class action lawsuit against EA for overtime violations and I wanted to know if you felt like kicking back. Many of the current employees are scared and I am hoping to get the ball rolling with some former employees who will not feel like they are under EA's thumb. Any interest? unionjosh@hotmail.com

Let's put an end to this.
Josh Pastreich
This is more or less the kind of treatment that most game developers get in the industry at one time or another. If you are an independent, the deal structure requires people kill themselves to just stay afloat and only if the game is one of those precious few 'top 10' games will the studio ever see an extra dime of income. If you are an internal team, they will set ridiculous schedules and fail to resource you to the level needed (particularly when you point out that no amount of extra resource will meet their schedule). Throw in the dead-weight you see in a lot of internal studios which kills months or years of productivity, and you have a death-march on your hands.

Some teams are better off than others, but as long as the computer game industry can pretend to be a traditional software business while working within entertainment industry constraints, the major publishers will likely continue to do as much as they can get away with.
My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE Local 16. How do you think these conditions can be changed? When games were new, these companies were experiments and people did what they had to do, but now this is big business and it is time the industry grew-up. In the movie industry we passed legislation guaranteeing overtime pay, but as there is no union yet for people in games, the conditions are continuing to deteriorate.


November 11 2004, 19:25:40 UTC 16 years ago

Well speaking for myself I can say working for Infinity Ward is great. I have and had close friends working at Neversoft, and they also can atest to a good work environment with respectable hours.

Every game company will have it's cruch times. Every day of the year shouldn't have to be crunch mode though.


November 11 2004, 19:27:17 UTC 16 years ago

I used to work for (big publisher's name withheld since the bastards might actually sue me or send ninjas- so much for free speech, eh?) as an artist. My experiences were substantially the same. After I left the company, friends of mine still working there were told 'this isn't a place for people with families'. This was followed by several rounds of layoffs which did away with most of the senior artists and programmers; it became clear that the folks on the administrative side preferred younger, less experienced employees who could be beat like rented mules and would not complain. I'm tempted to suggest that people boycott EA's crapass games, but the fact is that I was, and your spouse probably is, making a lot of money. There are plenty of people in this country who are working 40+ hours a week, and are stuck below the poverty line; and American companies are falling over themselves in the rush to get jobs like these overseas, where people can be found who'll do them for $2000/year instead of $2000/week. Relatively few people will weep bitter tears for somebody who is getting, in all likelihood, between 50 and 100K to make videogames- even having been subjected to similarly abusive employment practices myself, I have to say, it doesn't rank high on my list of tragedies and injustices in the world right now...
I think that one of the reasons that EA and others in LA can get away with this is that there is no software industry in Los Angeles and the IT departments outsource to India, so if you want to program for a living in this area the options are few to none.
A snowball in a blizzard, from what I see of the comments list, but I used to work 22 hour days 4 days a week at the height of crunch time for a developer in the UK.

Then the game was canned two weeks before master.

I left, got into web and mobile phone development. We still have deadlines, we still have crunch, but nothing along those lines. Best move I ever made.

Lots of love and best wishes to you both, I hope you find some resolution.

I appreciate all the comments, but I appreciate those with similar experiences in the industry the most. It's important for people to know how widespread this is, and that we need an industry-wide change.

I feel your pain about the game cancelled two weeks before master. We went through a similar situation and it's heartbreaking. Obviously none of this would happen if we didn't love what we do, so even with the crazy hours, it's the things like that that hurt the most.
I wish I had time to read all the comments but gotta get back to work.

I'm not surprised to hear this about EA... I think most game companies operate this way. I work for a small game company and I gave up my life for 2 years... 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week if not 7. I burned out and by the end, I just did not care and wanted out.

I think the biggest problem is that every gamer kid dreams about working on games. They come out of college and are young, and cheap, and idealistic, and willing to work the long hours. For every engineer that burns out and decides he doesn't want to do this anymore, there are 10 other kids lined up behind him who will, so the problem remains.

I just don't see how people can do this long term. I really did love my job in the beginning and thought it was so cool to be working on games. But after 2 years of having a life that involved a lot of sleeping at the office and never seeing my friends, I just couldn't take it anymore.

Anyways, I've gotten out and I'm not all that eager to go back to games. Good luck to you and your S.O.
For TSO they also hired a few "contract board moderators" for $600 a month. Most of these mods worked all hours they were available--seven days a week. One in particular put in 12 hour days, seven days a week, doing extra work (research and writing copy) in hopes of earning the coveted prize: "an actual job". Instead EA unceremoniously dumped all the mods but one with less than a week's notice. That one hung on, still pumping forth the hours in vain hope. Finally, the one with "high hopes" got squeezed out. They kept trying to pay this one less and less hoping to get the same amount of work but for even less pay ($200!).

Considering how much money the "big guys" make, it's particularly offensive. EA's policy is pretty much squeeze 'em till they have no blood left then find fresh meat.
There are people that are organizing to fight back. EA has completely forgotten that those are human beings sitting at those computers. If you want to do something before you are squeezed to death let me know.
josh pastreich
IATSE Local 16
I currently work at EALA. I have been working mandatory 80 hours a week for six months.
I want to get a new job, but tell me, when you get to work at 9am and get home at 11pm Monday through Sunday. When do you have time to look for a new job? When do you have time to 'start a union'?
When you work these hours, every waking moment not at work is spend on the couch trying to recover. Those everyday things like laundry, cleaning and shopping get done in those precious few hours you aren't at work.

Yes, they have fired people for not working their hours.
Yes, they have fired people for looking for another job at work.
Yes, they have fired people for speaking up about the hours.

We do this 'for the look on the kids face Christmas morning'. That's what we were told.
At least that's better than the 'think of our share holders' that we used to get.
Would you mind talking to me? I am a reporter with the LA Times. You can reach me at 213-237-7196. Or you can email me at alex.pham@latimes.com.
Alex Pham
I am a reporter with the Los Angeles Times. If you're one of those working the long hours to make ship date and are interested in telling your story, please email me: alex.pham@latimes.com.
Thanks much,
Alex Pham

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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,…