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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saw this linked on /. and read thru it.

and i went through this same thing when i worked for a smaller studio (which will remain nameless).

it seems to me that this sort of thing is so common in the games industry that it's not even funny. read some of the 500+ comments saying that there should be a union formed, and i tend to agree.

while i didn't work for a juggernaut such as EA (the studio i worked for was small in comparison), the conditions were exactly the same. insane hours, little pay, and almost no compensation for all the ridiculous hours that were mandatory during a crunch time. it took an extreme toll on my health and it's taken me several years to recover from the damage that pulling all those 48+ hour days had on me.

in the face of a project that could potentially make millions of dollars for a company (and line a ceo's armani suit pockets with fat cash to spend on hookers and booze), you are but a small cog in the wheel that churns. you honestly don't matter. the project does. it's always for the good of the project.

this sort of thing is so common in the games industry that i'm honestly shocked that no one hasn't stood up and said "hey, this is totally fucked, and we should all do something about it!" -- there are thousands of unsung masses at all of the large studios that churn out this stuff year after year and it honestly surprises me that people just accept this sort of treatment and say "well, that's just the way this industry is", as i feel it's totally unacceptable. it essentially slavery. unless you're getting paid 500k to a mil a year or more to do the work, i don't think that anything else is fair compensation.

people have lost their health, sanity and marriages because of the video game industry. and the fat cats at the top don't care. they honestly don't. because for every worn out, fatigued programmer on any game dev team, there are 10 waiting at the door who don't know what really goes on, eager to be hired to show off their stuff. you're all expendable. and the people at the door fresh out of school waiting to go for it are much cheaper to take care of in the beginning than someone who's been in the industry for awhile and is being burned out.

these days, i see commercials on tv for small colleges offering degrees in video game design and so forth, and i have to cynically wonder if the ceo's of these large organizations are funding the development of these so called college programs to further stoke the fire! the turnover in the games industry is insane and horrible and these smaller college programs NEVER teach you the sorts of things that you're really in for when you go to work at a video game studio i reckon.

it would be great to see a programmers union be formed, and great to see some of the jobs that have gone overseas come back to american soil again. and it would be FANTASTIC to see the turnover that's too common in the video game industry to be foiled. it would be great to see less of a quantity of shitty games being churned out and more quality games, and it would also be great to know that when i pay fifty fucking dollars for a game that it wasn't churned out in what is more or less an american sweatshop. it would be great to know that the games i buy weren't cranked out by people under extreme duress.

after all, the people that work in the games industry now are essentially that -- sweatshop workers. you may be getting paid decent salaries, and the office that you work in may be swanky and filled to the brim with perks, but the conditions are more or less the same as some shop in a third world country cranking out nike products. i'll be no one thinks of it that way, but it essentially is.

this particular situation in the games industry HAS to change.

perhaps you all should get together in secret or perhaps meet in secret at GDC and hash all this out. you have the power to do something. granted, if you do, you may have to accept that if you're caught your jobs may be at stake. but taking that chance is the only way that things will get better.

and all of you should retain lawyers. good ones. start a revolution. change it. the people that work at all the major studios currently CAN'T be happy with the way things are.
Having worked for Activision for some time as a programmer, I can relate. I worked 12 hour days for quite a while, sometimes spending up to 24 hours straight at work. The project was clearly planned with crunch mode in mind, because companies know they can exploit their workers to produce games faster and cheaper. Same deal at Activision of course - no overtime, no comp time, nothing. After said project was finished I was immediately put into crunch on another project. When I had the balls to complain about this to the studio head and say it was unfair, his response was that if I didn't want to "do my job", he had a lot of bright young kids waiting that could. Gee, thanks for appreciating my hard work.

My sympathies to everyone that's had to go through this sort of BS. If anyone ever actually managed to assemble the resources necessary to start a game developer's union, I would be one of the first on board.
If anyone wnats any advice on starting a union please feel free to contact me at


Re: It's all too common in the industry.


16 years ago

I want to get out of this industry. But how do I start looking for a similar job in the defense industry? And is it any better there?
My husband is a software developer and has left a company who had a similar practice. His company's practice wasn't calculated, rather it was out of poor project management and company management's lack of knowledge about how long it actually takes to produce something. I am truly shocked by your story... I suggest a Wal-mart approach to companies with poor business practices, I refuse to solicit them. I also think that there's very good cause for an employment lawsuit in there as well as some pretty negative press that at the very least, will make these executive think about their practices. In all likelihood, however, it will merely drive them to India where they can get some guy to do your spouse's job for a fraction of the cost. What we are doing to American workers is a sin...
I used to work some pretty insane hours, for free.

I highly recommend The Joy of Not Working (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0898159148/104-5910634-9138306?v=glance)

These days my wife works (granted, a good job) and I stay home with the kids. Computers are now a hobby and I have much more fun!

-Norman Lorrain


November 11 2004, 21:14:27 UTC 16 years ago

For the record, I'm another EA spouce that feels like my partner is being taken from me with nothing in return. At least his department still pays overtime but he has been working overtime for three years with no end in sight. We thought this company was going to offer great things but it only took from us, hopefully we will find a better place sometime soon, but where is better? It's hard to know, I'm kinda leaning toward some radical sort of union or strike but with jobs so scarce it seems like they'd just fire everyone and most people would be too scared to speak out.
People should be able to have a job and a life. I am a union organizer and I am helping with the class action lawsuit. If we come together and make a plan that works, we won't have to go on some kind of kamikaze mission just win fair treatment. Let's talk about what can be done and how to do it. unionjosh@hotmail.com
Josh Pastreich



November 11 2004, 21:15:59 UTC 16 years ago

This is garbage. There are a large number of jobs where people work for less, and work much much harder than 85 hours a week coding on a computer. Ever been on a farm? Ever had to prepare for trial as a paralegal? Ever had to work in an emergency room as a nurse?


Re: Whiners


16 years ago


November 11 2004, 21:21:45 UTC 16 years ago

EA is the National Socialist Party of Video Gaming. They blitz in with the promise of hope and a big budget, then suck the marrow from the smaller companies bones. after that, they roll on, leaving scorched earth.
that's how it worked at Westwood, after Brett and Stimpy sold out.
Have you thought about joining the class action lawsuit?
Josh Pastreich
IATSE Local 16
Thanks for the article - I'll make sure to pirate or steal their products rather than buying them in the future - best to you and your SO
If you think this is egregiously wrong. How about making 250 dollars a week and having to work 7 days a week for 12-14 hours a day at a world class recording studio? This is the reality of a lot of entry level assistants and runners at recording studios here in North America. Forget about having a family or social life for about 3-5 years of the beginning of your career! This is the reality of what some people have to go through to make it through the top. Some world class recording engineers and producers have climbed up the ladder this way. An entry level assistant would kill to work for 30-45 grand a year at that pace. Many of these workers sit in front of computers all day also

Everyone expects to work like a dog for the first few years of their career. My husband has been working for EA for several years. He got home at 2:30am last night. That's not acceptable.

Re: Try working in the Recording Industry


16 years ago

I'm studying Game Design in school, and am not as they say "in the industry" quite yet, and thus I feel that it is not my place to begin one, but could we not get their attention in the form of a petition? Such as...
"We, the undersigned, wish to make clear our strong desire to see the abhorrent treatment of Electronic Arts' employees in regard to unpaid overtime, unreasonable hours (70+ hour weeks), and generally appalling treatment (such as the attitude of "If you don't like it, find another job"). In an effort to fuel the support behind EA: The Human Story (an anonymous letter from the spouse of an Electronic Arts employee: http://www.livejournal.com/users/ea_spouse/ ), we will stand firm in our resolve to cease purchasing and playing your games.

Please work for what is right. You can afford to do the right thing. This situation takes a serious toll on your employees, and it is our belief that by rectifying it, your sales will go up and you will develop better products. Class-action lawsuits and widespread talk of unions is unbecoming of a major player in any industry. Please heed the advice of those who would support you in making the right decision."
I feel the same way; my husband was working 80 to 90 hours per week. He got home exhausted and extremely cranky. He got a few weeks off after the game was over, but since he was not told about it in advance, we could not make any kind of plans. He had to stay at home bored and all alone. He rested a little but he would have preferred to get paid for the over time and sometimes not even getting paid extra is good enough. People need their free time, so they can perform better at home and at work.
Please contact me at ea_spouse@hotmail.com if you would be willing to speak with any of the reporters or lawyers who have come forward. =) They want to talk to all of us.

valentines from the producer


16 years ago

Deleted comment

1: employess realizes he/she is being fucked.
2: employee brings up concerns to managers and requests back pay for OT
3: employer makes hearty apology and pays minimum possible to get employee to shut up
4: employer informs employee that california is an 'at will' state, and that his services will no longer be required at the company
5: employer black lists employee


November 11 2004, 21:32:20 UTC 16 years ago

Lawrence Probst, III, 54
Chairman, Chief Exec. Officer $ 1.45M $ 22.78M

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! I got an idea. Quit the f*cking company.


November 11 2004, 21:40:20 UTC 16 years ago

Oh, and it's just that easy, isn't it...
Try it yourself under those conditions.


Yet another CEO in training


16 years ago


16 years ago

Me too!


November 11 2004, 21:36:24 UTC 16 years ago

Hello EA Spouse,

Your story is all too true. My SO also works for EA and my mother often ask, "How do they (EA) expect to get anything out of their employees when they work 12 hours a day for a week straight?" Recently, he had a 23 1/2 hour shift and returned to work within 8 hours---that was the ultimate Labor law violation. I come from a strong labor union family and my mentor is a labor law professor. Common labor laws are being broken at EA on a weekly basis, particularly near the holiday season.

How are the employees, whether temporary or permanent supposed to speak up when they are coaxed with the state of the art gym, Jamba Juice splurges, and late night catering? If anyone complains, they are easily replaced. So many young men want to work in video game industry. The CEO of EA was recently named one of the CEOs who is "worth his weight in gold". Seems to me like he could afford to reorganize the work schedule to be more humane.

Please contact me at ea_spouse@hotmail.com if you would, there are things we can do about this. Our families have put a lot of pressure on us, as well... parents and siblings. My SO's family is back east, and we've cancelled our trip out there for Thanksgiving just because he is too exhausted.

Re: Me too!


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,…