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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I'm so glad that you wrote this and that it's getting so much attention. I work for a large game company that doesn't set mandatory hours like you described, but expects us to work until the job is complete, regardless of how many late nights and weekends that necessitates. Like someone described in a previous post, I've driven home many nights with the windows down and the music blaring to help me stay awake. One night- or early morning I should say- I actually had a minor accident. The response I got at work was, "oh, we've all driven home when we're tired." I've given my husband instructions to sue their ass if I fall asleep at the wheel and kill myself driving home after one of those 16+ hour days.

I love my job, but I've been seriously considering leaving the industry. When I first started I didn't mind working crazy hours. But it's taking its toll, and I find myself increasingly discouraged as time goes on. The job is definitely not compatible with having a family. I remember working one day from 9 in the morning, trying to leave around 2 the next morning, and being told that I couldn't leave yet. When I finally got home at 6 in the morning, I had just enough time to get on my pajamas before my year-old son woke up for the day. I still can't believe that I survived those days.

I applaud you for bringing attention to this problem and hope, for all our sake's, that something good comes from it.
If by "something good," you mean a contract that guarantees overtime pay and allows workers to negotiate working conditions, give me a call. I am a union organizer and I am trying to make this industry livable.
Josh Pastreich
IATSE Local 16
I'm an EA wife aswell, originally from the Uk and living in Canada. While what you say is true, it annoys me intensely. You and your husband both have choices and he choses to work at EA and you chose to stay with him.

There are plenty of people in this world who work equally as long hours for much worse pay and have no choice about it, their sole goal is the survival of themselves and their families.

The reality is there are hundreds if not thousands of people who want to work at EA and I am sure that your spouse is employable elsewhere should he chose to move.

Thank yourself lucky that you have choices in life and if your husband's job which he can easily change is the worst of your troubles you've done well girl. If its that bad leave. I agree with the EA bosses, you have other options.
Did you even read the original post? They're planning on leaving EA, so that's a moot point.

Just because something is standard and other people have to put up with it, does not make it RIGHT. Nothing will change unless some light is shed on the problem, and that's what this post is about.
Maybe now all the Westwood employees EA outright fired won't feel so bad, as their EA-absorbed brethren are likely faring worse than they ever expected.

To anybody who has never been satisfied with any of the other answers to "Why do you hate EA?", this should explain things from a more human perspective.
I worked at EA-Tiburon as well. All the stories here are true. It is a demoralizing nightmare. The work is also pretty lame too, a lot of db programming and scripting, not what a lot of people might think of as 'game programming'. Anyway, it took me 6 months to reach my wits end, and another 3 to find another job. I now do graphics programming outside the games industry. It's more challenging, I make over 30% more money and I'm home by 6:30 every night. Yes, you can sue EA, or strike, or whatever, but they have evil lawyers and will fight back hard. Put your efforts into finding a better life for your family. In the end its all the talent leaving that will kill EA.

Deleted comment

Re: Just Leave


16 years ago

Deleted comment

Re: Just Leave


16 years ago

A union for software engineers is long past due. My SO is a software engineer also. His company has had annual layoffs for about 5 or 6 years. Every year their benefits are lessoned or restricted. Complaints are met with references to outsourcing overseas. I strongly feel this is largely a bluff. I also feel that too many software engineers are working in what can only accurately be described as sweatshop conditions. A 90 hour work week? C'mon, it's time to call the other programmers and shut down production at once, simultaneously.

It's also time for Americans to realize that how people are treated by American corporations in other countries does come back to haunt us. Individual and ordinary citizens are going to have to take on the job of policing international corporations.

Step 2, after forming a union, should be to push for a minimum wage equation that all businesses with no less than 50% of it's ownership held by individuals with U.S. citizenship must abide by or risk loss of right to conduct business in the U.S., fines of as much as 15% of the previous years gross product and incarceration of top management.
The minimum wage equation for U.S. businesses would be based on our own minimum wage. At the start of each fiscal year, the host countries GNP for the previous year would be obtained from an independent non-govermental organization. If this countries GNP is 10% of the United States GNP then the minimum wage that could be paid to workers the current fiscal year would be 10% of the U.S. minimum wage.
Such a plan would eliminate the virtual slavery that some people endure working to supply large U.S. companies. Yet, by creating a relationship between existing GNP and the wage we reduce the likelihood that dangerous inflationary conditions would be created in the host country. At the same time exporting jobs to other countries is made somewhat more expensive. Couple the new minimum wage equation with the utter destruction of tax incentives for exporting jobs and suddenly the bottom line for moving versus keeping jobs domestic will look very different. Businesses would retain the right to move the jobs if they still preferred to do so. However, the jobs would now be more likely to pay a living wage. An increased ability to earn a living wage in ones' home country would reduce immigration pressure on the U.S.. I believe this would be especially true of jobs moved to Mexico.
A minimum wage equation would not seem to have bearing on the higher paid jobs in software engineering, but it's effect would be felt when highly educated software engineers in India, Vietnam, and Eastern Europe begin to refuse to work for less than they could earn (with the advent of the minimum wage equation) in a factory churning out Disney memorabilia.
Americans have to start looking at the big, the global picture and look for ways to pull together as Americans and as global citizens. Come to think of it, an international Software engineers union might not be too shabby of an idea although it would likely be banned in communist countries and difficult to sell in impoverished ones. Even if an agreement could not be reached on actual wage perhaps there could be an international standard for the work week.
My first game almost cost me my relationship. Moving deadlines and perpetual crunch almost broke up a 12 year marriage. This industry is starting to smell rotten.
I agree entirely with your comment with exception to the word "starting." According to the posts, and I've read all but the idiotic ones, this has been going on for a long, long time and this EA Spouse is the first person who has been willing to stand up, be heard and concretely do something about it. Ain't she great!!! Would she be willing to run for President, perhaps?
i understand your complaints about the time away from family caused by your SO. you see, i am in the military. i work when i have to and possibly for less than what you make. yes, there is a big difference between consumer goods and national security. other than the obvious, i still end up working almost every day for 6 months while i am on a cruise. that does not take in to count the time spent in preparation for that cruise pertaining such things as training, regular work days, or ensuring that the ship is ready for said mission. i am on call 24/7. no excuses allowed. if i am late, there is a chance that i will lose pay and time from my family. i signed on for this, read my contract and signed the bottom line. i have been in the service of my country for almost 8 years. i have spent roughly 4 of those away from my family and friends. it is not for everyone. time apart will test even the most stable home.
sincerely, a member of the us navy
Hey there, I've worked in a number of different industries in both Missouri and Kansas as a manager. Since I did, I had to really acquaint myself with the Wage and Hour laws in each state. I'm no longer working in those industries and I'm in school now, but from what I recall, California is pretty liberal in it's labor law practices. My advice is to contact your state's wage and hour commission and file a complaint and request an investigation. Your spouse should convince as many fellow employees as he/she is comfortable with to do so as well. I will say that from my experiences, the more complaints they receive the more seriously they will investigate.

The following link is a place to start. I've only briefly scanned what is there, but I'd advise that you make sure that you educate yourself and your spouse one what the California labor statuates are so that if you're forced to you can fight back from a position of educated strength.


Good luck


November 12 2004, 03:30:00 UTC 16 years ago

Wow, the comparison of the army to EA is so interesting... They both recruit doe-eyed young people in somewhat manipulative ways, projecting a glossy image of what life will be like after you sign up.
In both cases, self-sacrifice for what you believe in is one the most admirable of human traits. That's why we have to take a stand when we believe that people in power are taking self-sacrifice for granted.

Anyways, maybe if less people had these glamourous ideals of life in the entertainment industry, people working within it wouldn't have to fear being replaced by some young chump just for speaking up about making a better work environment. Anyways, I've done enough complaining about EA in the last year to realize I will never make a career of it unless something changes... until then I suggest everyone reap any benefits you can, and get out.

its not just games corporations, not just the usa either. even here in australia developers are increasingly being treated as blue collar trolls under the threat of perform as ordered or be outsourced. theres a very real need to collectivise the sector internationally as our jobs and workplaces are very interdependant these days. as the corporations globalise and shift the jobs to the cheapest providers, so too should IT workers collectivise internationally to meet the challenges. this is turning into sweatshop labour conditions very rapidly. i am coming from a perspective of 20 years in the industry, a very long view of how things are developing, i dont say it lightly. but the issues now are almost the same as the time of the first technological revolution more than 100 years ago (radio, electromechanical music devices, etc) - the willingness and ability of bosses to bully denigrate and basically rip off their labour is also unchanged. i cant see many other options but collective strength. i wont go into my own workplace, but there are strong echoes of the EA experience here too. (its a dangerous time to have an opinion, even more dangerous to publish a contrary one.....) Put up or shut up and leave expresses the most common attitude across the board. problem is eventually one runs out of places to leave -to- and when one is past 40, trying to find new work in IT is becoming very difficult, especially with fresh graduates every year who are prepared to put up with shocking wages and conditions for the sake of a job. i had to halve my contracting rates a few years ago just to feed my kids - no price on pride or professionalism when you need to put bread on the table.

but its a savage indictment that a once well regarded well paid job has declined to the lowest rungs of the industry. yet without developers, no software gets made, anywhere. i'm tired of hearing but its good for the economy - if its BAD FOR HUMANS then there should be no doubt that the economic rationales are a distraction and a denigration of the true social cost.

managers take note: we're mad as hell and we aint gonna take it much longer.
The answer: Stop going to work more than 8 hours a day. It's as easy as that. You come to work at 9, then leave at 5. You don't come in on weekends at all.

The law is on your side. And EA kows that, they know that the law contains provisions which protect an employee from being fired for refusing to work unpaid overtime. Yet they all still refuse to act! Why?

Because game developers are pussys!

Seriously, just stand up already!
It's easy to make statements like that without knowing all the facts.

Refuse to work overtime, and they fire you. It's as simple as that.

Re: game developers are pussys


16 years ago

Are you willing to come in lead this revolution? I'd like to see you try and convince our managers that we all get to leave at 5pm. I've been at EA for nearly 4 years and have worked overtime for every single one of those days.

Come on down, Let's see what happens!
Why don't YOU tell them to stop. Or just stop yourself.

The point you seem to be missing is that you don't need to convince your managers. If the law is on your side, that means they need to either pay you for your work, or you don't work more than they're paying you for... Stop and think for a minute, if they are asking you to work without pay, that's simply unreasonable and illegal, and they aren't going to win in court.

Your problem is that you think there's something to discuss. There isn't. You just refuse to work more than they pay you to. If they then fire you, you'll end in much better financial shape than you are at EA.

What a pussy. Grow some balls, EA sure as hell isn't going to give you any. Read http://www.t-nation.com and start being a man. They like you nice and mild and feminized and afraid. An office full of pansies is good for their bottom line. It sounds like I've been wrong all along about the lack of women in game development- I just wasn't paying enough attention to the "men".

Re: Why don't you wake up?


16 years ago

Re: Why don't you wake up?


16 years ago

Re: Why don't you wake up?


16 years ago

Re: Why don't you wake up?


16 years ago

It’s Not Just Abusive. It's Stupid. (http://enginesofmischief.com/blogs/ramblings/archives/2004/11/11/643#more-643)
Evan Robinson

By now, we've all read that cathartic LiveJournal entry by an angry EA widow who has had her husband, her family life, and her own career co-opted by the hellish product development environment that has become the norm at Electronic Arts. Most of us in the business know, right down deep in our ulcers and migraines, exactly what she's talking about. Too many of us have been caught in "normal" development cycles that require overtime as a matter of course; and have been at the mercy of abusive managers who ratcheted us up to several months of 13-hour-a-day/7-day work weeks. Perversely, these managers always claim that this is what's required to make the schedule – and (the mendacity of this part is always breathtaking) to prevent our work hours from expanding even more in the future.

These stories are nothing new to me. I spent my 20s living them – and my 30s figuring out how to avoid ever doing that again.

Let me begin by establishing my bona fides. I've been building software for more than 20 years. Fifteen of those years were in the games business; half of those years were spent at EA's Bay Area offices as an external developer and an employee. I've held just about every technical position from tool programmer to director of engineering. As a programmer I've worked by myself and on teams of almost a hundred engineers. As a manager at a Fortune 100 company (Adobe) and elsewhere, I ran teams of up to 25 people, working on up to five projects at once. I've managed multi-million dollar art-intensive games, single developers, and core technology teams responsible to as many as eight clients (all with different requirements and all on different shipping schedules). Over the course of my career, I've been “in charge" (i.e. the senior engineering or project manager) on more than a half-dozen published titles, and held up the technical direction or project management end on over two dozen more.

In all that time, for all those titles, no project I was in charge of has ever missed its ship date or overshot its budget.

Yet I absolutely refuse to work the kind of death march hours ea_spouse describes. And I have never, ever asked or allowed my employees to do so.

Her story – and others that have been shared in the industry-wide conversation that her post provoked – make it clear that EA's management believes, as a matter of institutional principle, that only way to make money at games software is to create tight schedules, and the only way to make a tight schedule is to work your employees harder.

Decades of software engineering research and best practices – and my own experience – prove conclusively that this belief is complete bullshit.

Read More (http://enginesofmischief.com/blogs/ramblings/archives/2004/11/11/643#more-643)
READ THE REST OF THIS....It's important....
I used to work for EA. I am still doing some games, but not for the big game companies and on my terms.

Folks, let me get this out. If you are doing 80 hrs a week, you are a sheep. As a sheep you will be shaved untill nothing is left, and then you get slaughtered.

Someone should sue the game industry, and may that someone become rich in doing so and may that someone be you. There is nothing un-ethical about this and you are not a rat for doing this and you are not letting your co-workers down. In fact, you will improve their working conditions. Think about it: get rich and do something good for you co-workers. The game industry is deceitful, engaged in slavery, and breaks state and federal laws. Most likely, you are NOT a professional as defined by the labor laws. The game industry wants to call you a professional, so it can work you, but you are not. Get over it. Educate yourself on your rights. Given the level of violations by the game industry you can sue and win and get rich.

Hollywood used be like the games industry. Some actor took the trouble to represent his fellow co-workers. He improved the film industry to be professional and went on to become a US president.

The game industry is a 10 billion dollar plus industry. Games will be made regardless of working conditions. Let's improve the working conditions. Currently, companies like EA are not worth the money, your friends and family, your health, your sanity and your dignity. Don't be a sheep.
My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer and I am helping with the class action lawsuit against EA for overtime violations. Did you work for EA in the last 4 years? Maybe you could be that someone. I'm looking for some people with some fire in their bellies (not mutton). Let me know. unionjosh@hotmail.com
EA sucks ! Their games are just over-rated, more of the same, bland sequels of un-original financially viable games released 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,…