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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EA must finally understand that money cannot replace the void left by hours of overtime, time away from family, and ridiculous pressure applied by managment. I say this, but how do you fight a company who continuously reminds you that YOU ARE REPLACEABLE? Too many of us have been told that if we don't like it, leave... The head of my department has told me this, my managers have told me this, and even a helpful specialist when out of his way to tell me that if I didn't like what I was doing, I should go work in a grocery store. This is a culture of menace that is perpetuated by one class (management) oppressing another(the rest of us that actually make the frickin' games that make this frickin' company all their frickin' money).

Alright. So what do you do? What do WE do? At this late hour, after another long day of working (on a statutory holiday, no less), and looking forward to another brutal day and week, and more time away from family... I can only think of one smart, effective move... UNIONIZE. How do we do this? Start talking to your fellow employees. We are the only ones who can make our situation better. We are the only ones who can tell and show management that they are killing us, literally killing us, one day at a time, and only by banding together can thousands of voices act as one unstoppable force. A union can do many things. A union can make managment twist and writhe in agony. And the irrational, angry side of me really, really likes that thought. But unions can also serve to protect us, to make sure the working environment and conditions are decent and especially, legal.

It is imperitive that we, the employees that actually make this company tick, stand up in a way that sends a clear, effective message... And the best kind of message to send to a giant, profit making machine, is to threaten the stability off of which they make their money. We are sick and fucking tired of being walked on and taken advantage of. We will NOT be told how worthless and replaceable we are. We are smart, hard working people that deserve better. This is not a fucking sweatshop. But it sure feels like one.

Unionize. Talk to each other. Don't let this moment, this opportunity for change... don't let it fade away. Remember- all we're looking for is a little human decency.



November 13 2004, 02:48:10 UTC 16 years ago

Posting lots on the forum, so forgive the short reply.

If you are serious about unionising feel free to contact me at nigel_knox@hotmail.com

I'd love to here from anyone in the UK, or elsewhere, about unions. Heck, the companies are multinationals, why shouldn't the unions be?


16 years ago

Gamasutra, Slashdot, Gamespot and Game Developer Mag are all over this story ! Good work ea_spouse... your courage should be applauded. Let's hope this gets major airtime. I've already submitted it as a suggsted news item to CNN, ABC, and my local papers. I'd encourage anyone else who is concerned about this kind of abuse by companies like EA to do the same.


November 12 2004, 07:45:29 UTC 16 years ago

Wow, why did those guys take this jobs from us then? I dedicate my self 24/7 to a computer screen, well 6 of those hrs are sleeping, but hey its work!
This email was sent out in Sept, by the Development Director of the next Medal Of Honor Console game. This game isn't even shipping until the spring (although, it will probably get delayed, like all EALA games), and yet crunch time began in Sept. This is probably only the light part of crunch, as it only adds up to 63 hours a week. He even acknowledges that working these hours creates "fried developers", and tells everyone they should leave by 11PM (yeah right!)

From: Charvat, Jeff
Sent: Tuesday, September 21, 2004 4:54 PM
To: MOH4
Subject: Crunch definition

In an effort to get us all on the same page as to what is crunch… here are the MOH4 expectations going forward.

3 late nights a week. You choose ‘em. A late night is defined as a day that you leave after 12 or more hours after you arrive. If you get here at 10am then you leave after 10pm. And so forth.
The non-late nights will be defined as leaving 9 hours after you arrive. If you get here at 10am then you leave after 7pm. Just like the bank.
1 weekend day. You choose. Saturday or Sunday. If you don’t care then please come in Saturday. There will be some exceptions where we need key people to rotate their days so we have full coverage both days. Check with your DD if think that might apply to you.
Everyone out by 11pm. Working in to the wee hours of the morning only gets one thing accomplished: creates a fried developer who has difficulty being back by 10am and is anything but mentally sharp. Get out of here, get a good night’s rest and get back in here.
Let your DD know what your default late nights and weekend day will be. This will help ensure balanced development teams. We will remain flexible as special events arise. But hopefully your default schedule will remain so most weeks.
Finally, expect exceptions to this generic definition. We will continue to have exec demos and big end-of-milestone pushes where we will ask people to put in a little extra to get us over the hump. But, hopefully, those will be exceptions and the flexibility built into this definition allows you to maintain a better outside of work life.

That’s it. Please let me know if you have any questions.


A little extra here and there? Give me a break.

I am sure the Nazis over there are monitoring or banning visits to:
Just like the .com companies monitored/banned fuckedcompany.com
They're not banning it... how do you think half of these comments got here? Worldwide, everyone at EA was looking at it today.

Re: Beware EA Employees


16 years ago

One suggestion to everyone that is disgusted by this situation, and wants to help - send an email through the EA customer support form:


If enough people say to them "This is outrageous!" it's at least a start, and would make the EA brass sit up and take notice that it's not just a bunch of current and former employees kvetching about work conditions - it's something that a lot of people even outside the industry are upset about.
Do you want to 'Challenge Everything'? We are looking for people! The ideal candidate:

1. Just graduated
2. Foreigner
3. No family (parents dead)
4. No wife
5. No kids
6. Meth Junkie
One correction to make in this article:
The plaintiff had been working on LOTR: The Third Age, which is really just a holiday shelf-filler meant to squeeze some extra cash out of the franchise until the Battle For Middle Earth from EALA. Not enough time and ancient tech that can't evolve because it's constantly being bandaged together to satiate the erratic whims of the zany Guy in Charge and his main designers (not the level designers, who are in the same boat with everyone else). What you end up with after all the really good, in-progress stuff gets thrown out 6 months before alpha is a product that gets reviews like this: "In between the craptacular combat is the snazzy-looking exploration and the boring menu screens." from:
Some of the "whiner" rants have a point- there are plenty of worse jobs, and the pay is good, and occasionally there are long spells of slack between projects. But is digging a ditch any worse than polishing a turd? In EA's strive to dominate, the consumers are losing. There are artists and programmers who want to make great, innovative work, and consumers who want to buy it. Why is it so hard for management to facilitate this?
Okay, honestly this doesn't surprise i mean how can you trust a company that put out Shaq Fu? That is possibly the worst game in existance and i haven't trusted them since. I know that might sound silly, but think about it, that game was painful, and that was for the consumer i can only imagine the soul crushing that goes on there.
Good memory!

That game became something of an in-joke at EA UK.

That was back when EA was still a good place to work....

...is to know who at EA *doesn't* work these long hours?
How do the management control these long hours?
Which hours do the managers work themselves? The same as the developers?
How many layers of management are there?
Has a developer ever been fired, e.g. for working 'only' 60 hours instead of 85 hours...?
How many developers at EA 'enjoy' working such long hours? e.g. because they identify 100% with EA, the project, and have no wife/family etc... Are these guys also put into positions where they can apply peer pressure etc?
Yup you will be fired:

Management are work-a-holics who are definitely living out-of-balance lives. My favorite quote from our Exec-Producer "I have to be out of office for a few hours on Saturday to deal with some school shit with my kids." Gotta love those priorities. They are definitely at the office a lot more, the lower-level managers working like dogs (my supervisor for example) with the higher-ups doing who knows what for all those hours.

EA is insanely management heavy -- supposedly to balance between the diciplines (art, code, design, and production) and make them all have equal say in the product. When in reality seems to be to have more overlords...

None of the developers 'enjoy' it, well maybe a few that are trying to stay away from home, or the ones with no social lives outside work. Every senior guy I know there hates it, the ones with family despise it except for the ones in management...

Most of the time you put in the work because of the comaraderie -- you don't want to let your friends down on the team. Also, in the past for me, it's felt like if you just do one more push you get over a hump and create something great.

At EA there was no choice they just expect and plan for the never-ending crunch regardless.

Re: what would interest me...


16 years ago

Unions are not a bad thing. Yes there are bad employees, but you have bad employees outside the union... Unions are not the evil that corporate america wants to make them out to be. Americans have been trained over the years to view Unions in a bad light to the delight of coprorate america... The whole corporate model is bound to fall apart eventually and people really need to start looking at unions not as an evil that creates lazy employees (the great falsehood of them) but that they PROTECT the working people, the majority of the country. UNions give the masses power and scare the top eschelon running this country.
I've fallen in love with you! :)

Yep, I work at the EALA studio as well and it's been hell. Of the last 17 months, 14 of them have been in crunch (well defined in the leaked email above, but basically 60+ hour weeks). And I'm pretty tired. I really didn't want it to come to a union as there are some very negative things associated with them but I don't see much of an alternative. We need some type of protection, and the film industry seems to pull it off so why can't we?

I'd like to extend my most heart felt thanks to you EA_Spouse. You've stood up for all of us and now that this thing seems to have blown up maybe we'll see some real, positive change for this industry. It's about time it grew up.

Keep passing it around, this is all over internally right now and hopefully will hit the mainstream press friday.
My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE 16. We represent the workers at ILM as well as traditional film crews. I would like to talk to you about what it would take to unionize EA and also what it would take to get paid for all the overtime people have been doing. I am at unionjosh@local16.org

Re: Thank you EA_Spouse!


16 years ago

Re: Thank you EA_Spouse!


16 years ago

Seriously people...how do you think Larry Probst got his company to where it is today? Granted I do not know the history behind EA, but it is HIGHLY unlikely that it just popped up overnight. I'm sure Mr. Probst has put in many many hours of work and experienced his fair share of exhaustion. This, in my eyes, is the difference between him and your sniveling husband. Actually, this is most likely the difference between him and everyone else that has posted agreeing to what this LJ entry is trying to say.

Is it a wonder why outsourcing is such a big deal nowadays? People are wanting everything for free nowadays and it's sickening. What happened to the old days where people literally broke their backs, and took extreme pride in what they did. All we see nowadays is complaining. Yes, I realize that 90 hours a week is fairly intense, but if it isn't your cup of tea, then get out of the situation. There are plenty of people who would be willing to trade places with you and complain 100% less.

Basically, what I see here is you wanting a bigger piece of the pie without having to work for it. When I say "work for it," I'm not saying your husband doesn't put in enough time at his job. Yes, your husband has worked long hours, and he possibly has done so for a while now, but unless he mentions something and PURSUES it, then nothing will come about. If you were in an authoritative position and everyone that worked under you said nothing, then every 3 months would you tell them they had a raise? Probably not. In this day and age you can't just sit back and let things pass you by: you have to go out there and get it yourself.

As for the working conditions at EA, I think they are phenomenal. The atmosphere is lively, upbeat, and very positive. They give the folks working OT little perks that help us get through the night(s). Little things like that mean something to me. I don't need massive x-mas bonuses to know that I am appreciated. I take a sincere "Thank you," to heart. There were days where people would work 12 hour days, not get paid extra money, and get *gasp* no x-mas bonuses! I get paid time and a half for every minute I work over 8 hours a day/40 hours a week, and I probably still make less than the lowest salary-paid employee.

I have a plan for how I can get to where I am paid more, but better yet I realize what it takes, and I'm willing to this. And if my plan doesn't pan out the way I want it to, then I'll just go somewhere else because the company's plans for me might not correspond with mine. That is a risk you have to take.

Life isn't a cake walk, so don't treat it like it one.

I hope your husband's job is outsourced. That will teach you.
it's exactly attitudes like this that keep things from getting better..buddy you have a lot to learn about working in this profession. I'm in Dev, I used to work in QA and think they should get more and it's exactly people like you that stop you from getting what your worth. I have a buddy that tests in TO gets paid 17$ to start, and i have a buddy at Nokia paid to test at about the same..your 9.00$ isn't right but if you think that's all your worth then good luck with that. Your worth in a eye of a corporation is represented in money and the way they treat you, it's just fact.

New tester i'm guessing, or DD on damage control....hahaha

Labor laws were created for a reason


16 years ago

All this talk about a union I think is wasted air, until people high up get involved. And by that I mean that 'stars' of the entertainment industry like Peter Monlyneux (sp) and that guy that made quake ;) Companies will not take action unless it hurts them and hurts them bad.

Remeber the film industry's action a few years ago, which was for fair pay for all the acting 'grunts' of the industry. That would NEVER have worked if stars like (and I think these were the stars, I cant remeber) Kevin Spacey hadn't have gotten involved. And why would they get involved, when they have cushy, safe and well paid jobs?

A mass walk out would have to be a MASS walk out. Not just one team, or studio, but whole campanies accross America, and accross the globe. Companies might be able to replace the odd team member with a fresh (gullable) college grad, but try running the indiustry if the majority of the programmers/artists were college grads... That would never work, and it would hurt the companies badly. Of course, people have to be willing to sacrefice themselves for their cause, and in this day and age, I dont see that ever happening.

The miners strikes here in the uk decades ago hurt the miners so badly (and they did in the end lose, so it might not be the best annalogy), but they stuck together, and if it wasnt for the government at the time, probably woul have won. But that would never happen in this day and age...

The only people who can change this are the people it affects. A significant number of people have to believe in, and follow through, else it will just continue.
This fluent, impassioned comment reflects much of my own observations as a games_industry_Father. My son took a good degree from a good university, and followed his heart into the industry. I recognize, in spades, all the issues mentioned here. There was, of course, the added kicker of the common practice of post launch, pre-bonus downsizing.....

At the same time, the industry faces potentially terminal pressures from Intellectual Property management issues. Key code leakage points are well known. Has anyone in the industry ever compared the revenue depletion curve against the cost of treating dedicated, skilled professionals with the respect they deserve, and their commitment commands?

Lions led by overfed donkeys comes to mind.............
Hi EA Spouse,

As an engineering manager who develops software and comes up with the development schedule I can honestly say that I have never ever had a crunch where we had to work more than 60 hours and that only lasted for 3 weeks. Now I am not in the game industry but no game is worth having to work in a crunch mode all the time.


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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,…