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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How about letting the folks who need to hear it know first hand.
4 of the most arrogant and greedy motherf&$kers I’ve ever been exposed to.

lprobst@ea.com CEO & Chairman
jschappert@ea.com SVP & GM, EAC
dmattrick@ea.com President Worldwide Studios
jbowerman@ea.com VP, COO, EAC

HA!! Priceless!! :)

Write these mofos!!
good on ya, i just hope EA makes a u-trun with its policy one day. I for one dont buy EA games....i either dl them, or copy them from mates. Iv poured enough money into them....

im a blizzard 'fanboy' now.
it's EA global management policy. people are expendible.

I was there 7 years... worked 8 years in the first 5. I got paid for the first 4. then they killed OT pay and bumped salaries up... slightly...
but I might as well had been flipping burgers. after I broke down the hourly rate. My health took the hit. I am not the same person. I buckle under stress now. they damaged my tolerance.
I left EA when my wife and I had our second. After broken promises of leading a killer game. the game was snuffed out after 3 months. Management and I were no longer... pals. I was labeled as bitter and on the "un-happy list" the list exists I kid you not. they told e I sucked to make me mad so I would quit,,, save them $$ for the severance package. I caught on fast. Rocked the boat and left with a grin and the cash.

First business rule does not apply to them...
People are not their greatest asset.... they are a toilet. they have an ability to use a movie license and put out 7/10 title. they are about money and they do it well. I hate them and preach it... as a warning to rookies. they want drones. not passionate people.
I won't trade my life for them.

New T-shirt idea:
Friends don't let friends work at EA.
Electronic Arse
Thanks for your comment -- with seven years with them, I'm sure you already know that you stayed there longer than the vast majority of their current workforce. Glad to hear you got out with severance, that's a bit of good news in all of this.
excuse me, are ea employees enlisted in the army or something? i mean, we do ruck marches and stuff, and injury-threatening obstacle courses, and run just about everyday, and you're making an ea employee sound as if one goes through the physical duress we do, so i'm curious


November 12 2004, 18:25:57 UTC 16 years ago

If you were made to work 10 - 15 hours a day for 6-7 days a week, for 3 months or (much) longer, how do you think you could physically handle it? At some point, the body and mind reaches a breaking point where it can't handle the physical and mental stress of functioning on not enough sleep, without _any_ downtime.

Nobody is arguing that other people's jobs aren't hard or demanding. But that doesn't make what EA is doing right, nor should we just sit there and do nothing about it.


16 years ago

Not all long hours of work are equal


16 years ago


16 years ago


16 years ago


16 years ago

I completely agree that the practice of overworking "salaried" workers in any industry is wrong. However, the worst offenders are definitely in finance. Most investment banks like Merrill Lynch or Goldman Sachs basically require their junior employees (below vice president) to work anywhere from 90 to 110 hours per week, every week, for years. I personally averaged 3 hours of sleep a night for 2 to 3 months at a time.

These bastards basically suck the life out of bright, young college-grads for 2 to 4 years, and then kick 99% of them out before they start making any serious money at the bank. Unless they quit first due to exhaustion/breakdown.

This is a widespread problem in America. I would say that more than technology, these uncounted hours of work by salaried workers is what's really driving the "productivity" increase in this country.
Although you are correct, the only difference between finance and ea is that in finance they are compensated for the long hours. For instance, analyst which are the young college grads are usually compensated with a base of $55K. The long hours are ofset by the bonus at the end of the year which may range from $20 to $40K. This is vastly higher than what the ea spouse obtains as his total comp is around $55-60 with the same hours.
I used to work for EA, and honestly, this woman's blog does not even cover all the atrocities we all put up with at EA. EA is the worst game company to work for in the industry, period.

Is this class action lawsuit retroactive for people who used to work at EA and endured the 12 hour days 7 days a week torture and other things? If so, anyone know how I can participate in it? Our "crunch" lasted MONTHS AND MONTHS. In fact the whole project was one HUGE crunch, and let me tell you, this is across EA as I was not even a part of the Sims, but a part of another project.

Oh the stories I could share about EA, this blog is tame in comparison. But to share them would give them a method of identifying me, and so, unfortunately, I cannot.
Is the lawsuit retroactive? YES. It most definitely is. In California you can sue for wages lost up to four years after termination.

If you have come under the same situation, or indeed, worse, TALK ABOUT IT. Please. =) I can put you in touch with reporters. The lawsuit information is here:

Our LA Times reporter is Alex Pham. She posted earlier in this thread. Her email is alex.pham@latimes.com. However, I understand she's trying to put together a story quickly, so you might want to contact her ASAP. You could also start another blog like this one -- Joe Straitiff already did, and as you can see, mine is done anonymously. I strongly believe that this kind of thing needs to be talked about and brought out in the open before anything will be done about it. You can generalize. Believe me, people have even tried to guess the studio that I'm talking about and only a few have gotten it right, mostly based on physical details. And unless you're still working for EA, you should have nothing to fear in outing them for their practices.
In the gaming community, EA is a piece of shit company who makes shitty games because workers like your significant other would not let them have extra time to work and make better games. They are the company who buys other developers and milk their products till theyre over-milked and drop them from the company. The same company who does not want to support other consoles but Playstation. If I were you, I would tell your husband to find other company such as Microsoft Games STudio, Ubisoft, Rockstar. We are just waiting for people like your significant other to step up to this company and let them be heard. My god I hope all of their employees go on strike.

Incase you havent noticed, your blog is being advertised all over the web.


November 12 2004, 18:48:56 UTC 16 years ago

Some of the people responding here are getting on my nerves. Did you even read the article? Are you able to think for yourself, and beyond the fact that your own job or life may suck? To answer a few common themes:

Why don't you just quit?

As it says in the article, the spouse is planning on quitting! And there's something negative to be said about just quitting, and not trying to change the current system -- that means nothing will ever change, and this will always be a problem for every new schmuck that gets hired. Ea_spouse is trying to do something by getting the word out about EA, and look at how much has been accomplished already -- major news media is picking it up.

Stop whining!

Why? Because it bugs you? Because we took time out of your busy schedule, tied you down, and forced you to read this article? Too bad. From the huge amount of support, and responses by people in the gaming industry, it's obvious this is a huge problem in the industry as a whole, and is not limited to EA. We have the right to voice our opinions about unfair working practices, and to garner support in anyway possible. If you don't like it, then stop reading!

Other people have it really bad, too! So shut up!

So? Because other people have crappy jobs, that means we should suck it up and live with our jobs as they are? Change never happens unless someone is willing to stick their neck out above the crowd, and risk having their head chopped off. It took a lot of balls for ea_spouse to do this, and I support her 100% for having done it. It's gotten a dialogue started about something that needs to be fixed. If other people have crappy jobs, or have to work without compensation, or whatever, then they need to do something about fixing their jobs -- not come here and tell us to shut up. When something is not RIGHT, then something must be done.

You probably have a good salary, and it's not like you're making soccer balls in Indonesia for pennies. You have nothing to whine about.

Nothing to whine about? Working anywhere from 70 - 90+ hours a week, for several months on end, without overtime compensation or comp time off? Sure, we're not little kids working for pennies, but we are valuable employees being worked to the bone without respect, appropriate compensation, or reasonable working hours.

Let me be clear here: everyone expects to work some crunch time towards the end of a project, as things start to pile up, and things don't get finished as quickly as expected. But EA schedules crunch time into their projects, usually beginning 6 months before the end of the project. Rather than planning their projects well, or hiring enough people to do the job, they have fewer people doing the work of many, without overtime compensation, or comp time. This is not reasonable of them -- as one of the largest companies in the industry, we should expect better of them. In fact, we should demand it.

All that people are asking for is a more reasonable working schedule OR compensation for the extra work they do. That doesn't seem like a lot, does it? To be paid for the work you do? Or for people to be able go home and have a meal with our wife and kids, or just be able to have a day off here and there. And yet people are dismissing us as crybabies, whiners, and slackers. Yeah, we're big slackers; that whole working 100 hours this last week was a really great time, and I can't wait to slack off some more.
fighting back anonymously. ;)


16 years ago


16 years ago

I worked for EA Orlando - Tiburon for 4.5 years as a 3D artist, until I quit. I saw EVERYTHING you are talking about . . . and I am SURPRISED to see it STILL going on!!

I do know that the culture and mindset of Tiburon (employees and management) was established with John Shappert who always said that 100 people were willing to take my place right now. If that's not "rule by fear" I don't know what is. The "deal with it or get fired" attitude in the gaming industry looks like it's finally going public. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out :)

I could tell you a WHOLE lot more, but most everyone has covered it already. I just writing because I'm backing up what you said . . . from someone who knows it ALL too well.
The people that know all too well really need to share their knowledge if we want to actually make a change. =) If you'd be willing to talk to a reporter, please email alex.pham@latimes.com. The Times is a well-respected organization and they will preserve your anonymity.
the same thing happened to me when i worked, quite literally for the architect of evil. the architectural firm was notorious for not only grossly underpaying employees, having ridiculous extended hours even on holidays like Christmas, having no bereavement, sick or vacation leave for part-time employees but also having a hateful capacity for insulting its employees... daily.

they called us lazy, slow and lacking in initiative after we started to feel the wear of the constant and ridiculous deadlines. it was worst in the graphic design department where the retention rate for new hires was so low that we ran office pools to see how long the new guys would last at such generous pay as $8 per hour.

i don't know much about the gaming industry, admittedly, but i do recognize the situation and can more than empathize.
I wonder if that's why game companies hire so many disgruntled ex-architects. I'm not kidding. I know of one company that had around forty employees, three of them, disgruntled ex-architects. Perhaps they're accustomed to dealing with abusive work environments.

Re: This sounds like a familiar story


16 years ago

You have choices and in a sense it seems to me that your partner and you chose this lifestyle of masoshism. Perhaps you both feel that the salary is worth shortening your lifspan and possibly the relationship. Maybe our partner likes to be disrespected. Why would you continue such a health-hazardous lifestyle? Is is the money? Security? that's not much if your life is not valued by yourself or your boss.
Yet another person makes a comment without having read and understood the whole post. Such a waste of space. Sigh.


November 12 2004, 18:57:18 UTC 16 years ago

This may've been said already, but the "permanent crunch" approach is pretty close to standard practice in some non-game segments of the software industry, including at least one place I've worked. *cough*MS*cough*
all the more reason for reform if its so common.
Well I found myself with a day off (due to no sub-teaching positions for me today)and as my husband was off to drop the kids at school and go to work(as a programmer). One of his friends from work IM's this link to your post and logged off. Well I'm usually not so nosey but I had to take a look. I think it's terible the coditions your SO works in and I applaud you for standing by your SO,I've known many people's relationship break up for hours like that.
My husband and his friends have reecntly decided to make a game,everything is going well but I know without their breaks and family times,they'd be at eachothers throats. Not to mention they would lack the creative juices to keep moving forward.
I hope your SO finds better or by some power that be the conditions get better and livable.
Best of Wishes to you and your SO.
It sounds to me like the problem is the forced overtime. That being said, I don't feel that EA has any alternative but to work their people very hard. I am in the game industry and I work 10-14 hours a day, six to seven days a week without break. I believe the quality of the product would suffer under any alternative solutions.

Game development and having a life may not be for your husband.

I wrote more about it on my website:
I've been in the game industry for five years, both with EA and with other companies. I have family in the game industry, as well. Of all the projects we have been on, not a single one of them has been finished without at least some crunch time.

But crunch time is not the point! The point is that EA is not paying people for overtime work, as they are required to do by California law. No one is asking to stop crunch practices. No one is even asking that overtime not be "mandatory". All anyone wants is to be paid for the 80 hour weeks they work!

I intend to be in the game industry for many more years. I intend to take many, many projects to market. I fully expect to have at least a few late nights on all of them, a few weekends worked straight through, and even a few more all-nighters the day before demos. I accept this as part of the industry. What I do not accept is not being paid for the time I work. What I do not accept are multi-million dollar companies abusing their employees and using illegal practices to make an extra buck.

Forced overtime I can handle. Just pay me for it for gods sake.
And then shit like this starts happening to you.

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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,…