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EA: The Human Story [Nov. 10th, 2004|12:01 am]
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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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 08:31 pm (UTC)

EA Vancouver/Burnaby is no different

For those few that suggest EAX (Vancouver isn't like this)...

Well... It would appear to me your SO is one of the few at EAX that has missed out on the exciting times. EAX is run by the same person, (Schappert) who came from Tiburon, that established the working practices and negative attitude that started this whole chain. Because of his "success" at Tiburon he was brought to EAC to be the GM. Over the last 2 years the OT, work till you drop pressure, and negative aura has increased dramatically.

There is 2 teams that were at EAX, Racing (NFS), and NHL. The NHL team wrapped up their project in September after working 7 days a week, and 10am-10pm hours since May. They were forced to take technology (incomplete and crap) they advised against, and ended up 1 month late, as they told exec they would be if they had to use that technology. It was because of the decision to use this technology that they had to work so much OT.

Their great reward, 9 people were fired, for delivering late or not working enough, and the team was moved back to the Burnaby office, where they aren't even allowed to park in the companies parking lot. The NFS group just wrapped up their title, and it is a fact that a large number of that team were doing 7 days, 12+ hours a day to get there, as "you can't miss your dates".

The house cleaning started with NHL, but it's being finished by people that have had enough and are going elsewhere to find happiness, usually a smaller company like Next Level, Rock Star North, Relic, or other less mammoth operations.

FYI... in Schappert's reign at EAC, almost none of his titles have actually finished when they were supposed to, seems his style doesn't work too well.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 10:07 pm (UTC)

Re: EA Vancouver/Burnaby is no different

Ex-EAC 7+ years of hard work before they shit me out that big glass door a wife and 2 kids. ... 2 days before bonuses.... coincidence .. I don't think so.
They sucked the passion right out me... spit me out when I was burned out.

I lasted longer than the average artist. I watched them come and go over the years....burnout or leave pissed off and bidder every time.

Management were complete snakes in a snake pit. Told to be. The hours were alway there. But the attitudes changed over night. what have you done for me in the last 5 minutes. How do they sleep at night.

It can screw up your mind... I watched friends go into depression, have break downs. lost marriages.
One programmer with 2 kids spent 9 summer finaling hockey and then popped his head up 9 years later looking back realized he missed 9 summers of his kids lives.
That's the conversation that made me look for the door.

You want to leave... make them fire you and walk with the $$ You'll never go back anyway. Make them pay.. so you can lift yourself out of burnout with the paid time off. I did. I'll took my passion somewhere else.

The day I left the knot my stomach did too. I will never work for anyone like them again.

You always have a choice. Plan it. Make the change. Good luck
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what about now ? - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: saintmajik
2004-11-13 08:32 pm (UTC)
i dont really like EA in the first place... now this just makes me want to NEVER play a Madden game again... someone needs to do something about this and i hope EA gets sued right out of business and someone else picks up the Madden franchise...
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 08:33 pm (UTC)

EA Management Motivational Posters

Hi all.

A lot of us in all sections of the industry are really rooting for you EA (and former EA employees.) :)

As a parody to illustrate the mean-spirited way a lot of you have been treated, I made a spoof of some 'Management Motivational Posters'.

(Please take them in the spirit intended, I feel for all the EA employees that have gotten bulldozed.) :)

I've also been gathering info from all available sources that I can and posting them here:

Just click on the 'CLICK HERE' to go to the full post, we had to move it off the main page b/c it is a huge mass of links pertaining to this topic.

(I cross posted this on the Joe Straitiff LJ post)
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From: silvermink
2004-11-13 09:14 pm (UTC)
Sounds familiar to me. I worked there as a playtester on a four-month contract. I only worked the crunch schedule you describe for about a month, but that was more than enough. We got paid overtime, but, frankly, being paid overtime was the only reason we made any decent money; they were paying us the equivalent of a low-end service-industry wage. I make almost twice as much per hour working in a (Canadian) government IT position, and it's several orders of magnitude less stressful.

Most of my coworkers were much the same as me; young, fresh-faced kids who were going to GET PAID to PLAY GAMES!

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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 09:14 pm (UTC)


We are making toys, not curing cancer. There is no reason to have to work these hours.

I currently work for EALA and nothing in these posts surprise me; the only thing that would surprise me is if something changed. On my team we face an average of an 80% turnover rate from project to project. If that is not enough of a wake-up call then nothing will be (I hope it will but hope is all that I have left).

If I had to venture a guess I would say that this thread was started by someone who’s SO works in the RTS division of EALA. All I have to say is that the RTS management team has been repeatedly promoted beyond their abilites and makes the same rookie mistakes that I would expect from small startups. This may also have to do with their inability to keep senior development staff for more than half a project. Our project is decided by producers and EPs who have no idea how un-creative they are. This is the worst kind of design. Design through committee and vision through iteration is the lowest form of direction.

I can only imagine how much money EA spent on getting on the “top 100 best places to work” (#91 to be exact). Or what kind of spin they put on the 91 hour enforced work week. We have interns that are paid hourly; these interns have been pressured to massage their hours that are submitted to the universities so that EA will not be liable (b/c they know they are). This is unethical, immoral and illegal.

We are currently overhauling the executive management team in this studio. Our new GM is making changes that I think will better the employee’s hours and their lives. The only trouble is that the roots of these problems are still there: the VPs Mark Skaggs and Rick Giolito.

As of last night (some where there till 2 am again), we had a team meeting that outlined the next set of projects that we are to tackle. Not only has Mark failed at every attempt to start 2 projects at the same time, now he is attempting his greatest failure ever: 3 simultaneous projects. The first of them is due in 6 months! The next is 12 then 24. We are unable to keep enough senior developers for 1 project let alone 3, with 2 of them on insanely accelerated schedules. Nothing has changed and I am sad to say that I don’t think anything will unless more people speak out.

To that end send your comments, flames, and boycott messages to

This is kind of like therapy for me only free. :)
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 10:01 pm (UTC)


Mark Scaggs sucks. So does Harvard. Why are these two incompetent twits still working at EA?
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 09:15 pm (UTC)

Crunch Time?

If the majority of your project is in a phase of "crunch time" that would be regular time, whereas the super crunch time near release would be the actual crunch time. They can call it whatever they want but it is not crunch time if it's the majority of the time.
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From: ea_spouse
2004-11-13 09:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Crunch Time?

I think you are arguing semantics here that are not really material. The terms I used were the terms given to the team... "pre-crunch" to avoid "final crunch" which then became the "real crunch" when the claimed expiration date for the pre-crunch came and went with no change other than an increase in work hours. Me, I don't really care what you call it. =)
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 09:22 pm (UTC)

Shame on EA!

I was more excited then anyone to get picked up by EA a couple of years ago.
But soon found out it was EVERYTHING described in this thread. I have always worked long hours at jobs because I've been fortunate enough to work on projects that I'm interested in, therefore personally invest myself in. So long hours have always been the norm for me.

That is, until working at the EALA studio and seeing how they guilt, manipulate and threaten people to give up their lives. Their horrible management, lack of direction and bad decisions burn cycles, grinding people down...then expect them, in no uncertain terms, to make up for their bad decisons by working looooooooong hours. People are "pulled aside" for speaking out and being vocal. At first your labeled "not a team player", then a "trouble maker", then finally told to get on the band wagon or to leave. I heard a producer octually say that the only days we're getting off is Thanksgiving, Christmas, & New Year's...everyone will just have to have their holiday in Feb. after the game ships"...oh and if it doesn't ship in Feb. as planned..."no bonus for you!"(Didn't make the fiscal year cut-off..too bad!) Way to motivate people!

DD's and producers over promise all the time...never listening to the people that actually do the work....then grind the workers down so they can look good and get their sweet bonuses (very few of which ever trickle down to the people putting in the insane hours). Everyone I know at EALA is looking for a job elsewhere.
There are so many truly talented people being grind to a pulp as I type this (it's Satuday!) at their spiffy new "campus" in the marsh land. How bad is it? I would trade the lush Playa Vista digs in a heart beat for a crappy office, sane working conditions and a chance to be creative again. Hell, I don't know even who those people are out on the soccer field! Everyone I know has too much work to do! Besides, it's just a big recruiting tool!

They operate their franchises based on fear...fear of demos, fear of franchise reviews, fear of executives, fear of missing dates, fear of lost profits, etc....never out of employee respect or quality! This trickles down to their management styles. There is no air of any pro-active, creative approach to anything they do.

If you're thinking about working at EA...DON'T!!! If you're a recruiter...stand outside their offices and hand out your business card to truly talented people who are getting their souls sucked dout of them...I garauntee you 100% of the people you give it to will contact you sooner or later. If you have any connections to the Labor Board or unions.....get them in here NOW!!! Everyone I know will happily take part. Nobody cares about the fish tanks, the valets, the billiards room, the wood floors, the dinners, the basketball court, the soccer field...and on and on. (Normally, these would all be awesome perks!) we just want FAIR WORKING CONDITIONS!!!!

The irony is, that EA makes "Family" games, but they rip familes apart to make them!
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 09:28 pm (UTC)

Re: Shame on EA!

I believe “RANT IN PROGRESS” has a great idea. Please send your comments, flames, and boycott messages to
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Re: Shame on EA! - (Anonymous) Expand
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Re: Shame on EA! - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 09:24 pm (UTC)
unionize, unionize, unionize

why not work together for our mutual benefit?

the corporations certainly do. lets follow their lead and be SELFISH. no really, peopel need to start being more systematically and strategically selfish. and do it in groups. big, powerful groups. called unions.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 09:30 pm (UTC)
Despite what EA prints in their proxy there have been repeated attempts to unionize.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 09:25 pm (UTC)

I feel sorry....

Dear weblog-Author,
I feel so sorry about what you described how your work-life is.
I am from Germany, 26 y. old, and a PA . I know how it is to work hard when a project comes to a hopefully success in the end.
And afterwards there shines a time of recreation - in my company.
I really understand how disappointing it is not to gain what you have earned after having done great work.
I have heard there are some employees going to go to court against EA - fighting for their rights. I wish they will be successful - and I wish you will be on the side of the winners too.
All the best - I love the EA products and really appreciate what those programmers do to entertain us.
But it has to be under the right circumstances.

I wish you good luck and hope your family supports you the best they can.

Best regards from Germany...

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From: ea_spouse
2004-11-13 09:45 pm (UTC)

Re: I feel sorry....

Thank you for your comment, Eva. Our family has been wonderful. They have of course been greatly concerned for our health and well-being, and we get murmurs of it whenever we talk to them, but they have been incredibly supportive. And quite appalled and angry, I might add. We have a number of family members in the software industry outraged on our behalf, and it's impossible to say what things would be like without their support, but the article was written in large part due to the information and compassion that they were giving us. They have also been saying "get the heck out" for quite awhile. ;)
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 09:47 pm (UTC)

Health: Emotional and Physical

It's sick and wrong when employees feel that they have to take mood enhancers/anti-depressants just to make it through. I think it'd be interesting to see what EA employees have in their medicine cabinets--and what any therapy bills are (if they've got time to see a therapist). I'm imagining a lot of Prozac, Wellbutrin, and other, similar, prescriptions.

The man that I love has been working in games for years--and has consistently gotten screwed out of time, money, and any semblance of a life outside of work. His health has suffered (pre-diabetes, weight gain, depression, stress, emotional instability). He's moved across country and across continents, sacrificed time with his beloved grandfather, his family, his friends, and me. He's gone from being a caring, generous, giving man to one who believes that there's no one more important than himself. That sense of alienation and isolation isn't healthy. It isn't right. I see his humanity being stripped away by an industry more attuned to raising a buck than remembering that, in the end, it's people who really matter. It makes me cry--because I know what he can be.

Perhaps we could remind the stockholders/poobahs that it doesn't matter how many little, green pieces of paper that they amass--they're still going to die. Ain't no one, no how, on their deathbeds, ever wished they spent more time at the office.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to changing the situation is the collusion of the employees into the culture of machismo. It's like the attitude of young residents in hospital. It's all one-upmanship. So, they say, you worked 72 hours straight? Pussy. I worked 117, with a hernia and an exploding spleen. I've heard conversations like these among games people--from all facets of the production process. This isn't limited to programmers, or artists, or QA, or anyone in the business.

If only we could remind people that there are more of them than there are of the poobahs that sap their lives. If only we could remind people that a collective voice rings more loud and more true than lone voices in the wilderness.
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(Deleted comment)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 10:07 pm (UTC)
Well, I didn't elect Bush. I hazard a guess that since game developers on the whole tend to be in their early to mid-20's, that the vast majority voted for Kerry (if they voted).

But here's an idea: how 'bout you find something actually relevant to contribute to the conversation, hmm?
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Moron... - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 10:06 pm (UTC)
You've hit another mainstream media source:

We all need to keep doing what we can to get the word out. This needs to keep spreading, so that the brass at EA will sit up and realize it's in their best interest to do something -- or they're going to get hit hard by a boycott or outraged public sentiment.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 10:24 pm (UTC)
More information on how EA does business:

"The Studios at Electronic Arts (EA) have future staffing needs for more than 1,000 new hires each year, and EA would like to fill 75% of these positions with university graduates."

They're flat out saying they want to get fresh (and stupid) meat into the office. To hell with anyone that has any experience (and that might dare to want a real life).

You poor recent graduates -- don't do it!
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-14 12:03 am (UTC)

This is a very important observation

After reading through the document, I think it is clear that your job isn not going to get a lot better over there.

EA wants to recruit 75% of it's workforce from college, because even 3 college students that you can burn are cheaper than an industry veteran.

ea_spouse, I think you and your spouse should plan ahead and get out of there, it is obvious that in their business model, educated and experience people like you and your spouse are not wanted anymore and they'll just burn you until you break and quit on your own.

Maybe work 50 hours a week, document each and every tiny tidbit, every review, question and document every reprimand and let them fire you ... and then put them to court and publicity. I don't think you will have trouble finding a job in the industry after that (aka being branded), most of the companies have Ex EA employees already and word is spreading fast.
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[User Picture]From: rishiymister
2004-11-13 10:36 pm (UTC)
Dont destroy EA's reputation! I haven't got my copy of 'The Sim's 2' yet... ¬¬;;
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[User Picture]From: bane_keldare
2004-11-13 10:42 pm (UTC)
...That sounds incredibly illegal to me. I don't know MUCH about Labor and Industries, but I thought that the three benefits described above were required to give out for anyone working over 40 hours per week.

I could be horribly wrong though. Still, a nice chat with a lawyer wouldn't hurt this any.
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[User Picture]From: the_scumbag
2004-11-13 10:55 pm (UTC)

You'd think so...

>>That sounds incredibly illegal to me. <<

If it were illegal, it would have gone to court already, and EA would have lost.

Maybe its a sign it ain't illegal, then?
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