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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November 13 2004, 22:46:25 UTC 19 years ago

This, as most people know, is not uncommon in a _lot_ of games studios. The previous company I worked for actually added overtime in to the basic time line of a project, assuming you would work even longer when the game was in trouble due to the fatigue of the workers!

Im sure EA is being picked on, but due to its size is a worth while target. If this thread does anything (and after 1600+ replies it should!), bringing a company like EA to its knees would send a mammoth message the the games industry...
My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for the IATSE Local 16. We represent cg workers at ILM and I am now working on unionizing EA. As you say EA will send a message to the industry, but it is important to change more than just EA. If you are interested please call me at 415-441-6400 or write to unionjosh@local16.org

Deleted comment

I think it's definately worth considering. If you want to make games for the love of games, you can do that now. There are so many resources and so many tools, mod projects and open-source engines, and Torque. Several years back, the resources for a would-be game developer outside the industry were pure shit. Basically if you weren't working on a game at a studio, there was no way to see how it's really done. But that has changed so much. There's so many great resources for game development now that even people in the industry have bookshelves full of stuff they haven't had time to read and digest yet. Believe my when I say that there's more information on the shelves at Borders these days than there is in the head of 99% of game developers. Not to discount the importance of being able to USE that knowledge (I'd be out of a job otherwise), but the difference is that it's there now for those who want to use it. That simply wasn't the case 5 years ago. You'll have to set your sites a little lower than than competing with WoW or Half-Life2, but there's plenty of fun to be had.

I've worked in games, and had a good experience and reasonable schedules. And I'm heading back next week. But long-term, I realize that unless this industry grows up, I will be foolish to stay rather than move on to another industry, or another job within software that gives better compensation for work. With a 40 hour, low intensity work-week in a mature industry I could have the time to make money, take care of my physical and mental health, have a social life, AND work on personal projects of my choosing. So what if I spend 10 or 20 years working on my magnum-opus that never ships? At least the time spent on it will be mine, and given by choice.

I think a big problem with a lot of the guys going into games is that they are cerebral, introverted, passive people to begin with. Take your health seriously guys! Take it from a formerly corpusculent nerd who finally got serious. All that meat is still a part of you, and if it's not functioning properly your brain won't either. I know you guys are used to working at the expense of your bodies, but it will catch up with you. I was lucky enough to see the handwriting on the wall and wake up, but I fear many of you won't until you're in big trouble.
No need to ask Larry Probst what his salary is...its public record:

His salary is: $ 1.45 Million, and he has exercised $ 22.78M in stock options.
It's not a question of legality. It's a question of right and wrong.

When it's starts pissing off the spouses you've got yourself a BIG PROBLEM. We females are a patient lot...but push us too far and you get what you're asking for. We protect our own- our families, our children, our men.

Laws will be created. Especially to cover latrine-like loopholes that allow scumbags to get away with way more than their share of shit.
>>It's not a question of legality. It's a question of right and wrong.<<

It has to be a question of legality, or nobody important'll give a lick. Right and Wrong are subjective.

Re: Nonsense.


19 years ago

I've worked in software all my life and although I've never been in the games industry I can certainly identify with the extreme working conditions you describe. People employed in software development are often young (under 30) and not terribly knowledgable about the laws surrounding working practices. This makes it easy for unscrupulous employers to force people to routinely work ridiculous hours. I've seen it happen on quite a few occasions, and also been on the receiving end myself. In one of the jobs I had I was working such long hours (often working through weekends) and under such stressful conditions that I felt if I carried on much longer I was going to ruin my health, so I just quit and found a new job.

The solution is better education. Here in the EU there is the working time directive which is intended to protect people from these sorts of abusive working conditions. http://www.eubusiness.com/guides/working-time-directive
My new official policy is to pirate any EA-produced game that I want. They will forever get NO more of my money. Count on it. Some may say that this only hurts the employees already being mistreated, but I disagree. If they sell fewer games, they can afford fewer programmers, which in turn, means they can't produce as many games, thus fewer people get hurt in the long run. They can't ramp up the pressure any more than they already are.

Has anyone considered a class action lawsuit against them? Sure, they can hold you to a number of hours per "exempt" status, but they cannot knowingly endanger your health in doing so. If numerous people actually having their health affected, documented by physicians, OSHA MUST have something to say, if not the Department of Labor and, naturally, any number of lawyers that would salivate over the thought of suing an entity like EA.

Fight the bastards. Don't just walk away with only a few harsh words. Companies don't learn unless it costs them large sums of money.
So I suppose, during the recent Safeway strike, you also walked in and took whatever items you want from there without paying for them?

Don't use this to justify your illegal actions. If you don't want EA products, don't buy them.

ea_spouse has a legitimate issue, and now you've tarnished it. Nice job.
I've worked there... Game companies depend on Chirstmas deadlines. If they are paying an average salery of $50k per developer on a 20 man team, that's pretty easy math. Their cost in human resources is about $1 million/year to pay the saleries and benefits of the entire team. Based on the way things were when I left, I'm betting most projects take well under a year to complete.

So EA has invested in marketing, advertising, art, sound (general non-dev production cost), I'd guess the average cost to make a game is $3-5 million. The shipped product will likely make anywhere from $20-$45 million gross during a Christmas season.

Walk out at a critical point, make it so a valuable product doesn't ship. This will hurt EA and give them something of substance to lose.


I just inquired with the AFLCIO on how to start a union in the video game development industry. Contact them. Refer them to this thread. FYI: if you try to start a union at your workplace and you are fired because of it the AFLCIO will sue on your behalf.


Sustained Reduced Sleep Can Have Serious Consequences
National Institutes of Healthby Linda Cook, NINR

In a study on the effects of sleep deprivation, investigators at the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects who slept four to six hours a night for fourteen consecutive nights showed significant deficits in cognitive performance equivalent to going without sleep for up to three days in a row. Yet these subjects reported feeling only slightly sleepy and were unaware of how impaired they were. The research article, "The Cumulative Cost of Additional Wakefulness: Dose-Response Effects on Neurobehavioral Functions and Sleep Physiology From Chronic Sleep Restriction and Total Sleep Deprivation," appears in the March issue of the journal SLEEP.

According to Principal Investigator David Dinges, "This is the first systematic study to look at the prolonged cognitive effects of chronic sleep restriction lasting for more than a week. The results provide a clearer picture of possible dangers to people who typically are awake longer on a regular basis," he explained, "including members of the military, medical and surgical residents, and shift workers. Reduced cognitive abilities can occur even with a moderate reduction in sleep."

Cognitive performance deficits included reduced ability to pay attention and react to a stimulus, such as when driving, or monitoring at airports. Other deficits involved impairment of the ability to think quickly and not make mistakes, and a reduced ability to multi-task — to hold thoughts in the brain in some order while doing something else.

Dr. Patricia A. Grady, Director of the National Institute of Nursing Research, NIH, which provided primary funding for the study, said, "These findings show that while young adults may believe they can adapt to less than a full night's sleep over time, chronic sleep deprivation may seriously affect their performance while they are awake, and they may not even realize it."

Investigators also found that to prevent neurobehavioral defects from accumulating, the average person needs 8.16 hours of sleep during a 24-hour day, although there were differences among individuals in their need for sleep.

The study included 48 healthy individuals aged 21 to 38 who were divided into four groups — those who were allowed to sleep up to either 8, 6 or 4 hours per night during a 24-hour period for two weeks, and those who were deprived of sleep for three consecutive 24-hour periods. The experiments were conducted in a lab with constant monitoring. When awake, participants could watch movies, read, and interact with lab staff but could not have caffeine, alcohol, tobacco or medications.

In addition to NINR, other NIH funding was provided by the National Center for Research Resources and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. NIH is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. A grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research supported total sleep deprivation data used in the study.

Whenever management runs rough-trod over the employees, and every single employee feels that they are taken advantage of, the employees need to use the power of their numbers. Unionize.

There are numerous labor unions looking to unionize white collar jobs in light of a decrease in blue collar jobs in this country. Contact some. The equivalent positions in the movie industry (modelers, texture artists, animators) are already unionized. At worst, EA will realize that they've taken the situation too far, and lighten up.

I love the film industry, because I feel it's fairly balanced. While they don't have Unions, they have Guilds (Writers Guild, Actors Guild, etc..) where the principle is "we protect our own". I think Guilds have proven more successful than Unions (notice all the steel work was eventually sent offshore, in part due to unrealistic union demands). Unions create power trips.

I do think now is the time for all software developers and engineering to join togeather and form a programmers guild. The problem is getting corporations to cooperate and not offshore even more work.


“It is important to remember that sleep deprivation does have detrimental effects, which we sometimes forget as we push workers, students and others to perform even when they are functioning with a lack of sleep,” said Gillin.

The researchers speculate that the brain is adversely affected by sleep deprivation because certain patterns of electrical and chemical activity that occur during sleep are interrupted, impeding the brain’s ability to function normally.
Hello -

If you are serious about looking for other work - WAIT until you have another offer on the table - IF and only IF your health and other mental factors can hold on. :)

There are many reputable, decent, fair teams looking for seasoned talent. Please, you don't have to settle.

The choice is yours.

When seeking out a new opportunity; due diligence in researching the company, teams and other factors are critical. You certainly don't want to jump from one nightmare to another.

If you are serious about a change, find a recruiter who will pro-actively work for you in a confidential manner in seeking out a new opportunity.

Unless extreme circumstance prevents otherwise, try to obtain at least two professional written references specific to your core responsibilities and accomplishments before departing.

Those whom are serious about making a career change feel free to contact me andie@devastation3.com or visit http://planetschnoogie.com for more information.

Should I not be of assistance for whatever reason, or you wish additional options, I am happy to refer at least three or four recruiting companies.

All the best to you guys!

Andie Clarke

P.S. I cross posted the original article here: http://www.pocketmatrix.com/forums/viewforum.php?f=12

...and they're circling!

Re: the sharks smell blood in the water...


19 years ago



19 years ago

Re: apologies


19 years ago

He would probably tell you to go to hell and laugh at you, then light his cigar with a hundred-dollar bill. Isn't America wonderful?
Now it's America that's at fault. What ridiculous flame bait!

Re: EA Games' CEO


19 years ago

Rockstar Games is worse!


19 years ago


November 14 2004, 00:07:45 UTC 19 years ago

Germany's most influencial technology magazine has picked the story up as well:

http://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/53216 (german).
Let's not get off track here folks.

This is about a very new industry fleecing thousands of employees and maintaining a nice wholesome image to their leaders while sweeping their sins under the rug. And someone just lifted the rug when the health inspector popped in for a visit.

Of course greedy, unethical bastards are going to get away with as much as they can before government has a chance to legislate them into some kind of decency. Thank God there are countries in this world where these legislative changes can occur.

All that anti- U.S. crap won't wash here.

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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,…