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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Stress takes a tremendous toll on the human body. The Brain is a chemical reaction and if you hope to exercise any kind of creativity you have to treat it right. That means sleeping at night eating healthy and exercising. If you are working more than 45 hours a week you won't have time for any of those things. It's a fact. Creating artwork and programming for video games is difficult work. It takes energy and hard work to make it happen. Companies that ignore these facts are not acting in anyones interest, not even their own. How can anyone expect to come up with innovative ideas while physically exhausted?



You will experience symptoms of stress if you are working in a video game company. You may find yourself going to the bathroom frequently, Having headaches, or possibly self medicating with alchohol and or medication.

Don't fool yourself you can have a heart attack. You can get sick. You can die. It has happened to other people in the industry. It can happen to you.

Ask yourself is it worth being on an SSRI just so that you can have a cool job. What the management at EA is doing is called brainwashing. It is nothing different from Jim Jones getting his cult members to drink poisoned cool aid. It's not worth it. Either join the Union. Get a different job. Or leave the industry.

Good post! It may seem dramatic, but the reality is that our health needs to be our bottom line. It's the one thing that money cannot buy, folks! There is abundant scientific evidence to support claims that these employers are knowingly endangering the health of their employees. If the law upholds that abuse, then the laws need to be adapted to acommodate the kind of jobs that have been created since the laws were created. Widespread computer use is a new thing and it is being widely abused. WAKE UP EVERYBODY!! PROTECT YOURSELVES NOW WHILE YOU STILL HAVE YOUR HEALTH AND YOUR YOUTH!!

http://forums.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=1213869 (http://forums.fark.com/cgi/fark/comments.pl?IDLink=1213869)
I should also mention that the games industry has little respect for experience. What the games industry runs on is youthful energy. It loves to exploit 19 year old programmers who work 10-12 hours a day, get paid less than the standard wage for programmers in other industries, and don't know squat about software engineering principles.

Part of the problem is that our industry labors under the illusion that it is "like Hollywood". Film producers are usually able to turn out a film on time and within budgetary limits. But there's a difference -- film producers don't have to re-invent the camera each time they do a production. There are no "stable" technologies in the computer games industry, and the average useful life of a game "engine" is about two years.
Personally, I've long looked upon EA as a bad company. They've taken great studio's like
Westwood and Maxis and turned them to producing crap - very fast. I want to put the power of game developing back into the creative minds that -make- the games. These last few years have seen a heavy decline in the quality of new games that come out, usually a new one is just a clone of something else with a new story slapped on. It's been a long time since I've seen a truly original game, and I hope that I can do something to see the days of innovation again.

I work for a company currently working at providing a solution to the corporate machine approach to game development. The idea is to create an extensible game engine - something that would handle an RPG as well as an RTS, sports game, or deathmatch special. The initial development is done by a closed team, but the eventual product would be open source, were individuals can contribute both to code modules and to an "ever expanding cache of free content" such as models, textures, etc. The engine would be free for non-commercial use and provide client/server support for internet based games. For commercial use, development would be free, and "distribution" licenses would only have to be acquired once a project is finished, and shipping.

The major driving force behind it is that it is -dynamic-. Everything can be updated and changed without having to rewrite half the code. The code behind the core system that handles this is a little complex, but it makes writing modules much much easier. And we hope that the "community support" approach can help keep the engine at the top levels of technology, much the way that current open source projects such as Linux keep themselves updated. We want to create a game engine that isn't outdated in a year, or two years, or possibly ever. We've been calling this approach the "zero budget game," While not exactly true, it's a phrase that’s kept us moving with the project.

Hopefully, with this engine, we'd be giving small development companies the tool they need to be able to create games and undercut the large corporations. We've considered working out licensing model to favor small teams, but that’s undecided as of yet.

We are open to any suggestions anyone may have, our goal is to ultimately even the battlefield for the small dev vs. large corporation (or possibly even make it easier for the small devs), and we'll consider any comments or suggestions on how we can do that.

I am a gamer. Not the sort of gamer that EA and relative companies target and I am proud of it. In fact apart from Desert Strike and the first FIFA on Megadrive, I have never enjoyed playing a single 'game' pumped out of the licence-based powerhouse of EA. Even then I was not impressed at these two games. I just rented then for a day or so. Personally I dont care about sleak graphics and licenced crap. I like innovation, immersive-subtle control and passion in games. I refuse to give my money to EA! Their games are not even worth downloading...

EA is evil because its all about the money. It doesnt give a f**k about how games are or should be made. Where is the intelligence put into games by companies like SEGA, CAPCOM or ATARI in their golden days??? -to name a few that cross my mind- That is how I understand evil EA as a gamer. It screwed the gaming world and it continues to do so. I see now that this evil is reflected on its employing policies.

But nothing will change... People, in majority are idiots. EA just wanna make MONEY out of them! The pure gamer does not exist anymore. Games went mainstream and gamer turned to a mere consumer-idiot. It not about innovation anymore. Its all about demographics and marketing.


Re: Possible solution?


16 years ago

That’s the horrible trend in big business today. No longer are they concerned with the lives and well being of the people that keep the company running. Everyone is expendable. They waste millions of dollars a year training new employees to replace the ones they burnt out, yet refuse to re-direct any of that money toward keeping the hard working talent they already have. My husband comes home every day exhausted. The weekends (when he gets one) are used to catch up on sleep. We have a 4-month-old daughter that he barely gets to see, but because of her and the exponentially decreasing job market, he can’t leave. They have him by the balls.
People on top realize that they are barely holding on to their market by the skin on their teeth. In this competitive business we call entertainment, experience = knowhow. The last thing upper management wants is to be replaced. That's why experience and talent are not rewarded or encouraged.

What can we do about this? Any thoughts?

Maybe if the consumers were aware of this problem and encouaged to choose ethical companies as opposed to being conditioned to selecting the biggest brand names...could that ever work? I remember when they started putting "dolphin safe" labels on tuna... seems to me it made a difference.
So perhaps a
"No developers were harmed in the making of this game" sticker?

What about forming an organization (or utilizing one that already exists) to police the corporations and look out for the "artists" much the same way that *cough* RIAA and MPAA *cough* are "supposed" to look out for thier artists in thier industries?

We've got the ESRB (Entertainment software ratings board, http://www.esrb.com/ ) Maybe we should get an additional rating for how many developers were treated inhumanly during the making of the game?

Madden 2008 - rated TS for Teen game created under Slave labor.
The Sims 3 - rated TS+ for Teen game created under Significant Slave labor.
Tony Hawk 12 - rated TS- for Teen game created under No Slave labor

have one for "limited" slave labor and "excessive" possibly?

Re: I concur, and here's why!


16 years ago

Re: I concur, and here's why!


16 years ago

If someone started a not-for profit 'association of ethical arts' brand that companies could purchase to put on their product labels, would any of you be interested in paying membership fees? If you consider that there are millions of production artist in the world, and if everyone gave a buck or two, we could afford advertizement in all the major magazines and newspapers... to educate the public and have them make the right choices.

Any thoughts?
From: Andie Clarke - Founder, Planetschnoogie.com

EA Spouse - Thank you for bringing these serious issues to the forefront. I am convinced you remain annonymous to protect your SO which we all respect without question.

There are solutions to the immediate issues - but to make a change in the industry overall is to change the mindset of the Corporate entities and thereby establish accepted Codes across the board.

Personally a Union is not the answer. A Union drives a continually separation between sides.

Bringing both sides together to form a unique partnership with accepted guidelines and codes of conduct may be a better solution overall.

This will be a long process - but one not in vein should the outcome prove better working conditions and job satisfaction overall with a bottom line the Corporations are open to accept.

Breaking down the key points - if you are game - we can devise a "White Paper" of what solutions can be presented to overcome these obstacles.

In fact - there are Good Game Companies that may Endorse this "Code" from the gate. Think of it this way - wouldn't you as a Big Game Corporation want to be viewed as part of the solution and not part of the problem? It is in their best interest to be involved.

There are Non-Profits or Associations whom can offer support in one way or another - but I have not yet found one that specifically focuses in this area. Does anyone know of any they can share with the group?

At the risk of being flamed again for offering help - I am willing to volunteer my time to advocate on this cause.

If those serious about making a difference - contact me off-board at andie@devastation3.com.

You as a collective can change this situation for the better - but again - it is going to take a lot of research, writing, presentations, etc.

Be prepared for door slamming rejections, nay-sayers who are stuck in antiquated processes and everything else that will slam you in the face along the way.

With a solid solution that is a win/win for all sides - you cannot lose.

Let me know -

Andie Clarke

Re: additional thoughts...


16 years ago

Wow...my obsession with Madden 05 hss greatly diminished
You made gamespot news.

And then fark.com.

And a friend of mine who had been contacted by EA has just been informed about this situation.. and mostly like will utter the words "fuck that" or something to that extent.

Hope things work out for you and your husband. :)

One of my favourite company to hate strikes again. This heart wrenching tale is hardly unique or surprising to hear about in regards to EA. I'll ask all the gamers I know to check this out, and put in their comments on it. Maybe with enough attention, someone in the media or the government will notice it and do something to expose EA's illegal business practices.

Crap like this is just one of the things that inspired me and a few other gamers to try and found our own indy studio, to offer something better. Unfortunately it's not easy to start a small studio these days and remain independant, thanks to the large publishers and their love of putting them down so they can acquire their employees for the software factory meat grinders.

(By the way, you can find out exactly how much Larry Probst and other executives and board of directors members make by doing some research. Yahoo Finance is a good place to start searching. As a publicly traded company, all such information is obtainable in their shareholder reports and annual and quarterly financial reports.)

Here's hoping that other indy studios meet with better luck than we did, so there's alternatives to working for the Big Publishers. I know I can't be the only game designer around who's more interested in art and entertainment than maximized profits. Sadly, few companies these days seem to care about looking after their employees. Had I the cash to keep going, I'm sure I wouldn't have much trouble attracting talent simply by offering a better work enviroment that doesn't revolve around screwing the guys that do the actual work over at every turn.

- d.t. of Wraith Games

...for posting and sharing information that I wish I had the courage to long ago! I am an EA Spouse and my SO is like many--a gamer geek who thought that a job in the industry would be a dream job. What started off as an exciting opportunity has become a drain on his creative energy and passion and a strain on our well-being.

My SO came to EA after they purchased and then shut down the small but successful gaming company in our town. When EA first purchased the company, folks were pretty excited. They hoped that it would bring financial stability and a chance to really "make it" in the gaming industry. While they did get ergonomic chairs and new computers, they also began to spend 10-12 hours a day at work. I knew one guy who spent many nights sleeping at the office during the launch of EA.COM on a roll-out mat in someone's cubicle.

To cope with the long hours and the intense pressure, many of the people we knew would head to the bars after work and drink themselves silly. After a super intense "crunch" period followed by rampant drinking, one of our friends collapsed outside the EA office and had a seizure. I am not making this stuff up...

When the opportunity to relocate came up, we hoped things would be better--that maybe a project happening in two time zones was just too difficult to manage. This was not the case. The days were even longer than before. My SO was constantly at work. If he was lucky enough to get a day off every now and then, he usually just spent it sleeping and trying to get his energy up before going back in. Sure there were perks--seated chair massage at work, dinner delivered to your cubicle, occasional bonuses (no overtime) once the project was complete--but none of that could compensate from the time people were missing with their friends, family, and taking care of themselves. To placate us disgruntled SOs, EA gave each of us a $50 gift certificate.

Wow thanks! This totally makes up for the fact that since May, my SO has only had two weekends off and we haven't taken a vacation since November 2003. The ironic thing is, my SO has tons and tons of paid time off and was recently given more time at the end of a project. The sad thing is, he will never have the flexibility to be able to take it. My SO recently started receiving some of his personal mail at work because he doesn't have time to keep up with it at home (he's very organized) and we only live 30 minutes away from the office. I have no idea what we would do if we had children...

I have often joked that all of us SOs should stage a protest. Maybe we should bring our laundry, dinner fixings, pets, children, etc., to the office and stage a sit in. Maybe Larry Probst can help me do some Christmas shopping or clean out the litter box while my SO slaves away making him richer. If EA really expects their employees to live at work for fear that they will be fired, that their jobs will be outsourced, that they can be easily replaced, etc., then maybe we should just give them what they want. The offices there are pretty spacious and it would be cheaper than paying rent for a place my SO barely gets to visit!

My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE Local 16. We represent cg workers at ILM and we are part of a international union that represents workers in film and TV in the US and Canada. If your SO would like to take some action to change these conditions I am at 415-441-6400 or unionjosh@local16.org
He can remain anonymous if he wants.
Just a heads up, Blizzard is no more a standalone studio.
Many people have brought this up. Although Blizzard is not technically standalone, Vivendi doesn't have a stranglehold over them the way other big companies do over their studios. Blizzard runs Blizzard because they make huge piles of money and they would get very cranky if Vivendi pulled anything with them. I still count them as a "standalone" because of the size of their reputation and product. They routinely prove that they will not tolerate creating an inferior product for the sake of corporate deadlines; this is not a luxury that nearly any other studio in the industry has.


November 14 2004, 20:49:06 UTC 16 years ago

Since there are so many collaborative stories (and being there as an ex-EA employee), the question is what to do. We have a class action lawsuit under way and the press is picking up on the story. I would suggest to look into lobbying EA's institutional investors. It is not in their best interest to see a long legal battle and they may be able to pressure EA to put a more competent management team in place. Calpers was succesfull in changing the make-up of the board of directors and the executives at Midway (althought, they only did this after the wake of the Enron scandal).


November 14 2004, 21:03:22 UTC 16 years ago

I see a lot of people saying "Why don't you complain to your manager?" or "Why not just refuse to not work those hours?"

The thing a lot of you don't get is that most people working for EA are under an "at will" contract. That means that EA can fire you for any reason, with absolutely no explanation. Refuse to work those hours this week? Next week you find yourself fired - no explanation, and they don't have to give you one.

That's why so many people are afraid to speak up or do anything. I've seen it myself more than once, where a coworker complained about hours. He was gone within a few weeks, fired, and escorted out of the building. Something like that sets a great example to the rest of us; we know to keep our mouths shut, and our heads down.

I'm looking for a new job myself at this very moment.
You are absolutely right. As long as you are an "at will employee" you will be at the company's mercy. Are you going to be an at will employee at the companies you are currently applying for?
Maybe you need to stop being at will and start having some real protection. i.e. a collective bargaining agreement. My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer for IATSE Local 16. We represent cg workers at ILM, where workers are not "at will" and do get paid OT. If you want to change EA and start to change the industry, I am at 415-441-6400 or unionjosh@local16.org


November 14 2004, 21:08:41 UTC 16 years ago

I worked on a 16-person engineering team at EA Tiburon. Whenever we had to work late during crunch times

Er, wait, let me start over:

I worked on a 16-person engineering team at EA Tiburon. Every night we worked late, and most nights at least 2 or 3 wives/girlfriends would 'hang out' in the office. They would watch tv or play gameboy. It was like a little club, except they didn't talk to each other. They just sat quietly by their wild-eyed computer programming partners. And I liked it because sometimes they brought in cookies and cakes. And I had forgotten what girls looked like, so that was good too.
it would be pretty cool if more tib spouses got together and had a support group ;)

also, i have been guilty of bringing in treats for my SO and the troups. its fun :) i feel bad for all the long hours they force you guys to go through and like being able to cheer you up.

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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,…