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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I posted previously with the "Me too!" somewhere before page 20. I have emailed ea_spouse and unionjosh. No one has gotten back to me.

I need to know next steps. Right now, my SO is at the L.A. studio working and earning only time and 1/2 for the first 8 hours and thereafter DT. My mom works in the entertainment industry and on Sunday you are paid DT from the moment you punch your card.

WTF? There are plenty of excellent ideas floating around, but we need to organize ourselves, who is in charge of what?

The class action lawsuit in the works only applies to permanent employees. I dare say they suffer tremendous exploitation but it's the lowly QA team who faces the worst heat. They are turned over within 6 months, the do not get a 'free' gym membership (they pay $20/month). There are no 'perks' for these guys (and the token 'woman' tester).

Who is looking out for them?

EA is feeling the pressure I am sure due to the ripple effect of the original post BUT...her story is not enough.

Has anyone investigated the following...
1. How/Where EA produces the actual games? How much does it cost to make one vs. the $50.00 price tag it carries at Best Buy?

2. What racial and gender discrimination occurs at the studios? What role do most of the women at EA play (you can choose from: HR, administrative assistant or cashier at the cafeteria) What role do most non-asian and non-caucasian employees fulfill? (I noticed a lot of latinos working as cooks and valets and the African-Americans working as security clerks)

Does anyone remember a movie called the "Boiling Room" about fly-by-night stock investors, who sell average joes shares in fake companies? I ask because, the bosses would train the stock brokers and tell them, "Don't pitch the bitch".
Translation: Don't talk to the wife, ask to speak to the man of the house, he won't ask a lot of questions and you can make a bigger faster sell.

So..........perhaps EA has not hired as many female game testers because they may have children, they may ask the hard questions up front, they may have 'female-related' commitments. The sweatshops solution to this is forced birth control, but EA can't do that, so they just don't hire as many female testers.

In order to get quick action and resolution, these are the additional controversial issues we need to bring to light such as the ones mentioned above.
"We" as in those who want to get something done, don't necessarily have the time to form a union, but we can still operate as one, using the same tactics they do.

My email is syzgy99@hotmail.com
well in response to the diversity question at my EA studio there are several female game testers and it seems that there are not more because few girls are interested in the sorts of video games we make at our studio. the few who have been hired have a higher percentage of working out and becomming seasoned and very valuable testers. our studio has pretty good racial diversity in the QA department as well actually (although there are few asians).

as for the rest of the studio, there appear to be people in every department of every ethnic background and there are about 30 or so females working here, most of whom are artists or developers actually. several have left on and returned from maternity leave and have recieved no slack from their superiors about it. what other 'female-related commitments' exist? menstration? that hardly causes most women to miss out on work.

I think its incredibly sexist to assume that only female employees have children they would choose over work. It is also very sexist to say that 'women wouldnt put up with that shit'. Whatever. Its not a gender thing, so dont make it one. the fact is, there are indeed few women who work in the game industry as a whole but this is more likely because there are few women who choose to be developers or who choose to work in games.

one final note about diversity however, i would definitely say that our studio is sorely lacking in homosexuals. there are no openly gay people in the entire studio and homophobic remarks are rampant in every department. this is sad and would be the one area related to diversity that i would like to see (and would eagerly work to) improve at our studio.

Re: diversity and gender


16 years ago

Re: diversity and gender


16 years ago

ground floor

This is what comes of anonymous conversations with internet keyboards. Somebody let me know when all this becomes more than just blather, o.k?

I'll be at my desk accomplishing something of substance...
My wife and I have gone through an employment related lawsuit and thought that we would share some insights and opinions. Feel free to disagree. I will post the name and contact info of our attorneys at the bottom of the message.

It is very difficult to fight a corporation - but not impossible. It could take up years and cost you some money - not nearly what it will cost the employer, though. We estimate that my wife's former employer spent well over a half-million $$$, and that case never got to a courtroom. Our expenses were about $6k. Bear in mind that the cost of not fighting may be higher. Other results of our complaint were: unexpected resignation of the ceo who had been with the company for 25 years, sale of the company, termination of several senior managers, another sale of the company, another ceo resignation.

You will find a carnival of ironies, such as: if the employer would fix things on their own, it would be easier for all involved, faster, and far less expensive. Guess what: they are unlikely fix things on their own. They will lose thousands of $$$ tomorrow to avoid spending $10 today. Don't hold out hope for someone else to fix things. If you won't take on the work, you can't expect anyone else to. Have some courage!

My guess is that EA will not respond to a friendly, reasonable, "let's try to work this out" approach. They WILL respond to what my wife and I call the "2x4 up-side the head" approach - getting an attorney and filing a complaint.

EA will fight you. They will not give up one dime without a struggle. In the end, they may have no choice.

Depending on how you handle it, your abysmal work situation may improve after initiating an action, as long as you can perform and behave professionally. Once the company is on notice of a pending action, they will think carefully before terminating you. If they do terminate you, your case may become stronger.

Behaving professionally is crucial. If you can't control your temper, you will cause damage. A good attitude to have is to honestly want the best outcome for all involved. It is not in EA's best interests to burn and churn employees. I suspect that the real reason for this policy is the limiting of advancement through the company, ie., it protects those who are in control from qualified competition within the ranks. It is not hard to argue that unchallenged and entrenched leadership is not in EA's best interests.

The feeling of helplessness and frustration you are experiencing now may be more stressful than the stress of a lawsuit. You have no control now - filing an action will be the beginning of you taking control.

Have your own house in order - the stress will take it's toll on your marriage, your kids, your time, your attitude. Be prepared to deal with the stress. We used therapy, exercise, and also hard work on the case to deal with it.

For all you EA upper management types out there, consider carefully what you are risking by letting this situation fester. EA will survive even a massive lawsuit, but upper management may not. There are now opportunities for managers to make a name for themselves by being proactive.

The hard thing in an organization is to "get the balls moving" - like stationary balls on a pool table, it takes a fair bit of energy to break the set. Once the balls are moving, it takes very little energy to influence their course. It looks like the balls are in motion at EA; now is the time to act for those who want to influence where they land.

We highly recommend our attorneys:

McMillan and Herrell


Thank you for this information, it's very helpful to read a testament from someone who has actually gone through this.
Congratulations. You just confirmed a comment I made a bit higher on this page when you said:

"I suspect that the real reason for this policy is the limiting of advancement through the company, ie., it protects those who are in control from qualified competition within the ranks."

As I pointed out before, why else would the experienced people be treated worse than the newbies? And BTW, this is not just in video games, but in animation as well. Experience and talent are threats to the status quo. It's time CEO's took an active roll in the hiring process and hired qualified people to work in HR. Neutral parties who can sniff out political games and makeshift, skindeep talent.

I am puzzled as to how upper management has managed to convince a whole board of directors for this long that they have the situation under control. This type of micromanagement HURTS a company. Hurts it's profits, hurts it's reputation, the morale of it's employees.

Catch is, this behavior comes from people who are mentally ill. They only understand one thing: FIGHTING. Unfortunately it's those who are suffering who have to choose whether they are going to tame the beast now or wait until management reacts to this outburst. You can guarantee they will squeeze you harder than ever in the hopes that you haven't the energy left to struggle...

I hope people decide to do what's best for them-- for all of us in the long run.

Well it's up on Penny Arcade now. It appears an email campaign has started bombarding EA's stockholder communications email address with letter's stating they are going to boycott EA products and sell any stock they hold in the company.

You can find the letter and email address here:


and the origional article that appeared on Penny Arcade here halfway down the page:


This is a great idea!

Another possibility...Dressing up as our favorite game characters and staging protests outside of the stores selling games (EB, Toys-r-Us, etc) around the holidays in those cities nearest to EA offices. We could encourage people not to buy games produced in an artistic sweatshop that well, are usually pretty mediocre except for the Sims. Maybe people would like to know that the games they bring home to their kids are made by people who never get to spend time with theirs!!!
Can't imagine how the Christmas parties will go over this year :-P
With the EA boycott letter campaign in full swing we are requesting any of you EA employees with EA corporate VP email addresses please post them here.

Currently boycott letters are being forwarded to stockholdercommunications@ea.com

We would like to broaden the scope with boycott letter's sent directly to EA corporate executive addresses.
Won't take long their emails will overload and bounce. You need a nice postal letter template, a corporate head office address or three and some names. Then you get taken seriously. Stamps are cheap.

BTW, mailing a couple of government officials these letters also couldn't hurt.

Re: Need EA email Addresses


16 years ago

Re: Need EA email Addresses - Here's a few


16 years ago

Re: Need EA email Addresses - Here's a few


16 years ago

Re: EA e-mail made easy


16 years ago

It's weird. This exact thing happened to coal miners at the turn of the century. They were forced to work dangerous hours, were denied their basic human rights, treated illegally and manipulatively by the company that employed them. Their answer? They unionized. They didn't whine about how live was tough and how they couldn't afford it -- these guys stood up and demanded their rights.

Union leaders were SHOT IN THE FACE by Pinkertons, but that didn't stop them. Families were driven into starvation, but that didn't stop them. These people are responsible for the VERY labour laws that EA is breaking today.

But do I see anybody standing up? Development teams walking off the job? No, just a bunch of people complaining that they'll get fired if they try -- that's the point, guys! The situation that EA workers are in right now is WHY unions were invented, for christ sakes. Unethical employers will push the limits and take whatever they can get, relying on fear to keep people quiet, and organization shows them whose labour they're making their money from. Unionization will stop them cold. It doesn't cost much to treat your employees well, not compared to having your entire organization shut down for ONE SINGLE DAY.

Also, it's illegal to fire people for trying to unionize. Get it? Illegal. Against the law. You work for thugs who will fcuk you over in a second. And yet, through all these comments the common thread is a bunch of people whining about how it's too difficult to stand up for something that's clearly in their self-interest, and unlike the coal miners you guys actually have the law ON YOUR SIDE.

Get some balls and organize. This is your life they're taking away.
While I am all for folk taking action, I also do understand why they are all not simply standing up en masse. Right now there are a lot of people polishing their resumes, though, and I think that's a start. When they get a few offers tossed their way they will become more confident about taking action that will jeopardize their income. A lot of people simply do not have the financial security to risk being escorted off the EA "campus" by security guards, which is indeed what has happened to naysayers in the past. Like I said, though, the change will be coming... I suspect a number of people will be leaving EA one way or the other.

Unionization is also simply not a black and white issue. For one thing, from a practical standpoint, unionizing geeks would be like herding cats. It would take a terrific amount of time to get organized, and this without resistance from the bigger companies. The consensus in the industry right now from what I'm hearing is that a union is not the next step... the next step is the lawsuit, and the legal precedent that comes with it. These things will change the entire industry, and none of us, I think, want to leap into the unknown without thinking about what we're getting ourselves into first.

Alongside the lawsuit, there is the potential for the formation of a non-profit watchdog organization. I think that this is a very good idea and am seeing what I can do to help organize its formation. I'll post more details later (right now it's all I can do to halfway keep up with the emails and comments here), but anyone who is interested in this I'd like to ask to email me at ea_spouse@hotmail.com with WATCHDOG or something similar in the subject line.

One concern, and a suggestion


16 years ago

Re: One concern, and a suggestion


16 years ago

The big Problem is that the managers are not lying with one thing, there are billions out there in non-free states like china who are hungry for our jobs. That`s a problem we choose Governments to solve...

That`s the real sarcasm with the globalization- even high level work can be transfered into third world countrys, to minimize costs - we meet on the human level of dictatorships. The Pressure of this rests on the shoulders of Artist who are abused till they ... leave or break.

I know my advice is illegal - take a souvenir with you- Parts of the Team- Knowledge - and leave for better shores...

I wish you the very best from my heart

I used to work for Disney in Orlando, and our department was layed off a little over a year ago. Many animators, and some upper management including art directors were let go. When this happened many ex disney exmployees looked for other art jobs in orlando. It turns out EA was looking and swept many Disney artist in. Ea hired over 15 ex disney animators.
A year has almost gone by and my friend still works for Tiburon. I have had many conversations with him about his compsensation verus disney. The one topic that always comes up is that Disney used to pay him for extra hours put in. We would get compensation for any additional work we did outside our normal 40 hours. Well when he got to Tiburon he was happy with the salary as it was more then Disney, but the bs non paying overtime he has put up with is not worth it. His stocks which are a form of compensation for overtime, are worthless unless he is at EA for four years. He had just put in a month of 80 hours weeks for a video that was soley directed on selling a new product to executives. The video required him to put in 200% extra work hours, only becuase it was a rush to get it out the door. If the video had begun a month ealrier then no problems would have arrived. He was and is still pissed about his decision to join EA. I also know many other ex-Disney people whom feel the same way and many of them are looking to move on. Just my sense as i was fowarded this link from another Disney animator. Good luck to all of my fellow ex disney animators and there new career path............
perhaps the PR about the video game business being the new hollywood was a bunch of nonsense. Is Doom 3 or Madden for that matter going to be remembered and cherished like Snow White in future generations? Clearly not, it will have a novelty factor along with the past console titles of recent years. The video game business loves to boast about how their revenues surpassed the film industry. Reading the posts here from so many people, I don't think that's anything to be proud of. It has come at the cost of lives and sanity. If artists were revered perhaps new content would be heard and new game content would be created to advance the genre. That doesn't seem to be happening either. It looks like producers and EPs control the industry and crack the whip like dictators.
This treatment is disgusting and I, for one, will be boycotting EA products from now on. I hope a significant enough amount of people do so to make EA have to take notice.

Good luck to you and your partner and the rest of the workers.
....I assume if you/your spouse work for EA you must be pretty talented when it comes to game development....

Its a shame that some of that talent will go to waste because of a super stressed mind from never getting any rest. Why not go work for Bungie? I have no clue if that is an option, hell I just play games I don't make them.

But Bungie and Blizzard both make excellent games. And if you/your spouse are as talented as it sounds like you are, then it'd be a gift for us as a gaming comunity to recieve the full blessings of your talent fully devoted to a game that you can comfortably work on.

I'm sorry the evil corporate EA has hurt you and your family. My best wishes and prayers are with you.

I on the other hand, will no longer be purchasing EA games and have forwarded this to many of my game playing pals.
>> Why not go work for Bungie? I have no clue if that is an option, hell I just play games I don't make them.

That's a good one! The Halo2 team just put in at least 6 months of absolutely insane overtime as well to get Halo2 out the door. The whole 7 days a week 14 hours a day routine. They're not exactly spending a lot of time at the office right now though. At EA they would have been thrown right on to another project.


Re: as a gamer...


16 years ago

Re: as a gamer...


16 years ago

Working under similar hours and *crunch* time at his company (its all over the gaming industry in vancouver), my husband was exhausted and cranky after working for months, 7 days a week. He came home one night in the AM after driving into a pole. Our car still has the dents and scrapes. Other times at work, he is so tired, he falls out of he chair. How can the industry keep going after years of this? And flowers from the producer apologizing for *stealing my husband* at valentine's doesn't cut it. Ridiculous!
This is my biggest fear! We need to start keeping a log of the postings that tell the accounts of unfortunate incidents.

1. Car crashes
2. Collapses
3. Suicides

In the 90s there was a story on the Japanese corporate world, help people would just drop in the middle of the street. I guess it happens here every now and then at EA studios too.
Gee I am sorry to hear that! Maybe it's a good thing dh was the only one on his team at EA with no car! But one night on the way to the bus stop-- he encountered a WOLF in the parking lot. Not a coyotee-- a real wild wolf. Good thing all it did was stare him down.

EA Vancouver is in the middle of the woods for heaven's sake. We had to live in the middle of nowhere so he could commute! But boy did they blow a lot on that building.

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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,…