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?



This article is offered under the Creative Commons deed. Please feel free to redistribute/link.

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If this is true, I will certinly think twice before buying and EA game for a long time.
It's sad to see all this whining here.

No one can FORCE you to work overtime. If you don't like it, you can quit at the first opportunity and find a job at the multitude other top tier game companies that treat their employees well.

Be a man. Tell your boss to go f&$# himself and get a better job. If you're really a bad-ass game programmer like you sound you are, finding a new job should be no problem.
You are clearly a moron. Have you even READ any of the other posts? It's so much more complicated than "they can't force you to do it." Stop simplifying and start THINKING.


16 years ago

"I look at our situation and I ask 'us': why do you stay?"

You know exactly why you stay. You stay because EA pays most of their developers in excess of 100K a year. Because working for a big name company like EA fills your ego and your resume and makes girls wet. Because you dig the nice workstations, the posh offices, and the cushy gyms and volleyball courts.

If you don't think it's all worth it, then just quit. No one is going to feel sorry for you EA guys.
If you EA guys quit, can I have your jobs? I've been unemployed for 2 years and would trade my left nut to get an opportunity to get into EA. Even if I have to work 90hrs/week I can just work for a year and then quit, at least I'll have EA on my resume.

Re: OH boo hoo hoo


16 years ago

If I worked for a place that was so unashamedly raping me, then I'd make moves to leave. Get everything lined up, then explain to them upon leaving that rape of a sexual nature is against many many laws - not least of which human morality! And that this is no different, a job is a symbiotic relationship where overall the company "wins" because they take the risks, and can afford to do so. That does not mean that they can abuse their staff like this. It's a very foolish idea on EA's part - very much like all the outsourcing that is happening right now (some of which is arguably "beneficial" but most of which isn't in the long run) - the problem is that it will take a long time for the results to truly filter through. Anyone noticed how the quality levels of EA games has been dropping recently? Surely it's no surprise? Just like many have said here programming in not like stuffing boxes, where even there it's a crappy thing to do to your staff, but the effects on an intellectually challenging role are catastrophic over time. Vote with your feet, then clearly state why you left to HR, management etc...
Whoever wrote this, I hope to God you never get raped, but if you do I'm sure the difference between it and being asked to work extra hard for a job you are comfortably compensated for (including some of the best benefits in the industry) will become a lot clearer.
I am an ea spouse as well. I spoke to my mother-in-law who is really well versed in labor issues and she suggests the following -- for those of us who want to take some action with this and not let this web post and our related comments be the end of things rather than the beginning.

The posts on here detailing what we've all been through are a great start, but most of us are posting anonymously (for obvious reasons) to detail all we've been through and continue to go through. It is great to vent, but I think what we all want is ACTION -- including back pay and future committment on the part of EA that they will pay their employees for the time they are working.

What we need to do is start a document to forward to labor officials with our statements in order to get them to open a case and start an investigation. We can do so using anonymous emails -- In other words, I don't need you to submit your real name and contact information, as long as official labor reps have a way to contact you (via that anonymous email address).

For starters, I am taking the testimony of my husband and I, along with anyone else who works for EA and wants to contribute their testimony via an email. I then plan to submit this document to the proper California labor officials (since that is where EA is headquartered) in hopes of getting them to open a case to review EA's labor practices. The only thing that I ask is that you include in your email, in addition to your story, is which EA studio you or your SO work at. The only reason for this is so that when I submit the paperwork, I can separate the testimonies by city location.

You can contact me at united_we_stand@hotmail.com

Many thanks!
Thanks for this proactive stance. It's refreshing.

I am wondering though, what if they only change their practices in California?

Maybe you can post step by step procedure here as a roadmap to others should they want to do likewise. I understand conditions are the same in Canada as well... and also in come other companies, some of them not even games related.

We've had a whole lot of interesting discussion here!

Re: Let's do something about this...


16 years ago

It's easy for them to have pulled out the 93rd postion on the best to work for list. When a company makes it remotely easy to work on the 'overhead' or 'indirect' side of the company (the people who do HR, Accounting, Contracts etc...) then the compay looks good to the outside. If you give the 'office people' free coffee and water and a few smoke breaks they'll sing the praises and deny all of the bad claims coming from 'those crazy programmers'. It's awful the way EA traats their programmers, and it's awful that it most likely will continue... to the detriment of our passion of video gaming and programming
It's not just the programmers. It's also the artist (animators, modelers) and game testers.

Why is it...


16 years ago

Re: Why is it...


16 years ago

FairPay — Filing a Complaint for Back Wages Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Who Can File a Complaint?

Any non-exempt employee covered by the FLSA who believes that he or she has not been paid the required federal minimum wage (currently $5.15 per hour) or overtime (1½ times the regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of 40 in a work week) may file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Where Can a Complaint be Filed?

A complaint may be filed by mail or in person at any WHD District Office.
When Should a Complaint be Filed?

The FLSA contains a two-year statute of limitations (three-years for willful violations). This means that any part of a back wage claim which was earned more than two years before a federal court lawsuit is filed may not be collectible.
Accordingly, to ensure WHD can complete its investigation before the statute of limitation expires, employees should file complaints with WHD as soon as the violation occurs but no later than 18 months after the violation occurred.
What Information Must Be Included in a Complaint?

The employee's name, address, and telephone number (with the best time of the day to be reached);
Employee's job title and a description of the kind of work done;
Rate, method and frequency of wage payment — for example: paid weekly at $7.00 per hour or paid a salary of $900.00 twice each month ;
Number of hours actually worked each week;
A description of the alleged violation(s) — for example: my employer failed to pay overtime for extra shifts or failed to pay for time spent loading the truck ;
Date(s) of the alleged violation(s); and
The employer's name, address, telephone number and nature of business (for example : school, farm, restaurant , etc.).
What Happens When a Complaint is Filed?

WHD staff will review the complaint to determine if the complainant: (1) was/is a non-exempt employee performing work covered by the FLSA, and (2) may have been paid/not paid in violation of FLSA requirements.
WHD staff will contact the complainant if the information provided is insufficient to make these determinations or if permission to use the complainant's name during an investigation is required to pursue the investigation.
If the review provides a reasonable belief that a potential violation of the FLSA has occurred, which the WHD can rectify, an investigation of the employer will be scheduled.
If the WHD is unable to conduct an investigation or secure back wages as a result of an investigation, the employee retains the right to bring a private lawsuit in federal court to recover back wages.
How Can I Learn More About Federal Wage Requirements?

For additional information, visit the WHD Web site: and/or call the WHD toll-free information and helpline, available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in your time zone, 1-866-4USWAGE (1-866-487-9243) .
Please note my manager says we are doing a good job but has pressure from above to do more:


Alpha, alpha, alpha.

We are now just under 5 weeks away until our beta, and 6 away from being final. Everything is going really well so far, the game looks great, bug counts are good.

I think that our approach to Alpha hours has been a good one for most people and one that has been mostly successful thus far. However, I have had some pressure to formalize the process a bit more. The goal is to give people on the team a better sense of when they can expect others to be here, as well as to structure the process in a way that could be passed on to other teams. At first glance, this might seem a bit harsh considering the success of the system so far, but in practical terms I don't expect this will change much for most people. (At least not more than things would be changing anyways as we step things up nearing Beta.)

Listed below are hour ranges for weekdays and Saturday. I would like everyone to choose the 12 hours within those ranges that they can be expected to be here. This will allow people to know when they can expect others to be here if they need help, and will hopefully lead to us being able to arrange our workloads more efficiently as a result.

There will still be a lot of manager discretion, I will try to monitor everyone as best I can, and send people home that are not needed at the moment, or in desperate need of some rest. I will inform the team when I decide to do this so that everyone is aware of what is going on. If you are ever feeling like you have nothing to do, or are dead tired, please come see me. Some days will be worse than others, and some people will have it worse than other people (some people will be working more than 12 hours per day). I would rather have that then to keep everyone here no matter what. I also don't expect you to strictly adhere to this, I understand that there may be some nights that require us to be here later, or you may have some errands to run in the morning at some point, so there will be a lot of flexibility in this, I just want to set some general parameters on when we will be around and when not.

So, if everyone could reply to me and pick your general 12 hour block, that would be great:

Hours (M-F)
8am - 11pm

Hours (Saturday)
10am - 12am

I would expect that this block of hours will get bigger as we get closer to Beta (for example 8am - 4am), that will just be a result of some of us ending up being here really late, and thus not being able to get in real early. It is still a top priority for me to avoid having to go to seven day weeks in the future. In order to accomplish that, we need to continue to stay right on top of things.
This is a perfect example of the studio execs putting unnecessary pressure on the team, and requiring time when it is not needed. He states clearly that you guys are on target with development and bug numbers. But you're required to WORK HARDER! For what? You're already performing well.

My nuts on their lips,
An EA employee who's doing something about it right now!

Write letters!

Re: Management Email Fun: EA Seattle


16 years ago



November 15 2004, 22:35:28 UTC 16 years ago

I just wanted to say thankyou for posting this. I genuinely believe that reading this post and the many comments will change people's lives - it has changed mine.

I recently decided to quit a postgraduate degree in games programming because I feared many of the things you described here happening to me. Reading the many comments here has settled every possible doubt I had in my mind that I was making the right decision. You have really made me a happier person!

I'm leaving programming altogether, to do something I might actually enjoy, where I'll have some kind of job security and holidays actually exist. I only wish I'd had the chance to read this when I was 17 and I decided to do a Computer Science degree with vague notions of reaching some promised land of games development. The truth is, all jobs have elements that suck, and there really is no promised land. In the case of the games industry, it sounds more like hell.

I hope that you will continue to fight this on behalf of all the other EA employees, all other games developers, and all of those dreamer games geeks out there (far more dedicated than me) who are going to throw their futures away for something that just doesn't exist. But please remember that ultimately no fight is worth your health or your relationship, and that walking away to save either of those is no disgrace. I'm sure others will carry on the fight.

damn, I feel bad that I bought the sims 2



16 years ago

Not only are 12 hour work days immoral they are illegal. You SO, along with others in his position should either contact their local ACLU rep or form a Union. The Gaming industry is still a relativley new buisness so it seems likely that this sort of injustice will occur. I suggest taking immediate action and publising the injustice as much as possible.
Things might just start to happen. No real web page yet, but at least email is working already: info@gdguild.com - time to form game developer's guild maybe?

Re: You Should Sue


16 years ago

Re: You Should Sue


16 years ago

I'm sorry to say, but to me a lot of the people here just sound like a bunch of whiners. Sure game programming might be hard work, but what other job out there lets you be surrounded by games/other gamers, and work on creating something you love?

And compare that to single moms who may be taking on 3 part time jobs to make 25K/year, I think you guys still got the better deal.

If most of the people whining here really hate their jobs, they would have quit already, my guess is they won't.
Your lack of empathy is heartwarming.

Re: Welcome to the real world?


16 years ago

You're a nut job!


16 years ago


November 15 2004, 23:45:31 UTC 16 years ago

This is sick and so common in many retail companies also. I have worked for The Wet Seal Inc, and Charlotte Russe, who also treat their retail level employees in the same bogus fashion. As someone who has been able to get out from under the oppression, I look back in pain over how much time I lost and how ill I was while I stayed.

  • (no subject)

    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,…