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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I work for this BIG - International company. They do the same to us. Crunch time starts when the project starts, and just keeps on being crunch time.

They have god-awfull managers that can't scope a project if their lives dependent on it. You get NO overtime nothing. You MUST ONLY BILL 8 HOURS, even if you worked 15 hours a day. They company makes HUGE sums of money. Profits soars... but you get 1 bonus check a year if your division preforms and if you preform.

The best part is if you don't work 10 hours + a day, you are not a team member. You get a bad rating, and you get a bad pay increase. So your bonus is bad aswell.

But i resigned last month, taking a holiday. Going to work a company that cares for their people (I know a few people at the new place). I know I will have "problems" there, but not like this place.

Sad part is that when I resigned, the head manager was amazed.. about my complains.. even though I told my team lead about it. He promised better hours. It worked for about a week, and guess what. They are at crunshing time again, working weekends etc. LOL..

I'm out of here :)
As a long time gamer, I and many many others, would have to say the Sims 2 release is buggy as all hell and is being very poorly supported. Yes, most games release a patch/bugfix package within the first 6 months, but they also do more to keep the consumers informed. It took them over 6 weeks to even acknowledge that a patch is required and that is ALL they said - no eta, no addressing specific issues. For sure some of the issues are user stupidity related but a group of us on a modding site have managed to isolate problems within the software that will eventually affect everyone that plays the game. We have one modder who has produced a bugfix that now means thousands of people can again play the game. Indeed we have identified one particular problem that could eventually be used for the distribution of malicious code - and this game is very internet download dependent for long time playability. Surely all that is a job of the game developer/producer?

But now having read this and the supporting testimony of many EA employees, who could be surprised? The poor bastards working there have probably been moved onto the next project and its crunch time, leaving dumbass SimMasters and maybe the janitor to deal with the very real problems being experienced by the consumers.
It's all through the game industry. I worked at another company on a games that were shipped with bugs and sometimes missing important game elements. After crunching, nearly the entire team was laid off except for a programmer or two who were needed to make the patches.

Although games are fun, and making them can often be fun--it comes down to it still being a business with money as a bottom line--not people, not games, not fun or enjoyment (of employees or even the consumer).


November 16 2004, 10:58:23 UTC 19 years ago

Wage-Hour's enforcement of FLSA is carried out by investigators stationed across the U.S. As Wage-Hour's authorized representatives, they conduct investigations and gather data on wages, hours, and other employment conditions or practices, in order to determine compliance with the law. Where violations are found, they also may recommend changes in employment practices to bring an employer into compliance.

It is a violation to fire or in any other manner discriminate against an employee for filing a complaint or for participating in a legal proceeding under FLSA.

Willful violations may be prosecuted criminally and the violator fined up to $10,000. A second conviction may result in imprisonment.

Violators of the child labor provisions are subject to a civil money penalty of up to $10,000 for each employee who was the subject of a violation.

Employers who willfully or repeatedly violate the minimum wage or overtime pay requirements are subject to a civil money penalty of up to $1,000 for each such violation.

Recovery of Back Wages
Listed below are methods which FLSA provides for recovering unpaid minimum and/or overtime wages.

Wage-Hour may supervise payment of back wages.
The Secretary of Labor may bring suit for back wages and an equal amount as liquidated damages.
An employee may file a private suit for back pay and an equal amount as liquidated damages, plus attorney's fees and court costs.
The Secretary of Labor may obtain an injunction to restrain any person from violating FLSA, including the unlawful withholding of proper minimum wage and overtime pay.
An employee may not bring suit if he or she has been paid back wages under the supervision of Wage-Hour or if the Secretary of Labor has already filed suit to recover the wages.

A 2-year statute of limitations applies to the recovery of back pay, except in the case of willful violation, in which case a 3-year statute applies.


November 16 2004, 12:24:06 UTC 19 years ago

_DO_ quit the job. Or business will never learn.

Suspended comment

I know I'm a country and one or two oceans away, but we still get EA games down here and having played some of them, I'm going to throw my two cents in.

As an end consumer, I had a feeling something like this was happening. I'm involved in the advertising for a large retailer here in South Africa and an EA spokesperson came down here to give us all a pep-talk on punting EA products and what makes them "special": Licenses. Not that I didn't know they were full of shit before this but *shrug*

Anyway, the actual games themselves, NFS, MOHAA etc... are all, at face value, really good games. But it always feels like there's something missing. And I guess this article blows it all wide open: love. There's no love in the games. In the same way that if I'm busy writing copy for an ad and I don't enjoy writing it, I can garentee you no one will enjoy reading it. I'm sure the staff at EA are wonderful people and this isn't an attack on them and their efforts, it's an attack on the people who do this to them and force them to hate the things they onced love: making video games.

There is soul in video games. But not, apparently, in EA.

I for one will not be purchasing or doing any bussiness with EA until I hear of a fair resolution to this matter.
i'm sure someone else has posted this...but sue for the overtime. it is ILLEGAL to not give overtime if you work it. and they will continue as long as no one takes action. those are my two cents.
Man, that's a third world country labour situation! Do yourself a favour: go to this website: http://www.devilsinn.de (don't worry, it's not about satanism or anything like that, heh) and then think again about your life.

Don't let anyone treat you like a dog, unless you tell them to.
Good luck.
i just realized that, after reading the majority of the 2250 posts, i have not seen one single member of production (that is the exec producer, producer etc) say anything at all!

hm. food for thought.
That's because they're often a large source of the problem (at least, on my team, they are). Our producer thinks this is all just a big joke, no big deal.

Re: producers


19 years ago

"Concerning overworking, it really is mystifying why a manager would push knowledge workers this way, unless the manager had no brains at all. It's not the hours that a person puts in that matters, but the output, and tired, overworked knowledge workers can't produce close to what a happy, well-rested one can, even if pushed to work many more hours."

Maybe there are reasons here which are more sinister than any of us would care to acknowledge? A tapped out, stressed group of people (as we are seeing over and over right here in this discussion) are unable to find the courage to walk out or bring in a union, thus enabling management's human drone farm, or 'franchising' scheme as you put it, to continue unhindered.

These are calculating, intelligent people making these decisions as you point out, so this is the only logical reason for their treatment of their employees. Another thing you pointed out which allows me to draw this conclusion is that apparently there's no one on the board of directors with a conscience, and the motives driving the decision making process are completely void of humanity.

Again, I am reaching the undeniable conclusion that this is a cultural problem at the very heart; a lack of 'family values'. Our disposable commercial culture has manifested on the way we see our people; cold, calculating, sociopathic greed is driving our economic force and until those of us who are in every media begin to acknowledge the need for a change in philosophy-- until then, these highly influential and dehumanizing behaviors will continue to be reflected in our mass media culture. It's not only prevalent in management, but in all the nihilism, superficiality and bitterness in youth culture all around us. People aren't seeing the how and why of youth angst these days-- it's being written off as a reason to mistreat and abuse by those with the power and influence to manifest their perceptions.

Ironically, the generation which brought us 'peace and love' is gonna continue to 'bash our brains in' until we make them feel all mushy inside; until we are all living, walking "Gap commercials'.

Don't get me wrong; I am not advocating any particular type of family; but a renewed sense of belonging and the appreciation for home and hearth-- whatever that might mean for a given person. The fostering of these values is the longterm solution to this insidious greed culture.

Our population is aging rapidly, and while I am normally the last one to generalize, sooner or later, the people who are refusing to value anything that is not a reflection of their narcissistic selves, and the way they wish to see the world, will one day be dependent on us for love, understanding and care.

I only hope we find the humanity to show them what they forgot to see in us in their wretched race to be the one with the most costly home renovations on the block. Because after all is said and done, you can't bring it with you.
I'm going to play mild devil's advocate and ask-- would a board of directors ever walk in on the programmers and ask how their day went? No. Manager's job. Board of directors looks at numbers. Managers make those numbers work.

It's just, to me, the people cracking the whip and seeing the effects are a hell of a lot more scary than the guy who figured out constant crunchtime = profit, and never sees the results. The second is human stupidity. The first is abhorrent in the way only humanity can be.

'Nother thing-- You seem to think Baby Boomers are the biggest generation, and they were a "Peace and Love" generation. You'd be mistaken. At the moment, the 20 and under set makes up 30% of the population in the US, and is starting to make its way into the workforce. The population isn't aging, it's going through puberty as we speak.

The newer generation is much different than the baby boomers, according to Anthropologists. They're more skeptical of mass marketing, more cooperative, more into the family values thing, but far more likely to look to their peers for validation of their ideas. Take every one of those statements, flip it, and you've got the trends of the boomers. The Peace and Love generation above all, looks out for number one.

That's not ironic, that's their own propaganda biting them in the ass.

The biggest complaint the older generation has about the newer is they simply don't have the initiative. They look to please their boss and coworkers, work as a team, and come to group decisions instead of fighting to push self serving agendas. Since the system is set up to drive people to work harder for their agendas, and therefore get promoted, it's difficult for the younger people to get ahead.

Look here. Despite being a family oriented generation, we spend more than the boomers. Family doesn't lesson "greed culture." If anything, it makes a generation easy to market too. Just make them think all the kids are doing it, and they'll all run off cliffs after handing over their wallets.

We're not living in The Jungle. You want heartless consumerism? Try long hours and potentially fatal work for the under six set for pennies a day, all in the days when family values were absolutely enshrined. Business was sure kinder then, huh?

Why not advocate a type of family? Is a particular type of family offensive? If I have two female bosses, do I have two mommies? Do we espouse family values, but don't like doing something as base as suggesting we ought to love our womanizing brother who ruined our wedding toast because he was loudly hitting on our mother in laws (that bastard), because that's, like, hard? Or is family a general, positive term that doesn't mean much of anything, but stands at the antithesis of greed without actually implying anyone personally has to do much about it? The new generation has a sense of family, belonging and values, and is being mowed under.

The solution is, as usual, personal responsibility and a sense of duty (not family) to workers. I've seen families, and I expect different, and in some cases, better from my boss. It needs to be a boss's duty to advocate for the workers below him, and demand their fair treatment. If they do not, then workers need to demand better treatment until that's the way it works. May not be the utopian solution of family. But then, no family has fit that, ever. And personal responsibility has the added bonus of actually working.

Being a nice generation, we'll be there to take care of the old boomers, instead of using them as a satisfying morality play of what happens to the selfish. After all, family values are hollow words if they're dependent on whether we feel like treating others with dignity, right?
First of all, I just want you to know that I've found this story in several papers / online news sites in Europe today. Getting it to TV / 60 minutes or similar don't seem too far fetched at all.

I'm only a gamer, but as a gamer I like quality. But I also like to know that my cash goes directly to those who CREATES that quality. It really annoys me that so much of the cash disappears to the publisher when it's the developers you want to support / encourage to make more games.

The vivendi / valve trial has been extremely interesting in my eyes. The option of downloading games through the internet (with the Steam program) WILL become more and more common - of that I have no doubt. Which also opens the option of the developers going directly to the buyers instead of through a publisher. (A future I think the publishers see coming and are terrified of. Possibly a future that would get here a lot faster if workers got unionized?)
I found this post linked from jehosephat. I posted this reply there, but I thought it might do for a contrasting idea here as well, something to think about. I totally disagree with the tone and theme of this post. Here's why:

I can't stand the helplessness. Yes, it is stupid policy. Yes, the company WILL pay for it, eventually. I write software for a living too and I understand that that kind of process immaturity costs, big time, and EA's management is too stupid to see it. Do you hear that? It doesn't work. The fact that it's a "mean and heartless policy" is immaterial. There IS NO tradeoff between "nice" and efficent and proffit-making. No company can ignore human nature and the laws of economics and continue to prosper. Your post reads as if you fear that it IS possible. The fact is, that EA will either change and adapt or else the company will sicken and die. The people working for EA will either stick it out and wait for that, or else move on to something else. That's how the market works.

What is your point? Nobody is forcing your spouse to go to work at gun point. EA is probably paying somewhere between 80-100k dollars a year, plus fringe benefits, to work your spouse to death -- and if he's working under those conditions for less than that...well, he has my sympathy, please make him take a wise-up pill. If he doesn't like it let him work somewhere else, even if he has to switch careers or move somewhere else. If he doesn't want to do that, let him start up his own company or work his way into management at EA and change things -- anything but the whining. If you've got a better idea then implement it. Sitting around whining about how bad it is is the fastest way to get nothing done. "I can't" is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The problem with the left is that they believe in evil. The reason they whine like this for someone to come and save the poor workers and stop these "evil" practices is because they secretly believe in their heart of hearts that evil practices are the most efficient course of action, and that people are helpless in the face of them and they are terrified that other companies will realize the "success of EA" and behave the same way. When I look at policies like this I don't think "how evil", even though it is, instead I think "how stupid", because that is even more accurate. I get tired of hearing the Marxian Left whine and cry for mommy government to step in and use the magic of force to make the bad boys play fair because that's what the left believes in -- force always works -- that's what makes things happen for them. That's how they believe that production gets done. It's just gross. Yes, let's all get together and vote to stop EA before their good idea catches on! Next week they're liable to institute flogging and then their proffits will surely go through the roof. Please.

If you want to do the smart thing, tell your spouse to polish up his resume and go looking for a better job or else work his way into management and correct the fault, or else wait for EA to suffer collapse or reorganization. It WILL happen. Expecting someone else to "save you" though, is just a fools errand.

None of us appreciate being lectured on "the problem with the left" when this issue is more personal than political in its effect.

What you are missing is that, because the problem has personal effects for those involved, the necessary first step in dealing with it is articulating it to the public. This brings other people who've had similar experiences together, enabling a discussion to take place, during which some people involved will decide to take action. Though, admittedly, I agree with you that most people will not do anything to improve their situations.

Only when the personal is acknowledged and articulated-- something which, I can tell you from my own experience, is not possible while working at EA, which has a definite internal policy of intimidation with regard to freedom of speech-- can the political be approached. You're putting the cart before the horse, because the people who've suffered have been living with what they percieve as a secret. First, they need the secret to be outed.

I agree that people have to help themselves in life. I was often irritated at the way the programmers submitted to EA's bribes, its invasions into their personal lives. But there's a fine line between self-determination and personal responsibility, and the creepy rantings of Ayn Rand. I think what ea spouse was trying to accomplish here, first and foremost, was to establish a community of sorts, where there formerly had been none, albeit against all probability. Knowing EA's divisive policies as I do, I think that's a laudable first step. Yes, it is only a first step; but you can't really know how necessary it was unless you've lived with someone who worked there, or worked there yourself.
I've not liked EA for a while now... and this is the straw that broke the camels back... I'm now boycotting EA.
Well, that foreman, he's a regular dog,
The line boss is a fool.
Got a brand new flat-top haircut;
Lord, he thinks he's cool.
One of these days, I'm gonna blow my top,
And sucker, he's gonna pay
Lord, I can't wait to see their faces,
When I get the nerve to say:

Take this job and shove it,
I ain't workin' here no more.
My woman done left,
An' took all the reasons I was workin' for.
You better not to try to stand in my way,
As I'm a walkin' out the door.
Take this job and shove it,
I ain't workin' here no more.


As soon as I finish taking animation, I was planning on working for the EA in Vancouver, considering it's close by and I wouldn't have to move away from my family and friends. It seems with what you told me though, i'd be glad to find somewhere else to work. Thank you for the info.
I wish I lived in vancouver...
I used to work at EA quite awhile ago, but I quit for almost exactly this reason. After being pushed to just about ninety hours a week, and nothing had changed in the form of consideration for our health or personal lives, I knew I couldn't work there anymore. So I know your pain, firsthand.


November 18 2004, 08:53:56 UTC 19 years ago

And you QUIT.

Thank you for playing.

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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,…