ea_spouse (ea_spouse) wrote,

EA: The Human Story

My significant other works for Electronic Arts, and I'm what you might call a disgruntled spouse.

EA's bright and shiny new corporate trademark is "Challenge Everything." Where this applies is not exactly clear. Churning out one licensed football game after another doesn't sound like challenging much of anything to me; it sounds like a money farm. To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?

I am retaining some anonymity here because I have no illusions about what the consequences would be for my family if I was explicit. However, I also feel no impetus to shy away from sharing our story, because I know that it is too common to stick out among those of the thousands of engineers, artists, and designers that EA employs.

Our adventures with Electronic Arts began less than a year ago. The small game studio that my partner worked for collapsed as a result of foul play on the part of a big publisher -- another common story. Electronic Arts offered a job, the salary was right and the benefits were good, so my SO took it. I remember that they asked him in one of the interviews: "how do you feel about working long hours?" It's just a part of the game industry -- few studios can avoid a crunch as deadlines loom, so we thought nothing of it. When asked for specifics about what "working long hours" meant, the interviewers coughed and glossed on to the next question; now we know why.

Within weeks production had accelerated into a 'mild' crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad. Months remained until any real crunch would start, and the team was told that this "pre-crunch" was to prevent a big crunch toward the end; at this point any other need for a crunch seemed unlikely, as the project was dead on schedule. I don't know how many of the developers bought EA's explanation for the extended hours; we were new and naive so we did. The producers even set a deadline; they gave a specific date for the end of the crunch, which was still months away from the title's shipping date, so it seemed safe. That date came and went. And went, and went. When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm.

Weeks passed. Again the producers had given a termination date on this crunch that again they failed. Throughout this period the project remained on schedule. The long hours started to take its toll on the team; people grew irritable and some started to get ill. People dropped out in droves for a couple of days at a time, but then the team seemed to reach equilibrium again and they plowed ahead. The managers stopped even talking about a day when the hours would go back to normal.

Now, it seems, is the "real" crunch, the one that the producers of this title so wisely prepared their team for by running them into the ground ahead of time. The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm -- seven days a week -- with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week. Complaints that these once more extended hours combined with the team's existing fatigue would result in a greater number of mistakes made and an even greater amount of wasted energy were ignored.

The stress is taking its toll. After a certain number of hours spent working the eyes start to lose focus; after a certain number of weeks with only one day off fatigue starts to accrue and accumulate exponentially. There is a reason why there are two days in a weekend -- bad things happen to one's physical, emotional, and mental health if these days are cut short. The team is rapidly beginning to introduce as many flaws as they are removing.

And the kicker: for the honor of this treatment EA salaried employees receive a) no overtime; b) no compensation time! ('comp' time is the equalization of time off for overtime -- any hours spent during a crunch accrue into days off after the product has shipped); c) no additional sick or vacation leave. The time just goes away. Additionally, EA recently announced that, although in the past they have offered essentially a type of comp time in the form of a few weeks off at the end of a project, they no longer wish to do this, and employees shouldn't expect it. Further, since the production of various games is scattered, there was a concern on the part of the employees that developers would leave one crunch only to join another. EA's response was that they would attempt to minimize this, but would make no guarantees. This is unthinkable; they are pushing the team to individual physical health limits, and literally giving them nothing for it. Comp time is a staple in this industry, but EA as a corporation wishes to "minimize" this reprieve. One would think that the proper way to minimize comp time is to avoid crunch, but this brutal crunch has been on for months, and nary a whisper about any compensation leave, nor indeed of any end of this treatment.

This crunch also differs from crunch time in a smaller studio in that it was not an emergency effort to save a project from failure. Every step of the way, the project remained on schedule. Crunching neither accelerated this nor slowed it down; its effect on the actual product was not measurable. The extended hours were deliberate and planned; the management knew what they were doing as they did it. The love of my life comes home late at night complaining of a headache that will not go away and a chronically upset stomach, and my happy supportive smile is running out.

No one works in the game industry unless they love what they do. No one on that team is interested in producing an inferior product. My heart bleeds for this team precisely BECAUSE they are brilliant, talented individuals out to create something great. They are and were more than willing to work hard for the success of the title. But that good will has only been met with abuse. Amazingly, Electronic Arts was listed #91 on Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" in 2003.

EA's attitude toward this -- which is actually a part of company policy, it now appears -- has been (in an anonymous quotation that I've heard repeated by multiple managers), "If they don't like it, they can work someplace else." Put up or shut up and leave: this is the core of EA's Human Resources policy. The concept of ethics or compassion or even intelligence with regard to getting the most out of one's workforce never enters the equation: if they don't want to sacrifice their lives and their health and their talent so that a multibillion dollar corporation can continue its Godzilla-stomp through the game industry, they can work someplace else.

But can they?

The EA Mambo, paired with other giants such as Vivendi, Sony, and Microsoft, is rapidly either crushing or absorbing the vast majority of the business in game development. A few standalone studios that made their fortunes in previous eras -- Blizzard, Bioware, and Id come to mind -- manage to still survive, but 2004 saw the collapse of dozens of small game studios, no longer able to acquire contracts in the face of rapid and massive consolidation of game publishing companies. This is an epidemic hardly unfamiliar to anyone working in the industry. Though, of course, it is always the option of talent to go outside the industry, perhaps venturing into the booming commercial software development arena. (Read my tired attempt at sarcasm.)

To put some of this in perspective, I myself consider some figures. If EA truly believes that it needs to push its employees this hard -- I actually believe that they don't, and that it is a skewed operations perspective alone that results in the severity of their crunching, coupled with a certain expected amount of the inefficiency involved in running an enterprise as large as theirs -- the solution therefore should be to hire more engineers, or artists, or designers, as the case may be. Never should it be an option to punish one's workforce with ninety hour weeks; in any other industry the company in question would find itself sued out of business so fast its stock wouldn't even have time to tank. In its first weekend, Madden 2005 grossed $65 million. EA's annual revenue is approximately $2.5 billion. This company is not strapped for cash; their labor practices are inexcusable.

The interesting thing about this is an assumption that most of the employees seem to be operating under. Whenever the subject of hours come up, inevitably, it seems, someone mentions 'exemption'. They refer to a California law that supposedly exempts businesses from having to pay overtime to certain 'specialty' employees, including software programmers. This is Senate Bill 88. However, Senate Bill 88 specifically does not apply to the entertainment industry -- television, motion picture, and theater industries are specifically mentioned. Further, even in software, there is a pay minimum on the exemption: those exempt must be paid at least $90,000 annually. I can assure you that the majority of EA employees are in fact not in this pay bracket; ergo, these practices are not only unethical, they are illegal.

I look at our situation and I ask 'us': why do you stay? And the answer is that in all likelihood we won't; and in all likelihood if we had known that this would be the result of working for EA, we would have stayed far away in the first place. But all along the way there were deceptions, there were promises, there were assurances -- there was a big fancy office building with an expensive fish tank -- all of which in the end look like an elaborate scheme to keep a crop of employees on the project just long enough to get it shipped. And then if they need to, they hire in a new batch, fresh and ready to hear more promises that will not be kept; EA's turnover rate in engineering is approximately 50%. This is how EA works. So now we know, now we can move on, right? That seems to be what happens to everyone else. But it's not enough. Because in the end, regardless of what happens with our particular situation, this kind of "business" isn't right, and people need to know about it, which is why I write this today.

If I could get EA CEO Larry Probst on the phone, there are a few things I would ask him. "What's your salary?" would be merely a point of curiosity. The main thing I want to know is, Larry: you do realize what you're doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that? That when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it's not just them you're hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?



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November 17 2004, 04:56:01 UTC 15 years ago

Although I hate to believe something at face value (in this case, the person's claim that EA is pushing its employees to ridiculous extremes), I find it hard to refute the claim that EA is working it's employees too hard. In the end, then, I hope that EA realises that there are labor laws that they must follow. If they choose not to, then someone needs to do speak to them in the language they best understand: money and lawsuits.
I know when people are going overseas to teach english there are a number of websites people can goto in order to gauge wether a contract/ job is worth taking. Maybe something like that needs to be set up for game programmers.

Have some sort of gauging/ FAQ forum about every company. Invite all programming companies to submit why their workplace is a good work place to work, then people can read and react to it.

It doesen't solve the problem of burnout, but it may save some families and lives.

Damn, that's some fucked up shit...

We have all done a great job so far, and we are close to the finish line, but we cannot stop now.

In an effort to get us all on the same page as to what is crunch… here are the expectations going forward.

You must make 25 posts a day. If you have nothing to say, then you must stay here and support the others. Posting hours are from 8am - 4am. I believe in all of you, I know we can do this.

10,000 posts is our target. Thanks, I love all of you.


+1 post :p :D

I guess I'd be an excellent cruncher, tough I posted outside the posting hours... depending on your timezone :)
Actually not to sound like a total bitch or anything...EA is in their rights to work people as much as they want. I would suggest looking at the US labor laws, or any countries labor laws for that matter. The only people that have restrictions are minors. Any legal adult can be made to work as many hours, without breaks, as the company sees fit.

The company is shit...which is where their policy of put up or get out comes from. It's legal...as crappy as that is.
In certain states, however, they ARE required to pay overtime.

California law


15 years ago

Re: California law


15 years ago

Re: California law


15 years ago

Re: California law


15 years ago

Open Letter - November 16, 2004

Quality of Life Issues are Holding Back the Game Industry

Despite the continued success of the games industry, the immaturity of
current business and production practices is severely crippling the
industry. The recent frenzy of discussion over impassioned testimony about the
horrible working conditions within much of the industry attests to the reality
of this often unspoken disease.

As the professional association that unites the game development community and
serves as its voice, the International Game Developers Association is deeply
disturbed by this vicious cycle and is working to better the situation. Improving
the quality of life of game developers is an IGDA priority.

In tackling quality of life issues, it is important to realize that poor quality
of life is symptomatic of more fundamental challenges within the industry (e.g.,
consolidation, ever-evolving technology, one-sided contracting, lack of project
management expertise, no craft/job standards, etc), which in turn all need to
be addressed in order to truly improve our work/life balance.

What's more, game developers are sometimes just as much to blame for
submitting themselves to extreme working conditions, adopting a macho
bravado in hopes of "proving" themselves worthy for the industry. Our own attitudes
towards work/life balance and production practices need to change just as much
as the attitudes of the "suits."

For those who are looking to unionization as an option, it is important to note
that the IGDA is not a union and cannot "become" one: the IGDA is incorporated
as a non-profit professional association, which has a distinct role from that
of a union. Further, as an international organization, the localized nature of
unions (i.e., often requiring state by state and country by country solutions)
is beyond our organizational scope.

It is unfortunate that it has gotten to the point of engaging in class
action lawsuits. While some industry workers choose such legal means to
gain retribution, the IGDA believes that a conciliatory approach is also an option.



15 years ago


November 17 2004, 09:32:55 UTC 15 years ago

The reality is that there are game companies that have proven that a focus on
quality of life can lead to great games, AND business success: BioWare, Firaxis,
Team17, Blue Fang, Cyberlore and Ensemble are just a few of the studios that
put as much effort on keeping their employees happy and healthy as on their bottom
line. These, and other sensible companies, realize that a strong quality of life
leads to more productive and creative workers. In turn, these workers produce
better games, and stay in the industry to share their experience with all the
passionate new recruits - helping to avoid common mistakes and recurring pitfalls.
Further, they realize that driving their people into the ground is a short-term
view that is not sustainable.

It is sadly ironic that those who strive for success at any cost don't
realize that mature and responsible human resource and production practices will
more readily bring them what they so desperately seek. That is to say, regardless
of the humane imperative, maintaining a strong quality of life is just good business.

The IGDA's white paper on quality of life best practices has already
served as a powerful tool, but it is only the first step. Via an upcoming "best
companies to work for" initiative, the IGDA will provide awareness of enlightened
companies and their practices so that others in the industry can learn from their
wisdom. Similarly, the IGDA will shine a light on the wealth of research and
knowledge being generated from outside the games industry.

To aid in these outreach efforts, the IGDA will be hosting a full-day
quality of life think-tank at the annual Game Developers Conference in
March. Also, we'll be encouraging our 80+ chapters from all over the world to
host local meetings and sessions to discuss and explore this important issue.

Further, the IGDA has two special interest groups that will help in sharing knowledge
and work on related issues: the Production SIG (working to formalize the production
process) and the Human Resources SIG (hub for HR professionals). The efforts
of these two SIGs, in addition to the ongoing work of the Quality of Life Committee,
will ensure a diverse perspective on solving quality of life problems.


November 17 2004, 09:33:14 UTC 15 years ago

This is only the beginning and we're still forming plans. We encourage
everyone to get involved. We ask that you contact us (qol@igda.org) to
volunteer, provide ideas, success stories, resources and any other relevant information.
In particular, the IGDA is requesting details on active and pending lawsuits
to add to our reference list online.

We have no doubt that with everyone's help and contribution we can save
the industry and art form we are all so passionate about.

Note: This letter is also available online at http://www.igda.org/qol/open_letter.php
and can be easily forwarded,
anonymously if desired.

The IGDA Board of Directors,

Bob Bates
Jason Della Rocca
Alex Dunne
John Feil
Mitzi McGilvray
Brian Reynolds
Jesse Schell
Kathy Schoback

Related Links and Resources

White Paper: "Quality of Life in the Game Industry: Challenges and Best

Event: Quality of Life Summit: An IGDA Think-Tank

IGDA Quality of Life Advocacy Site

Winning Workplaces - Competitive Advantages

Article: "It's Not Just Abusive. It's Stupid."

Article: "Joe Straitiff's Journal"

Article: "EA: The Human Story"

Great Place to Work Institute

Article: "Employees readying class-action lawsuit against EA"

Article: "Developer working conditions hide a cancer in the games industry"

Article: "Programmer Sues VU Games Over Excessive Work Hours"

Top 6 Work-Life Balance Books

IGDA Global Chapters Index

Production Special Interest Group

Human Resources Special Interest Group
why work for them, then? :)
As someone who works in this industry I must say the hours are long, but the work is great the environment is unbeatable.

The trade offs are well worth it. There are salaried managers at Denny's who don't make overtime because they never punch a clock...

so what are we going to do open the floodgates and just allow anyone who has ever stayed late have some fat settlement?. Great way to kill an industry in which the vast majority of people really love what they do!!! And for those who don't, YOUR NOT SLAVES!! QUIT!!

Why sit back and watch Sony or Nintendo step up and fill that void with games of their own in a heartbeat, because America can no longer compete because the SALARIED employees want overtime.

You will also have the added benefit of killing any fun that people have in a game industry workplace, the mentality currently is that you can have fun because people will stay late to make up the work time. If overtime becomes a factor then you watch how long it takes for a fun easy going environment to become Nazi Germany.

Please drop your frivolous lawsuits before you actually do make EA a terrible place to work.
Do you genuinely believe that you can get more work out of people by making them work longer hours for months on end?

Just about anyone who has actually researched this has discovered that productivity goes down.



15 years ago

bon, mon gars, t'es pas tout seul à bosser dans des conditions de merde et ton histoire ne va pas me faire pleurer.
je suis interne en chirurgie traumatologie, à BAC +7
je fais 5 x 12h de travail par semaine à 1400€ net
+ 1 samedi sur 2 ( on ajoute 6 heures de travail)
+ 1 garde de 24h le week end à 90€ net (meme une femme de menage est payée plus cher, et en plus elle travaille pas la nuit!)
total: 84-90h/semaine pour 1760€ net/mois (impots non compris)
la seule compensation finaciere est le droit de manger le midi à l'hopital. et je pense que les responsabilités (sans vouloir peter plus haut que mon cul) sont d'une autre dimension.
alors oui je suis fatigué, oui ma vie sociale en prend un coup, mais faut savoir ce qu'on veut.
c'est pas EA games, le nouveau negrier des pays developpés mais bien l'hopital.
bon courage quand meme!
[I thought I'd translate for those who don't read French:]

You are not the only one working in shit consitions, so your story is not going to make me cry.

I am an intern in traumatic surgery, I do 5 x 12 hours of work a week for 1400€ net
+ 1 Saturday on 2 (we add 6 hours of work)
+ 1 shift of 24h a week end at 90€ net (even a cleaning woman gets payed better, and she doesn't have to work night shift!)
total: 84-90h/week for 1760€ net/month (before taxes)
The only financial compensation is the right to eat lunch at the hospital cafeteria. And no offence but I think my responsibilities are of a different level. And so I am very tired, and my social life is suffering, but we have to know what we want in life.
EA games is not, the new slave driver of the developped world; it's the hospitals. But good luck just the same!



15 years ago

Re: you're not alone, but I won't cry


15 years ago

John Schappert, the weasel running EAC, has his contract up for renewal this month. If enough people "sing his praises" to guys like Don Mattrick, Larry Probst, or their ilk, maybe we can get him fired. Management loves nothing quite so much as a fall guy, and this guy could use a good fall.
A weasel would not fire an other of his kind ;)
Schappert is not the root of the problem.......

Re: John Schappert's contract almost up?


15 years ago

Re: John Schappert's contract almost up?


15 years ago

Re: John Schappert's contract almost up?


15 years ago

Re: John Schappert's contract almost up?


15 years ago

Re: John Schappert's contract almost up?


15 years ago

Re: John Schappert's contract almost up?


15 years ago

Let me put some things in perspective: at EARS this year there were so many people going to HR to complain, the team HR rep quit out of frustration. EA hired an independent contractor to evaluate the situation; after a month of interviewing nearly half the team she said this was "the worst case of corporate labor abuse she had ever seen."

My work agreement says in bold print "40 hours weekly." During my interview I was very concerned about EA labor practices and was assured "crunch time" typical lasted about two months, never more than three. At first things seemed typical of this industry, but over the last two years the system has changed dramatically. Games are much more ambitious, and schedules are shorter. The current epic LOTR game had over 150 people in full crunch mode for 8 months. Last year's was exactly the same, and Bond was only slightly better.

EA's reluctance to handle the situation has made this lawsuit absolutely necessary. There is a mountain of evidence and there are more forces at work than just the named plaintiff. Nobody cares about the payout - any settlement will damage the employees stock price; this is not the issue. If EA made any kind of honest effort to acknowledge the problem this could be settled without lawyers. But they haven't.