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.

  • (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,…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
sadly enough they won't get it through they're thick heads until the employees go on strike half way through the project. Oh and while going on strike, they should involve sabotaging the computers. Locking other people out of the project by taking hard drives with you would be rather effective:)
All I can say that most probably won't get me sued is that I hope people like Probst get murdered in the street because it's all they deserve, and I wish you all the best in finding another job, ASAP.

If EA or any company thinks I'll even bother applying for working for them, they can get lost. I'm worth more than that. I'll take a low pay job on 40 hours a week and work on my own ideas in my own time before I'll work for them.
My husband works for Blizzard. He's hardly home. The hours that he has to be at work are absolutely ridiculous. Although WOW has shipped, he's still putting in long hours. If I add up the time that he has spent with his baby it would be maybe half and hour a day...which amounts to one day a year. Utterly unacceptable.
Yeah, but WoW!!!!!
My mistake...that's half an hour per week, which amounts to one day per year.
Thanks for letting us know, we should boycott Blizzard too.
I'm going to tell my friends to read this article. I always hear great things from EA but never anything like this. Thanks for sharing with us. I hope everything works out for you and your family.

Here's Mark Skaggs of EALA talking about their crunch time:


How truthful is that, anyone at EALA to comment? What's it like there?
Yeah. It's true. Mark Skaggs is a corporate whore. And Harvard Bonin is his bitch. If they weren't so greedy and soul-less, they could avoid crunch completely and still make good games.
Being a service member, the first thing one realizes is that this is a life-style, not a job. A job you can go home from, the military is not the same. What you do in one place affects the other, and you must maintain a certain level of regard for your actions lest adverse repercussions ensue.

Now, the thing the Army does quite well is manage it's time. "Hurry up and wait" may come to mind, but that does work. You get your guys running hither and yon, on time, before the time starts, and you have accomplished the mission, right? Wrong, contingencies, problems, mishaps, and Murphy's Law almost always arise. Even the invasion of Normandy took two years to plan and barely managed to work.

Prior to 9/11, what were soldiers doing everyday? Well, the average combat soldier spends the majority of his time at home. Don't believe me? Think of it like this:

Once a soldier is initially trained and brought into his permanent unit, he and his comrades will get to know each other and go about training. Training is doing the same thing over and over and over again. Once things go perfect, they switch things around and go through it again. Then they switch things up again and do it again. In the end, every guy knows the job of everyone around him, can fill in as necessary for a casualty. So imagine that takes a few months of hard training. After that, what then? The soldier is allowed to rest. He is a finely toned killing machine, so what do you need to do? Nothing.

The average military base has a rule set up that after a certain time period in the afternoon, soldiers go home. This could be three in the afternoon or four. But once that hour is reached, people close up shop and go. And that is everyone in uniform. So if these guys get up at the crack of dawn (6:00) and go through their daily routine, with a two hour break for breakfast, hour break for lunch, and then go home at 4:00 in the afternoon, that means they work: seven hours a day. Then on Friday they only work half the day, sometimes including Thursday. And then you are not including holidays (which are a lot).

And special forces guys only work half a year, the rest of the time they spend with their families.

So, the men and women in uniform who defend this country get a lot of off time, and why may you ask? Because they lay their lives on the line when the call comes. Wouldn't you want them to have some luxury in their lives before they are called out to fight?

Keep in mind, the job they do is stressful, and divorce is very common amongst military members. But so is marriage and lots of kids.

What I am getting at is that the military is a hard lifestyle because it has to be. But the people in charge make up for it by giving their people time to relax, enjoy themselves, and to know what they are fighting for.

What EA is doing is stepping on the little guy, and for what? To put out the same game just under a new name that denotes the year it was released? "Crunching" works when you are not creating something special, I can see that. A creative environment does not function with deadlines, even journalists are given leeway on turning in their stories.

My strong advice is to initiate legal action using a labor practice lawyer. Hell, get the guy Dubois or whatever his name is, the guy who defended Napster and the Florida recount in 2000. This man is so intelligent and articulate when it comes to complicated minutae, that any judge or jury could not turn away.

But I feel you do have a strong case here and should pursue such. Maybe even get a class action lawsuit going. I will be letting my comrades know what EA does to it's employees.

A Soldier
I have been a programmer at a gaming company for a while now. The hours are killer. Yet I have gradually excepted the stance of things - the only thing you can do is adapt your lifestyle around this. I must however add that we don't nearly work the crazy hours your SO is required to. The two elements that have to be considered are productivity and fun. If EA continues on this path it is surely doomed to go the way of the dodo. I must express my sympathies to you and hope your SO gets a better job real soon. Good luck.
I think a lot of people have accepted the problem, and that is why it persists. And, personally, I'm having a hard time building much of a life around a crunch schedule - I can take it in short bursts, but I pretty much lost an entire year of my life to a crunch, and that's a bit much.

There will always be some kind of crunch, but it is being unecessarily relied upon at this point - it's fine to use it to finalize a game or to make a deadline in short bursts, but when a vast majority of man-hours logged on the project are overtime, then there is a problem.

...but you're not the only ones being screwed over ...

Every industry has this problem which mostly relates to big corporations.

I have been unable to hold a job for long. The longest one to date was my first job, which took me around a year and a half before launching me towards the concrete. After that it's come and go, jobhopping ... It's not normal I have to agree ...

But you either live with it or don't. Don't go whining about it. If you're under contract which states you signed for this kind of behavior, it's your own damn fault. A company is there to make a profit, it doesn't care if it makes game which kick ass or don't, as long as there's enough money to leech.

Frankly, I can't blame them for trying, because you yourself have seen that they get away with it and even make a nice profit off of slavery. In the end we all work for money, so it's not like you don't have the same goal.

Creating a game isn't fun. It's time consuming, it's tedious work and most off all it's a JOB ... So please, everyone who LOVES making games should be blessed to do overtime, because they are doing what they love. YOU chose this lifestyle ... you can also choose to do something against it ...
It is simply astounding how many people skimmed the first two sentences of a well-written essay, ignored the rest of it, and felt entitled to comment based on faulty assumptions completely contradicted by the text they chose to ignore.

Buddy, I think I've got a clue why you've been bouncing from job to job. ;)
God bless you for this post!!

I'm an EA employee and I have been with the company for almost 2 years. I was hired by Maxis at the beginning, and then this division got sucked into EA. So many of us had to move from Walnut Creek to Redwood Shores. I think the company was very fair to give us a good check to cover save our butts from the moving costs. It was between 5 to 7k btw. And that was for the lucky ones who whined and cried, others who just shut the fuck up din't get a cent not even to get a better commute car.

I was happy to be part of EA, and as a new guy who was freash from school I was excited about being closer to the #1 Game Company.

Now I realize how naive I was. Maxis use to be a much better place to work, and now we are no more than a brand. We are now part of EA, a place with many perks, but it's just a cutthroat!!!

I won't reveal my position, only I will say I'm on development. And I love to talk with numbers, because that help people realize and compare how companies treat one person or another.

I'm making 65k a year. Which is not that bad for a newbie who just got into the boat 2 years ago. I prefer quality over working long hours, if I'm told to stay and work extra, I would probably play hooky and work from home, taking care of my kids and my wife.

I used to be an hourly employee when I started, and I was making more money then than now. I'm a salaried employee so I had to put my virginity on a peace of paper.

I work well, and I do all my shit on time and I always avoid to stay long hours. And believe me. Nothing bad has happened to me so far, and I'm very well respected in my position.

However, I know people who are being paid $40k to $50k, whith the SAME amount of experience and the same position I have.


Fuck. I really don't know. And I see this people working long hours and stay looking at their LCD screens for about 12 to 14 hours a day. They don't have a life, thay don't have their families close, some of them are divorced. It's a fucking divorce factory.

Meanwhile, I'm making more money than this poor guys, and have kept my sanity so far.

People at EA don't talk about salaries, and I think that so stupid. There is a time to speak about work, projects and goals, but there must be a time to speak about what the fuck we do with our lifes and where do we see ourseves 5 years from now. At least now that we are working overtime just to make mistakes. And that's exactly what we are doing for being tired: MISTAKES.

I conviced some of my peers to tell me how much thay make. Why? Because it's a relief to know whe have some certainty about how the company values each one of us.

Now my peers know unoficially that the company values me more than them and I don't know why. Is it because I speak more with my managers, is it because I do my shit fast and with quality? Is it because I'm smart enough to not take this "fresh meat" qualification for granted?

It has helped them measure their professional goals 1 year from now. And I can tell you that they will ask for more or leave the company.

I wouldn't work an extra hour, beacause I know who is to blame for this: The incredible amount of poor decisions made by executives and design. They want to make EA "The Mc' Donalds of Video Games"

And that's what we are now, a fast food game company.

I hope the lawsuit goes well, and it has all my support. Changes are always for better, not for worse.

Cheers! and Thanks!

PD: If there's any other person who wants to share numbers I will be more than happy to talk about it.
you make more at $65K than some EA dev people with 12 years experience. Glad to see how balanced EA is. Meanwhile management make their $125K for working 35 hour weeks surfing Ebay...

Re: fast food


19 years ago

Don't know if the work situation is the same in BC, but it is strange that they just won a big award with all this buzz going on.
EA has enough pull in BC government to pass labour laws to make it legal to not pay overtime in the high-tech inductry to those who make more than minimum wage. And then they proceeded to cut overtime to all but a couple of departments. I'm confident they have the power to sway awards also. We only wish we had the power to sue here.
Well... I'm 16 and I love videogames, and I had really wanted to get into the gaming buisness-especially EA since I am in love with The Sims- but now it looks like I'll pass. Crap- now I have no idea what to do lol. I'm sorry to hear all these stories. They really turned me off from the gaming buisness. I never realized how much hard work goes into the games. I applaud everyone who works for a gaming buisness.


November 21 2004, 09:45:29 UTC 19 years ago

Don't worry about it. I'm sure it'll all be fixed by the time you hit the work force. ;)


19 years ago

please remember that this is not isolated to EA and perhaps a more widely spread 'gaming industry' bashing would be more helpful/accurate/appropriate.
Okay, so who else should we cut the evil underbelly of? Which other evil gaming industry company should we bash first?

Atari? Activision? Infogrames? Vivendi?

Oh, can we also bash game company executives who got their jobs because they were executives at cellphone companies also owned by the big company that bought out the little game studio? Larry Probst and the EA upper management are not the only unqualified idiots ruining game companies and games for the past 6 years.

I'll go first I guess.

"Damn you EA for tricking Lord British and ruining Origin and using their employees up before firing them all, you jer--- oh wait, that one's still EA. My bad."

"Damn all the big non-game industry megacorporations that have been buying up game companies, and then sending their unqualified fatcats in to tell people how to make games. Damn you all, you're a soil on the industry we all love, and are ruining the lives of the game developers we gamers admire so much, just to sell us crappier games that are pushed out the door unfinished and poorly planned, just to make assholes on the stock exchange richer."

"Damn you, ye pricks, for buying Interplay, firing its founder and all the guys who knew how to make great games, replacing them with jackasses from other companies that had never even played games before, cancelling all the good games, closing all the studios and turfing the developers out into the streets, and running one of the pioneering companies of the industry into the ground."



November 21 2004, 09:21:22 UTC 19 years ago

This situation is disgraceful and shouldn't be allowed in the so called civilised world.
I worked between 50 and 60 hours on night shifts for around 5 months, out of necessity after a marriage breakdown left me with debts. (that 'ex' accused me of being 'lazy' when working a 7 day 50+ hours week on two jobs) This took its toll on me,physically mentally and emotionally ..so I can well imagine what it must be like when you are under the sort of pressure that EA puts you under.
Anyone who abuses their employees in this manner has to have something wrong with their mental facilities or needs a good swift kick somewhere
where it hurts, in their greedy backsides.
Good luck in your fight...!

  • (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,…