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 11 2004, 06:35:53 UTC 19 years ago

I am sorry to hear this, the game industry is like the holy grail for me, and whenever I hear about stuff like this, it really kills me. Fuck EA. Hope you and your family find greener pastures elsewhere or get some compensation at least for what they put you through.

- slicksoul
I'm sorry to hear about your bad experience with EA LA! I have a few friends working there right now and they were put through the ringer just like your SO...BUT, they were all given comp time at the end of the project. Before moveing to EA Vancouver (or EAX) we were working in the movie graphics industry and we had all the same problems only worse! We were working on a movie sometimes 80 hour weeks (sleeping in the studio during renders) and we were NEVER paid on time.

Since moveing to Vancouver, my SO has never been asked, nor has it been expected that he work more than a 40 hour work week. Occasionally he will choose to stay late to finish something up...but its not often. They also paid for our move from Florida and put us up in an apartment for 2 months until we found our own. I dont know...maybe we got lucky. If the working conditions here were the same, we would never stay. The problem is if you are not willing to work the hours, someone else will! So until everyone gets together to say this is unacceptable it will not change. So on that front I wish you guys luck, the less people that tolerate this behaivor the better off we will be in the long run.
I have actually heard other good things about EA Vancouver, which is why we were looking into a possible transfer. It's good to hear the one report corroborated by yours. Hopefully it means that the folk at the helm of EA Vancouver have the welfare of their workers in mind... and hopefully they won't be put under pressure by the corporate office to change tack.

Re: EA Vancouver


19 years ago

Re: EA Vancouver


19 years ago

after only three years (or was it four) years in the game industry - i just left. still play games though. my teams worked 9 hrs a day, five days a week, everyone went to lunch together for 1 hr a day. oly one weekend worked to ship two products.

crunch mode is the hallmark of mismanagement. its the setup to fail - the trick sword that breaks in battle on the first blow. sadly - this is all some people ever see.

every game company is like this. the best engineers go to software companies. the best artists go to hollywood. everyone else - stays behind. the best execs ... hahahhahaha
I also work at EA and this piece is sadly true true true. My health has also suffered quite a bit from the endless slog to try to get a game out.

To its credit EA has just hired a new General Manager for the LA studio who so far seems to be taking the history of this studio's abuse of its employees very seriously. I'm hopeful that changes are underway -- but I'm not holding my breath.

And I'm also applying at a lot of other companies right now just in case.

It's unbelievable how they've gotten away with this for so long.
Er, you have that VERY wrong Im afraid. EA LA's new studio head is Neil Young. The same man that was behind the totally obscene hours demanded of the Lord Of The Rings team at EA Redwood Shores.

The first thing he said at the studio meeting when he got to EA LA was 'If you think this job is anything like, 9 to 5, you'd better leave now'.

Re: EA The Human Story Is Dead On


19 years ago

Is comp time even legal?I thought it wasnt. Anyway, the whole racket sounds illegal to me and companies will continue to do this as long as folks are willing put up w/it. Boy, what icky downer... like Walmart, McD's and other baddies. Maybe make a film or tell 60minutes or other news media. Nobody likes to hear of the little guy getting pushed around and beaten down...at what cost Americans? Really!!!
You're correct, comp time without overtime pay is not legal. We're seeing what we can do... thanks to some of the folk that spread the word from here, I've had some news media contact me, and they're interested in running a story -- a fairly prestigious outfit, no less. I will post an update here if anything comes of it.
I worked over at Westwood Studios in Las Vegas and I have to tell you that EA is definately a shady outfit. I remember the times before EA had a stranglehold on this great company and we were working hard to crank out quality titles like Emperor: battle for Dune, Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge, Command and Conquer Renegade (okay.. so it wasn't really that great but y'know it coulda been) and Pirates for the PS2.

I remember getting called into my bosses office with 4 other people and was told .. that day.. you're fired. That made me wonder WHY.. what the fuck did I do? Well I later found out that EA was closing down their facilities and moving the key people out to CA. Months past and everyone went out the door and the products died off one by one (the last one being Earth and Beyond).

I despise EA with every bone in my body and I will be damned if I buy another EA product. They make microsoft and enron look like SAINTS compared to some of the shit that they pull on smaller companies. I hope one day those fuckers get what is coming to them.

Oh. And I believe in Karma.

Because now I work for Apple. And it's 1000x better than working for the bastards at EA.

look at it this way, EA is destroying themselves. This is good because you previously mentioned EA is evil. They could use a little brains and be just as evil and BOUNCE the hours of the work week back and forth so people are truely overworked, yet not so much that they can finish the product and EA can cash out.

Also, this confirms california is the shittiest shit in all of shitville shit usa.

I guess people their are more concerned with putting other people their in jail FOREVER if they go to jail a third time, instead of say, having reasonable labour laws (rather or not they are infact reasonable isn't the point, no amount of labour laws is worthwhile if they are ignored by the labour police or whatever you call them in your crazy try hard to be liberal, but is rather conservative, wants to be cosmopolitian, fabricated, silicone valley, shit hole of the world.

Fuck EA, Fuck california, hooray for them decideing to crash and burn and open a brief window for non-giant-evil publishers to swoop in and try to pick up some of their old licenses back, or etablish their own companies again, or do something that entertains me more then playing shit like "football 3000" and "fast car zoom for speed"
Hmm. Actually, given the recent federal overtime laws being put into place all over the country, California comes out smelling like roses with regard to workers' rights. If anything can be done about this situation, it will only be because the company falls under California law; white-collar workers in the rest of the country are going to be royally shafted if they aren't already thanks to the new provisions that went into effect last August.

And may I also say, because I can't not, that I'm Californian born and raised and I don't take kindly to your vulgar assessment of my state. ;) There are only two other states in this country I would live in, and both of them are straight north from here.
I swear I'm not some sort of headhunter. We have great hours and are looking for artists, animators, designers, and programmers. We'd love to take on some experienced EA people. Specially those who are involved in their secret skateboarding game. check out our website.


November 11 2004, 07:40:09 UTC 19 years ago

Its like this everywhere: forced overtime, inhuman managers who never speak a true word.
Luckily I had some semblance of financial independence, and a somewhat loose tongue so I always tested the waters. Really its a more natural state of affairs when someone is behaving like a lying weasel to be in a constant state of contention with that person.
Basically Gen X its time to stop living in fear as best you can, whats the worst that can happen, they're not starving us to death yet.
Gen X, and also those in the following generation. Part of EA's dominance lies in how deeply involved it is with education. This is a GOOD thing if we're talking about a GOOD company. But they have a lot of young people working for them, and young people in particular are both more likely to take abuse and more likely to fear being able to do anything about it. Fear is precisely what is holding us back, though I may be in no position to criticize -- I'm not even giving my name.
Holy shit that is disturbing...since I used to work for ea..and usually put in at least 55 hours a week, if not more. They truly do suck away your whole life, basically all you do is eat, sleep, work and forget that life is MORE THAN about working. I must 100% agree that EA doesn't treat employees right and doesn't care about anything but making money...they don't even bugtest games correctly...leaving a million things "known shippable" bugs.
I am writing to you because lawyers are bringing a class action lawsuit against EA for overtime compensation. If you want to make a difference in this industry and you would like to be paid for the hours you worked please write me at unionjosh@hotmail.com
There's nothing to be done. There's no game industry worker union is there? I really don't know. All cg jobs will inevitably be outsourced to other third world countries for even more profits. For the time being, its still better than K-Mart.
Yeah. Right. I'd love to see what EA China or EA India does with Madden football or NASCAR. Should be freakin' awesome. It's fatalistic attitudes like this that dissuade hard-working developers from taking action and from doing right by their families.


November 11 2004, 08:22:39 UTC 19 years ago

I'm just an uneducated Canadian consumer, but here's my two bits:

Maybe it's just me, but EA has certainly gotten too big. They think they can get away with treating their employees like crap, and by the looks of it, it's certainly working. Let them outsource the work to India, then we'll see how fast their sales drop.

As for their games, I have yet to play a game that was any even playable. Their Sega Genesis games were downright horrible! Need I bring up The Sword Of Sodan or Fatal Rewind(aka The Killing Gameshow)? If anything, they were like betas for the final project of "making video games101" at a community college. You'd think with all this time being spent on developing the games, they'd auctully play a little better. Their sport games, how hard can they be really? Update a few stats, improve the graphics slightly, and maybe add in some new camera angles. For what it's worth, I did find Road Rash 3D mildly entertaining. But that was in 1999 when I first got my Playstation. Heck, I was entertained by WCW Vs. The World even!

Have you looked into a company such as RetroStudios? I think they're based out of Montreal. They are of course the company that worked on the super cool GC Metroid games. I think they also assisted in the Metal Gear Solid remake.

Good luck in the hunt for a better job. Nobody deserves that kind of treatment, be it in a retail, factory(like myself, aye, long hours>_<) or in the games industry.

-Jay in London.
I am a producer at EA and, believe it or not, I too feel your pain.
It is a sad day for me when I am forced into these ridiculous schedules and even more ridiculous development processes.
My story is actually quite similar to your SO's. I have been in "crunch" for a few months shy of 3 years, yeah, 3 years...

"How do *you* work crunch?" There is a lot of work that goes into the production of these games, sadly much of it is not that visible. I am one of the few "management" types that actually does anything I can for my team, including only being there for support if necessary. I hate the way EA makes games, I hate the way they treat their people. I have spent many a night sleeping on the floor under my desk. God forbid I let my team down, what would happen if they needed something and I was not there?

Not all of us are "overpaid idiots". I, for one, don't get paid a damn thing, certainly not for the work I do. I shoulder the responsibility of trying to figure out how to get these games done and somehow take it on a daily basis from the idiots above me who put these unreasonable SKU plans in place. Unfortunately, I don't get much say into the making of the plans, I am simply charged with executing them. "So stand up and change it!" I have tried, trust me. EA is far too big and far too set in their ways. They will never consider a new approach to game making, this one "works" fine and is profitable, why change it?

I think a union is the answer. The funny part is that I probably wouldn't even be able to be a part of the union, I am "management". I feel for you EA spouse, I really do. If there is anything I can do to help you in your new found quest to save the souls of the EA masses, please let me know. (I am emailing you on the side with my contact info).

My plans? I am leaving EA. There is no happiness there, there is no future there. I am an 80 hour a week guy that has lost touch with his entire life, family, friends, and soul pursuing a "career" at EA. It needs to stop.

Re: The Hated


19 years ago

Re: The Hated


19 years ago

Re: The Hated


19 years ago

I read this story and have to say at least something.

I've been an avid gamer my entire life. A large majority of my friends are also avid gamers. I can't think of a single one that likes EA as a company. In fact, I know quite a few (like myself) that boycott EA products. There were quite a few Squarsoft titles I didn't get because I hate EA and they were produced during that period where the two companies were working together.

This whole scenario sounds like a white collar sweatshop. Those practices have to be illegal somehow. I'd talk to a lawyer about the whole situation and see if I could sue them, if I were you.

I give my sincere hope that everything works out for you and your family.


November 11 2004, 11:18:30 UTC 19 years ago

Working for one of the "few independent" studios listed here, BioWare, I can honestly say that I admire our CEOs Ray and Greg for their attitute toward their employees. While we have our good share of crunch, especially when it comes to the project finish lines, we DO get our vacation, plus 1-2 weeks off around christmas plus another week after a project you worked on finished, and from time to time people actually get forced to take their vacation...

Greg and Ray have been always been preaching that quality in games and quality in workplace go hand in hand, and BioWare is the the proof that you can not only be competitive in this industry while respecting your employees ( http://www.bioware.com/bioware_info/press_releases/top100emp/ ) , you can also create the world's best games that can stand on the shelf against the flood of sequels produced by certain companies with less nice habits when it comes to treating their employees.

BioWare is always looking for talented individuals, maybe your spouse can find something interesting on our very frequently updated job page
Bioware is by all accounts a great place... didn't you guys just get awarded for that recently?


19 years ago


19 years ago

Matthew Goldman


19 years ago

Re: Matthew Goldman


19 years ago

Thank you for this, it's been on my mind a lot how the company I work for has bad labour practices, and we're not in the gaming industry at all! Suffices to say it's not the exclusive turf of EA, or even game companies. The insane overtime, no comp-time, permanent crunch time, "take it or leave" attitude, and when leaving "we're family and need you" if it appears they need you for a few more weeks. Although I never got in the 80-90 hours/week, 2+ years at about 60-70 hours has managed to kill my health (gained weight, no energy, depressive moments) and I worry it might've killed my creative gene as well.

Yeah, a good salary seems to be enough to justify everything to these companies. I got a bonus some months ago, something like the equivalent of 4 weeks of pay; very nice, but that doesn't cover half the overtime accumulated, not to mention this bonus unofficially cancels any claim to comp-time I might have.

There's a few of us who have had enough and have recently started job-hunting; the scary thing is those who auto-repeat the bullshit, refusing to admit the harm or surrealism of the situation: "we're building something great!". Wow, buddy, didn't you tell me your wife was getting close to asking for a divorce last week?

Fuck 'em. Fuck the lot of them.
this isn't a reply to the above post, it's just 4am and i couldn't figure out how to make a new one >.<

But i read the article, and the whole time I was just laughing. Kind of laughing at the misery of it all. I'm an animator who has worked for about 3 different studios at this point- never EA though. The last project that I was on was.. ready for this? 100+ hours, 7 days a week, for a good 2 months straight. It was the worst thing i've ever had to deal with. And i lost 3 months of my life (the month before the 100 hours was only 80!).
It's funny because the blame can be put on so many people for it. Alot of what happens, if whoever hires you for Game "X", gives you an insane schedule to work with. Like, yeah we need this game done in 3 months. Or something stupid like that, and then, as the gruntwork game designers (or artist in this case) you get to just take a deep breath and deal with it.
With EA, they're also a publishing company too, so they're pretty much unable to avoid any blame whatsoever. With the game i worked on, it was for THQ. But they were just the publisher. We did the game, and they just set the timeline of death.
Thats the root of the problem though. I really had to comment about this post because you said "hiring more people to avoid crunch time" would be the answer. Actually, thats not always the case. With the game I worked on, all the extra artists other than myself and ONE other guy, were totally unreliable. And you know what? ONE of them actually screwed us completely with that "8 hours a day only" attitude, and what happened was that he didn't do his job- a month worth of work, and it got slammed on MY back to cover at the last second. Because he refused to work like the rest of us, we all got burned even harder, because the sad fact of the matter is: Unless someone contests the schedule from day 1, you're stuck with it. You make the game, or you get fired. It's that simple. Well, it should have been anyway, Mr. 8 hours is still happily unemployed.
If i sound like i'm saying shut up and work the overtime, thats not my intent. It's just dangerous because it doesn't help. It just makes the crunch time even WORSE. The producer from EA said it best: Bad management. And Accepting rediculous schedules that don't even give room if problems occur. Let alone the fact it makes no sense ANYWAY. And in games especially, you run into tons of problems. The worst part is that there is no give from the higher ups on this. if you don't deliver their game when you say, giving the excuse of working long hours, won't even get you a shift in the deadline. They just don't give a shit, it's very heartless. And I know lots of people in the industry now.. it's you hear the same thing over and over. In fact, alot of them laugh at you when you complain. Plenty of my industry friends would laugh at this EA post and say, like I did "Thats nothing!" But does that make any of it RIGHT? Of course not.
I'm 23 years old and have only been in the industry 3 years now, but I've barely been on a single project that didn't have a crunch time. Maybe like.. 3. If that. And for me, it all comes down to totally unrealistic schedules.
Though last project came down to totally incompetant coworkers.
My friends and family are always telling me 'you don't have to work those hours" But no one gets it. If i don't work it, someone else will. In then instead of some guy putting in 60 hours a week, suddenly he's covering for ME who isn't, and now he's up to 80. And so on.
If you want to stop the crunches, strike at the root. The publishing companies who usually know you'll take whatever you can get, and don't give the slightest damn if the schedule they give you is totally unreasonable. When a deal is made, you deliver, or you die. Period.
And management. it all comes from the top down. As my old boss used to say:
"Shit rolls downhill"

If you feel like reading my helltrip, feel free:

And best of luck to you, your SO, and everyone else (because there are thousands of us) suffering the crunch.

Re: Pretty Much Inescapeable


19 years ago

  • (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,…