ea_spouse (ea_spouse) wrote,
ea_spouse
ea_spouse

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?

Right?


===

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  • 4642 comments
This is so much like my current job. As in, if they tell you that yer getting something, at least give it, for cryin out loud! I have started lacking at my current job because of shit like this. They tell me that I am to be getting a promotion and a pay raise that matches my manager's pay (that was 3 months ago). I have told them several times that I cannot afford to live with what they pay me ($6.25 an hour, + $410/mo for apt, + $90 for electric, and with over 3300 in other past dues, I ain't gettin out of my debt-hole for a long time). I have also told them of my plans of re-entering the Armed Forces (at least the money IS GUARANTEED, and health plan is there 100% of the time, and FOOD is FREE <---I can barely afford to feed myself; lost 20 lbs in the last 4 months), and they keep offering a higher raise than the last time. All I can say is that I am tired of the shit that I am getting at work... If I get accepted to re-enter the Armed Forces, I am NOT going to tell my boss, prolly the only people I will tell are my family and my girlfriend.

Rick
Well, Rick, reading your LJ, I can't really tell where you work or what you do. What might that be?

Re: DUDE?!

zzlitherr_lanys

15 years ago

Re: DUDE?!

Anonymous

15 years ago

thanks

Anonymous

November 30 2004, 16:00:05 UTC 15 years ago

Enlightening reading. I knew it was bad (experience), but didn't know it was that bad. Power of the people, folks. Stand up and be counted. Can you say, "mass walkout?"
Hello,

Just wanted to let you know that my only problem with your LJ posting is that it's terribly addictive. My local newspaper ran a syndicated story (LA Times) earlier this month and I decided to check it out. Now, I spend several hours a day on the site and have added my two cents here and there.

Question: Is there a link - a *very* direct link - to EA's site regarding this entire matter?

For the record, I do not have any ties to the gaming community, nor do I purchase games, so EA is not going to miss the dollars from my wallet. Primarily, I *strongly* object to EA's abusive practices.

However, you know these guys better than the rest of us. Is it a good idea that I email them, even though I have no connection to the industry/community? Are they that much of a rat bastard that they would turn ugly on the general public?

Stay with this. You and your SO have made a lot of new friends, and hopefully people that you can trust. We are on your side.
Companies screw over everyone. I know you guys put your heart and soul into the games but £40 a game is to much. if the CEO of EA took a pay cut all of you would at least get soem money for your troubles and games would be cheaper. This is one of the main reasosn i refuse the buy games and simply download them. I know its not right, but how much of my hard earner £40 goes towards the people it should (you)

Re: ea spouse: a little more info, please

Anonymous

15 years ago

Re: ea spouse: a little more info, please

Anonymous

15 years ago

list of EA games

Anonymous

15 years ago

Re: ea spouse: a little more info, please

Anonymous

15 years ago

thanks for the reply

Anonymous

15 years ago

Hi!

I've written a few songs about being a disgruntled, overworked game industry slave, dating back to 1997 or maybe earlier:

http://www.softegg.com/homepages/TimonMarmex/wcpunk/

In particular, the songs Hello Sailor, Running Down, and Retro-Rocket are very pointedly about the subject.

http://www.softegg.com/homepages/TimonMarmex/wcpunk/RunnDown.html
http://www.softegg.com/homepages/TimonMarmex/wcpunk/helloslr.html
http://www.softegg.com/homepages/TimonMarmex/wcpunk/rtrorckt.html

Having burned out of my last game industry job, I'm trying to make a go of being a freelancer, retooling skills in different areas other than game making. It's hard to change careers when everybody wants five years of specific experience with very specific tools in order to get any sort of position at all.

Take care.
-- Timon --
http://www.softegg.com

I am really tired. Working on video games is cool and all but I want to have a life too. I have seriously been thinking of leaving the industry. But what other fields are there for people who know 3d graphics? Architectural visualization? I have heard horror stories about that field as well. What about web design? Is that any better? It just feels like there really isn't anywhere to go. Are there any artists that have success stories about leaving the industry for another field?
I am in the same boat as you are! I am a lead environment artist that is looking for the exitdoor from this industry(after only 4 years).

Here are the options I can think of:

1. Film FX (pays better but even more unstable than games. Artists get treated like shit there also)

2. Architectural Viz. (harder for us game folks to break into I think. A lot of firms want people with a backgrounds in architecture.

3. Defense previsualisation

4. Web graphics..not a lot of 3d. low pay unless you contract

5. Go back to school (probably best option)


good luck,
Here is just one of the links that turned up when I typed in aptitude testing". We all have transferable skills which apply in a wide variety of fields. The key is to figure out which sectors have forcasted growth trends (and don't already have tons of students) and invest in training with a future. The great thing about art and/or programming is that the better your day job, the more time you have to devote to these things as hobbies! Plus many other industries have excellent 401k plans, unions, benefits, etc...

Why not do your own aptitudes testing? Or see a career counselor? Here's a link to start you off on a new and better life:

http://www.prospects.ac.uk/cms/ShowPage/Home_page/Applications_and_interviews/Interviews/Test_yourself/p!eLidF
EA Spouse.....i worked for a minor league hockey team in my city and I faced the same thing: super long hours, with no break, except the team's management eventually just stopped paying us....for 3 months of work...they told the team was struggling, that everything would be taken care of, and we would get paid...they ended up firing us all, and not paying us....we had to sue them to get our pay (and then only a fraction of what we were all owed), and that came 6 months later....i feel for you seriously....my wife was probably a blink away from snapping herself....it is a symptom of America today: uncontrolled greed with no tjought of human factors....and we just voted for 4 more years from the king of this kind of thinking.....
Hi ^.^

I'm a business major, and one of the industries I've thought about going into is the video game industry. I'd like to ask a couple of questions if it would be okay? :)

Please contact me at bleedingvanguard@hotmail.com, if you're willing.

In case you want to know how I found your journal, I read Penny Arcade ;)

Thanks,
-C.S.-
Hi there. You're welcome to contact me at ea_spouse@hotmail.com. However, you might get better answers just from posting your questions to the blog -- there are a number of developers here who could answer them for you.
I hate to see it, but even the author has bought in to the "Professional Day" fallacy. Even she(?) refers to 9am to 10 pm as "12 hours". Must be one of those "12 hours, plus 1 hour for lunch". That's 13 hours for an exempt employee, not 12. Lunch is the employers problem, no matter how they try to slough it off on the employee.
You're correct, this is a grey zone. In actual effect it is 13 hours, because many work through lunch -- however, some do take lunch off, so for them it is 12. EA is responsible for ensuring a lunch break from what I understand, legally, but they can get around it easily by claiming that employees do in theory have the time off, they just 'choose' not to take it. Nowhere does EA specifically mandate that an employee work through lunch.
Look Im a big time gaming fan but not big into the sports games. I can understand long hours and stuff but what EA is doing is wrong. Somebody should get all the workers together make a money collection and hire Cocrin to sue EA out of buisness. You also illustrated how much corparate take over is happening in todays world. What EA is doing is a modern form os slavery.
Yep, I work at EA for this squid. He's the VP for the EALA studio. This guy is terrible. Not only does he waltz around the studio like he single handedly puts together the titles we produce but he doesn't even look at people when he walks by. He acts like they don't exist. Actually some of us at the office have made a game of saying hi to him because it puts him off so much.
Near the end of our last project, as we're nearing beta and have already been crunching for 7 months, he announces happily that he's managed to secure us a slip! Wheee two more months of crunch! Never mind that the reason for this slip is that he can't stop adding major technologies and needlessly redesigning missions after we've already reached alpha. No he plays it off like he's our saving grace, that he put his neck on the line for us and now it's our last chance to prove that we're as talented as we say we are. "Kiss your wives and children goodbye for two months and get the job done", he says. (Really, that's a quote) "I've put my neck on the line for you guys but I've played my last hand. If you want to save my job, keep your foot on the gas and get the job done."

Actually Ricky, I quite enjoyed that little pep talk. So my options were, I could go home at reasonable hours from now on and that would guarantee you'd get fired? Sounds good to me.

You're dead weight my friend. I'd stay on that sabbatical if I were you.
Man this is too true. No one respects that guy, how can management? The funny thing is that even if he read this he just wouldn't care. He has the right people fooled... it doesn't matter what his minions think!

Re: Rick Giolito

unionjosh

15 years ago

Re: Rick Giolito

unionjosh

15 years ago

Re: Rick Giolito

Anonymous

15 years ago

LIVE STOCK LIKE TREATMENT NOT LIMITED TO GAMING INDUSTRY - MY STORY (PART 1)

I found this letter thru an article on the front page of yesterday's Salon.com. Don't feel like taking the time to register if I don't have to, but I will identify myself as Ranndino.

The letter by the EA_spouse is incredibly well written and it has generated such mind boggling response because the kind of treatment of employees described in it is not limited to the game industry. Tech workers in other industries can very much relate.
A few years ago I was hired to work for a company called TWIInteractive, which is the multimedia (website dev) arm of the humongous IMG (International Management Group). IMG, for those who aren't familiar with it is a company that represents many of the most famous athletes and entertainment stars such as Tiger Woods, Heidi Klum, etc. Being young and somewhat idealistic I thought I hit the jackpot. I love sports and here was my chance to learn and grow in a company that worked on major sports web sites. My boss (an art director) who hired me turned out to be a great guy and at first everything was going well. Well, if you don't consider the salary that they gave me and them dragging their feet for 4 months before making me a permanent employee. I guess that should have been the first sign of trouble, but I enjoyed the work so much that I didn't really give it much thought.

After a few months real signs of trouble started to emerge. The tech director, a workaholic nutcase from South Africa, repeatedly clashed with my boss, the art director over who’s in charge of what. You see, the guy who had no college education or any experience in graphic design thought he could walk around suggesting to us things down to which colors to use, and how to draw lines. This went on for a while until my art director boss grew so frustrated that he quit a job that paid him six figures at the age of 28! I’m trying to keep this relatively short, so I won’t go into details, but you can imagine how bad it got that he would do that.

After the art director left things became hell for me. I was seen as his loyalist and the new art director was apparently told from the first day he was hired that I was a problem employee. No matter what I did it was never good enough. I was asked every 5 minutes what I was working on. Anyone who is a creative understands how incredibly counterproductive that was. Even if you’re not. It breaks the train of thought and the stress level that it produces becomes unbearable. Anyway, the workaholic tech director started putting me on projects that had little or nothing to do with what I was hired for. He would throw me into technical areas which I knew little or nothing about and gave me almost impossible deadlines. Being a pretty intelligent person I learned on the fly and managed to complete all the tasks on time. Were they happy? Nope? They kept picking on the tiniest imperfections in my site code and telling me that my performance was inadequate. This was unbelievable because I had no idea how to code when starting the projects. I was a purely creative graphic designer, yet I learned to code and produced sites in a matter of weeks and they would pick on bugs and tell me that I sucked ass. Needless to say that I felt as low as one gets. Here I was buried in books and blowing my brains out for weeks trying to get it done, got it done and was chastised for it.

On top of this I was called in numerous times into the office by either my new art director or tech director and told that I wasn’t being a good team player. Why? Because I refused to work insane hours and weekends. Just like many have said here I understood that when the project had to be done a crunch was acceptable, but not when it became an unofficial company policy.
The reason I have decided to post is that this type of crap is not limited to one industry and is extremely widespread. Tech and creative workers need unions. I know that for some union is a dirty word. There are a lot of abuses and problems with unions, but that’s human nature. Nothing is ever perfect in this world because we are not perfect. There will always be assholes who will take advantage of situations. Having said that unions are simply organizations that give workers power. To resist the corporate machine on an individual basis is impossible. Many have said that individuals should just all resist these crappy practices and demand to be treated like human beings. But that is what a union essentially is. A bunch of individuals who organize and resist together. There needs to be a force that balances out the situation because currently the corporations have all the power and are driven to squeeze out their employees like oranges until no juices come out and throw them away like dried peels. The system is such that people at the top care mainly about the profits and share holders. As profits go up they have more money to spend on their weekend homes and sports cars. As profits go up, so do the shares and that gives the people at the top even more money to stuff their pockets with. The best way to squeeze out as much profit as possible is not to hire more people when needed, but to squeeze out unpaid overtime out of the current employees. Why hire another programmer at $50K when you can make a programmer you already have who makes $50K work for free for nearly the same amount of time the new guy would fill? And so what if the current employee’s life becomes shit and he grows suicidal? If he quits or kills himself there is always a young kid who will fill in. He might not be as good or experienced, but he’s willing to sacrifice his life to fill the pockets of the fat cats with millions.

I’m not in favor of socialism. I have lived in a socialist country and it sucks ass, but the unions are the only answer to this problem. As long as corporations are driven to squeeze out as much profit as they can out of their workforce they won’t stop. And it’s only getting worse. As the competition increases and other companies make their employees slave for longer hours ones that don’t find themselves unable to compete. They either follow suit or go out of business. At one point this will result in no good alternatives for the white collar workforce as it did for the blue collar workforce decades ago.

My girlfriend’s grandfather came to this country from Italy without any education. He learned the iron working trade and thanks to a powerful iron workers union he made a fortune. Yes, a simple iron worker without higher education earns $50-60 an hour and the benefits that they get most IT workers can only dream of. To think that corporations will wake up and realize that they are creating an extremely large number of very unhappy people and start playing nice is extremely naïve. Also, like I said blaming managers or even corporations themselves is short sighted. The system as it is right now forces them to operate in such manner. If a manager doesn’t treat his underlings like live stock he gets canned. If a corporation has ethical values they get squeezed out of the market by asshole companies. It becomes a matter of simple economic pressure.

CONCLUSION (PART 4)

Anonymous

15 years ago

Re: CONCLUSION (PART 4)

Anonymous

15 years ago

Corporate America will not become more "worker friendly" if the workers do not force them to do it. At the turn of the century, people fought and died for the right to have an 8 hour workday and a six day workweek. Seriously - people died! So nothing is going to happen until the workers stop thinking of themselves as individuals and start thinking of themselves as a force - a workforce that has power of its own that must be used to better working conditions.

Forget the Overtime law - that is virtually gutted by the Bush Administration- what your husband needs to do - and do quickly - is band together with his other workers and form a strong, united union. It is not easy to do and it often results in months if not years of uncertainty but it is the only answer. California law does not limit work hours, but union contract CAN. It is the ONLY thing that can. The only thing that can prevent a company from making a virtual slave out of you is a union contract. And it is not just for blue collar workers anymore. Lawyers, nurses, professors and other professionals have done it, but only by setting aside their ego and embracing collective action. So, if this really means a lot to you and your husband, you'll start contacting unions and speaking to his co-workers and take back his right to have a life. If he doesn't they could be moving you to a company town in the near future.

Sorry if I came off like a ranting communist but I do feel bad for you and other workers like your husband, but somewhere along the road the American workers decided they didn't need unions anymore, and now they work 100 hour weeks. Maybe its time to revisit the issue. Best of luck.
Absolutely agree... This is very much along the lines of what I said in my long ass post (Ranndino).

I gave an example of my girlfriend's grandfather, a simple iron worker, who thanks to a strong union made a fortune. Her mother is a nurse (she's studying to become one as well). She was just telling me today that she got a look at her mom's paycheck the other day. $84,000 with a month to go!!! Working 36 hours a week! Her mother works 3 days a week, 12-hour night shifts. That was her choice because this way she gets 4 days completely off and they pay even more for night shifts.

So, let's summarize. With a month to go in the year she has made $84,000 working 3 nights a week and enjoying her 4 days off, every week. Anyone still think Unions are a bad idea?

I used to work at EA and started there when it was a different company, we got bonus for a job well done and comp time. I was there when they crossed over to a billion in sales. It was a glorious time but then things changes. The place became very management heavy, and the OT started to crank.
I was 40 years old and sleeping under my desk to final a game. Shortly after I quit I have never looked back, some call the org, the evil empire...at times thats not to far from the truth.
I am glad for the op and the credits, but I'm very glad to have my life back.

Many senior artists and programmers are leaving as we speak....
I am a senior artist looking to leave.


All true all true

Re: EA Work Ethic

unionjosh

15 years ago

Re: EA Work Ethic

Anonymous

15 years ago