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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since i have no attachment to any software or tech company, i'll post by name. but. it seems that every computer tech type person is overworked and underpaid. i believe they actually passed a law last year to make it easier to overwork them since it's not viewed as "labor-intensive" or something. at any rate. it's a serious problem especially considering the continued rapid expansion of the field. for all those suffering from this, look at your contract and see if it prohibits unions. if it doesn't, look into forming one. i'm sure it would be an easy sell to your fellow workers. in the mean time, if that scares you too much, contact your local branch of USPIRG. they tend to have a strong voice in passing reform legislation of various sorts. if everyone on here emails them asking that they look into labor rights of technology workers, i'm sure they will fit it on their docket. you don't have to suffer alone. if you work together, your voice can be stronger than the companies'.
I am glad you got the class action lawsuit.

I worked for a bio-technology company fresh out of college for over a year and still continue to work their as a student only so I can survive through med school.

I was naive when I graduated school as a pre-med major and got offered a job in the same town as my small liberal arts state school was in.

The pay was 11 bucks an hour starting out (I could have made 18 starting out for 40 hours a week with good benefits in a city), but the company preached family values and only minimal overtime, and they promised my hourly rate would be increased substantially after my 3 month probation period ended. They lied.

At the end of my 3rd month there at this company known as Diagnostic Hybrids Inc., I was given a raise of 1.10 and our. Woo hoo 12.10 an hour to work and make a company millions of dollars. The worst part was as soon as the raise kicked in, my hours went from 45 a week to being hooked up to an alarm system and being on call 24/7 so I couldn't even enjoy my weekends and had to be in town to go in if anything happened to incubators, refrigerators, etc. I also began being forced to work an average work week of 60+ hours and then they cut our health benefits so we got even less health insurance coverage. I was also on call 24/7. I gained a lot of weight, could not sleep, constantly depressed, and I couldn't do anything because I lacked energy. My hair was falling out and I was having chronic stomach problems was the constant stress of being yelled at and having my job threatened. Whenever money was mentioned we were told to either "put up or shut up" "take it or leave it" or "this is a small town so the cost of living is not as high so we can pay less."

Athens, OH is a college town with a small housing market and a large rich college student population.

I can live in upper arlington, OH renting a full sized house for cheaper than I could rent a 1 bedroom apartment in Athens. Please cut the shit.

2 workers manufactured over half of the company's products. 2 people did the culture work and 5 people dispensed the product.

My typical work day went from 7:30-8:00 AM - 5:00 PM to starting at 6:00 AM and ending at 7 PM if I was lucky. The worst part is we never had a set schedule. We never knew when we would go home.

We couldn't even take a 15 minute break every 4 hours.

When we did, management would be on our asses and telling us how lazy we were.

I began to eat lunch in less than 5 minutes and I would not use the bathroom the whole day at work.

Luckily I got into med school and went back to part time work, but my boss wasn't so lucky. He eventually got canned and is now much happier working at another company, but the DHI is still doing the same thing to new employees.
I still get shit on on a daily basis, but at least the light is at the end of the tunnel.

Family values? - Yeah right

Fair wages? - Yeah right

I am just glad you and your husband got what you deserved in the end.

I will probably be fired if they ever find out who wrote this, but who cares.

Deleted comment


Yes, further lawsuits have been discussed in other states based on FLSA, but California is a much easier state to take action in because its state laws act in addition to FLSA. A state can't have employment laws *below* the standards of FLSA, but it can have additional ones.


14 years ago

I'm thinking about going to school for game development in the Orlando area which just happens to be near EA tiburon. I know that they are going to get a lot of students to intern and eventually work for them. Considering how much I hate their games and their business practices, I will never work for them, not even an internship. Does anyone know if these insane hours exist in simulation jobs or even casual cell phone game jobs? For everyone working at EA: Quit your job!
Thanks for your comment. Depending on what you want to do, you may also consider finding the best computer science school you can and attending there as an alternative. Feel free to head over to Gamewatch for more discussion on this kind of thing!

The short answer to your question is "yes" and the more accurate one is "it depends". Every company is going to be unique. However the shorter the product cycle the less chance there is for intensive deathmarch. Similarly, the "flatter" the company structure -- the less distance there is between you and the CEO in the org chart -- the more control you are going to have over your destiny. Companies that work in the fields you describe do generally tend to have higher quality of life. The small cell phone game companies are a little more touch-and-go because they can be REALLY small and when a company is below a certain size its culture is going to be more variable than at a company that has to balance the needs of more than 10 people. Do your research, ask around, get involved in the game community (join the IGDA!) and you'll be able to make an informed decision about the first company you work for. Best of luck! Hope to see you on Gamewatch.

Re: Quit your job


14 years ago


September 26 2007, 00:27:20 UTC 14 years ago

i'm still thinking about getting work in the videogame
industry. i'm a 3d modeler, but i'm learning code.
right now i'm learning python and c++.
115 dollars an hour sounds pretty good to me :)
i don't have a wife though.
i think i miight want to freelance,
but i guess thats probably the the job
where they call you during worst time :)
"you can freelance this project for the next three days straight,
you'll still get a lunch break... and if you're not too weird
after those three days we'll ask you back!"


September 26 2007, 00:31:33 UTC 14 years ago

p.s. if anyone knows of any freelance opportunities,
here's my 3d blog http://adams3dpage.blogspot.com/
this isn't spam also.
hopefully i won't get blacklisted from this,
i'm just reading up from all angles. EA rules!

Deleted comment

Здравствуйте Хороший сайт =)))

Хотелось бы принять посильное участие в его жизни!
Wow, am I ever late to the party on this one. I only just stumbled upon your site, and incredibley eye-opening essary, whilst reading up on different aspects of the gaming industry. I remembered hearing vaguely about a class-action suit against EA a couple years back, but never quite understood the magnitude of its capacity.

It's probably quite a moot point now, but I think your part in this expose is very admirably; you've undoubtedly been the voice of many spouses, and for that, and the all-round victory, you should be very proud of yourself.

I've never had a particular faith in any major corporation; but for some reason, I feel I had fooled myself into thinking that gaming companies would be more laidback, more understanding, more... "cool". How wrong I was.

Thank you for this, and my continued best wishes for the health and happiness of you and your family, and of those workers affiliated with EA, past, present, and future.

-Tracey La Mer
damn that really is horrible, unfortunately Vivendi and Activision are merging
creating the new Activision Blizzard, looks like employee abuse will only continue :(



April 22 2008, 23:01:30 UTC 13 years ago

this really is horrible. I never would have thought someone could do something like that. I find this kind of business deplorable. it's what's wrong with the world's businesses today: No morals, at all. This is the kind of thing that needs to be eliminated.
I truly didn't know any of the inner workings behind the making of a game, and this has given me a multitude of great insight. Thank you for broadening my horizons. I guess the saying is true; You learn something new everyday.
Thanks for this post!
EA will fall, like any evil. I'm not too sure what's happening with the quality of it's employee's lives, but I do know that they are sweating over the trespassing into peoples systems thing. They are so greedy that they tried to stop ANYONE pirating the game with their invasive SecuRom crap, and as a result EVERYONE pirates the game and they are going to get sued by every individual who steps forward to complain about it (There is some hot-shot californian lawyer who has volunteered to take on every individuals case worldwide, free of charge, because he knows he is going to win). I am actually going to buy a copy just so I can join this crusade. Give them their last $80, then take away everything.

Burn to the ground, you bastards.
I only today started to think of a career as a storywriter/setting creator for games. Because a good friend told me I should try as I have the passion for it. Now I read this I know to definitely NOT to try and contact EA for it. So I would like to say thanks for the warning! I'll try other companies instead.


  • (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,…