2004-11-11 05:20 pm (UTC)
Similar in the UK
AntennaAudio's multimedia projects were run in a very similar fashion between 2002 and 2003. I don't know how they're doing now, as I left after working 80hr. weeks with no compensation. As far as I know, they outsource their development now (having run two programmers into the ground such that they quit within the space of 4months). But they never once shipped a project on time, or on budget - very often it was just a question of "getting somethign out the door" and hoping no one would notice.
EA is definitely the worst from the prior-employment-places stories I've heard around the office. I work for a much smaller game company and while we do wind up crunching 75+ hours/week without overtime or comp time (state law) as a deadline looms ahead, it's only for a few months of a multi-year schedule and there is a definite light at the end of the tunnel -- this crunch time is not built into the schedule and taken for granted. We also get far more paid vacation time than federal or state law require, a lot of which can run over from year to year, and we're expected to take a chunk of it as soon as a game goes to manufacture. Even though we don't get paid overtime, our bonuses come out of a small profit-share, so there is a direct link between the time we put in and what we get back. And, like where epiphaniesrus works, people who don't have anything to do and can't help out on the tasks that are left aren't made to stay in the office, just be on-call. I may complain when in the middle of it, but as the industry goes I'm spoiled. I think it's as reasonable as the industry *should* be, and has been financially feasible for the company for quite a few years.
I'm also really curious to know how game studios outside of the US run when it comes to things like this. As a country we seem to have pretty screwed-up ideas of work ethic. Something about being settled by Protestants too hardcore for England.
2004-11-12 10:29 pm (UTC)
Game studios in the UK.
I used to be in the games industry. I worked for 2 UK companies and while we had worked hard towards milestones like E3 and such it was never for more than a couple of weeks. I never actually got to ship a game although both the games I have worked on did get to see the light of day. I had to move to the US following my wife's work.
I worked for the game industry in London for 2 years and had to stay late a few times only. Nobody expected us to work like slaves.
Here I have tried to get back into the game industry and wasted almost 2 years trying to get back in. When I finally found a job here in Dallas I was told that the team is in crunch mode (a term I wasn't familiar with). When I started working I found out that although I got a salary for 9 hours a day, they expected me to work 12 hours a day until the end of the project. I was depressed and left after just 3 days. I just couldn't see myself working only and giving up all my free time and hobbies let alone my WIFE and my baby.
They way I see it there are a few problems here:
- The new college grads that are eager to get into the game industry and are willing to work like little coal miners of the 19th century.
- The idiots who think this is normal and if you don't like it then leave.
- Those of us who accept it and work like slaves thinking we are doing god's work.
It's not like your saving life here. It's a fucken software product. You're working your ass off and the company is making all the money. It's not like you are getting a million dollars for selling your life.
I say unions are probably bad but in this case it's a good idea. Also, since this is making waves this is the chance to get together and do something about it. A strike at a big company like EA will sure make the news. A lawsuit that will emphasize the health risks associated with working 60-90 hours a week will also make news.
As for myself, I have left the games industry for now. I still do the odd freelance work here and there but since I had the luxury of having my wife as the financial back bone of our family I have now moved on and turned a hobby of mine into a profession. I now teach martial arts and I have no plan on joining the games industry until this situation changes.
2004-11-11 05:24 pm (UTC)
yes, EA sounds evil here.
QUIT. *EVERYONE* should quit, and screw EA. Turn that 50% turnover to 100%, and spread the word so that NO one works there.
Do the math. If you're getting paid $30-40 an hour, but end up working 90 hours a week, you're actually only getting paid $13-15 an hour. GO FIND ANOTHER JOB.
2004-11-11 05:30 pm (UTC)
Re: quit already
were you not reading? There is not place else to go. Should these people give up what they love to do and abandon their skillset to go flip burgers? or sell you concrete at the home depot?
where? where should they all go?
"fight the power", yeah right, how? and I don't mean a general answer, where should all these people go? I've got news for you, there is currently no prophet and no promises of lands of milk and honey, so the reason they are working there, is not because they are stupid or weak, these people have families to support and this is the job they have now.
I used to work in that industry, lucky for me that I have a very decent fallback to career. Most of these people don't. and those skills do not translate into many other diffent jobs.
2004-11-11 05:25 pm (UTC)
WORKING PEOPLE TO DEATH IS NOTHING NEW
Slavery is nothing new, and that is what this is, a form of slavery.
These people are not better than the nazis who used jews to make munitions and vehicles during the war. Getting free work (exploiting a workforce) in not a new concept.
What genious figured out that getting people to work for free is a way to save money? Tell you what EA, why don't you steal all the equipment in your facilities too? that's another way to save money. And stop paying people alltogether, kidnap their families and make them all work for free, and when they don't, shake them down with thugs.
Why not? you fuckers are already not breaking the law but showing a huge disregard for the very people who make the products you sell. Take it further, why not? It's not like you give a shit about anyone but yourselfs.
And this goes out to Madden himself and Tiger Woods, when you allow these people to purchase your licenses, you are condoning this mistreatment and abuse of employees. You are no different than any other celebrity with a clothing line that uses sweat shops to make fucking shirts.
2004-11-11 05:25 pm (UTC)
I always saw EA as a soulless company...
...even more so after playing some of it's recent releases. But this put it over the top. Now I see it more as one of those stereotypical heartless evil Mega-conglomerates you'd find in a cartoon/anime/game/what-have you(Shinra, anyone?).
I bet they sell babies, too.
Your SO needs to mutter at his union rep. If he's not a member of a good union, then I have no sympathy at all.
2004-11-11 05:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Go to the union
WHAT FUCKING UNION? ARE YOU RETARDED OR JUST PLAIN STUPID?
2004-11-11 05:29 pm (UTC)
Another disillusioned ex-EA employee...
One thing to mention as well is that this attitude of "If they don't like it, they can work someplace else." is'nt just for the programmers at EA. It carries down to the testers and the phone support people as well. Granted, at least they earn little enough that they get overtime.
However, what is'nt mentioned is a few interesting things;
1. Testers and Phone Support staff are paid less than at other companies.
The average tester earns a whopping $9.50 an hour, or at least they did last time I was there a couple years ago, and their phone support staff share the same wage. Elsewhere the average is about $10-12 an hour on both jobs. 'Course, this is justified in the fact that neither make EA any money and are, at best, considered a necessary evil. 'Tho, considering that EA never really pays attention to the bugs the testers find, and cram it out the door with the "patch it later" mindset, forcing the phone support staff to field angry customer calls over why their game is broke makes you wonder if the managers there are trying to remake Hell on Earth.
2. Testers and Phone Support staff are treated like disposable diapers.
They're used up and tossed out to say nothing of the disdain that they all earn by any other EA employees. You couple this with the fact that Testers work 70+ hours on average and phone support staff are severely overworked averaging about 40 calls per person and you begin to see the picture. If anyone tries to, heaven forbid, kick any bugs upstairs to be fixed you're ignored at best and fired at worst. Most put up with it with the hopes of getting a permanent job at EA but, what they don't realize is that if they were hired on there would be little or no chance of advancement further inside of the company. To say nothing of the fact that they'd still be looked down upon since they're both considered lower than the janitor staff.
I'm not even touching on the other stuff that usually goes on there such as treating testers like criminals on the property or the developers ignorning tech support questions about issues that they find that they can not solve. I remember being asked to vote for the "Best company to work for" thing and the joke around was that the only reason it happened was because they threw out the votes from tech support, testing, and the programmers.
I can still remember times where I'd have to take a break just so I could find a quiet place to cry for awhile just so I could get thru the day. *sigh* Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the people I worked with there and it hurt like hell to quit but I had to decide whether it was worth my health and sanity to stay working there.
I really hope your SO gets out before it's too late and that you both are able to find happiness once again.
2004-11-11 09:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Another disillusioned ex-EA employee...
My sympathies, and I completely agree that testers/phone support are treated like crap. I responded back in another comment, but I believe that that is a separate issue that needs to be addressed in the industry. QA is currently done in a brute force kind of way, which is foolish. Some companies are starting to change that.
I am fairly confident that we will be getting out, but I also want to comment that for anyone else who reads this and is in there... it is never too late to do so. At least, it's never too late to save your own health and sanity. Relationships are another matter. My SO and I are fortunate to have an extremely strong relationship, but I know others have suffered worse. The key is maintaining awareness, both of your home life and of your own rights, not just as a skilled employee but as a human being.
2004-11-11 05:30 pm (UTC)
The way things really are...
There has been talk about unionization of the game industry since games were 16bit and sat in large catridges. The fact of the matter is that there's still too many individuals who think that working in the business is a priviledge, and being young and idealistic, they will do the hours requested by the employer in order to stay gold in the eyes of management. And, of course, most employers are more than happy to flush out the experienced folk who require more money and more "maintenance".
If people haven't noticed, the sweeping trend across developers and publisher-owned developers is to hire people straight out of college, sometimes even before they finish, and with one developer I've worked at, sometimes right out of high school. This creates a sense of loyalty in the employee like no other, and this is largely the employee that will not support issues that involve bucking the trend.
That being said, the next round of home console development requires more individuals working to output the volume of content required by the publishers/fans, and in order for that developer to turn a profit, especially if they're fairly new and not so well funded, they need to step up production. In several production meetings I've been forced to attend, the mantra really is "twice the workforce, half the time". So, taking that into account, as well as the previous paragraph, you can see how it makes sense to fill the developer with warm, loyal bodies in order to keep costs way down.
Taking all this back to square one, these warm, loyal bodies will work and be worked tirelessly for the priviledge of working in games, and when they realize that they are being taken advantage of, they will be cast aside for the next starry-eyed individual who is ready to pledge their lives away. This is the basis on which I joined the game industry over a decade ago, after which, I lost a potential marriage, my child, and several times in my life when I could have been there for friends and family now, long abandoned. The reconstruction process for these things broken is arduous both for the people involved and myself.
Before a union, or any other organization can be formed, awareness needs to be raised within the budding developer that this job is not a priviledge; it is a JOB and just that. It is not a lifestyle, it is not a livelihood or a hobby. It is a job, and it should be treated as such. When this awareness is raised, only then can people fight back. When that begins to happen, we will see a change that not only changes the working environment and the mindset of the developer, but also the process of management decision making and finally, quality of the games we work so hard on every day.
2004-11-11 05:42 pm (UTC)
Re: The way things really are...
Very eloquently stated; I couldn't have said it better - at least not with some of my trademark vitriol.
For someone who has been in this business since I was smart enough to figure out where my ass was - so I could touch it once in while, knowing that I owned it - it saddens me each and every time I get to hear horror stories about game devs and their plight. Which is why, I usually just bring out the Scorched Earth doctrine manual, grab a lawyer and just sue. Sadly, not everyone can afford to [financially and professionally] do that. Fact is, unless game devs start taking a stand, its NEVER
going to change. And the #1 problem is that the big name devs who can
take a stand, have a cushy job, nice options, tow the corporate line and won't do squat
to rock the boat. At the very least, they just leave quietly and either go form another company (usually one destined to fail) or move to another big name; leaving all their troubles behind.
In other news Warren Spector has left Eidos; just before the closing of the IGN elections
2004-11-11 05:35 pm (UTC)
I sent EA a very firmly worded e-mail regarding slavery on the job. I encourage you to do the same.
2004-11-11 05:38 pm (UTC)
Two books - 'Soul of a New Machine' and 'The Mythical Man Month'
Yes it sucks they push people to the limits, yes it sucks they don't properly advetise what one is getting into when one signs up for the job (Experinced engineers could sniff that out easily though, unfortunately the green ones get sucked in). However this is the way things have always been in engineering and software development at the high end. And I dought it will ever change. However, they do have to allow some 'rest time' between projects, that seems particularly nasty they don't have some form of comp time once a project is finished.
The two books I referenced lay out tried and true information pertaining to engineering.
1) You can't just throw more people at an engineering project to make up for lost time. Doesn't work. Never.
2) People can't increase their productivity when it comes to their task at hand. The original team members just have to put in more hours to get the job done.
3) Good managers understand rules 1 & 2, therefore they do what's necessary to make 2 happen. It sucks and it's unfortunate, but that's life. Consider yourselves lucky you arn't working away in a sweat shop and have no other options.
2004-11-11 06:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Two books - 'Soul of a New Machine' and 'The Mythical Man Month'
I have 20 years experience in developing software and 5 in managing developers (other than myself). Including some time with EA, BTW. As a line manager, I have NEVER failed to deliver product within allowable slack and NEVER had to ask my people to work the kind of hours that ea_spouse is talking about.
Anyone who has taken the time and effort to read Brooks' Mythical Man Month probably has enough time to read DeMarco & Lister's Peopleware and Constantine's Constantine on Peopleware. Then, of course, there's Yourdon's Death March.
What you will come away with is almost the opposite of the above post:
1) productivity varies IMMENSELY (order of magnitude immensely) between programmers. The implication is strongly that programmers CAN increase productivity;
2) additional hours are a very limited way of increasing output. Additional hours turn rapidly into increasing errors;
My personal rule has always been: crunch mode for no more than 2 weeks. After that, you're moving backwards (that is, you are causing problems that take more than the extra 2 weekend days to fix). I might, under immense (and believable) time pressure, increase that to a month, but no more.
I'll go further: I could take the team ea_spouse is talking about (I don't care who it is or what EA studio it's at) and produce the same quality of software without more than 2 weeks of crunch at a time, 4 weeks at the very end. I'd bet a year's salary of mine against a big bonus.
The problems described here are failures of philosophy and management, not necessities of life.
2004-11-11 05:40 pm (UTC)
How much are you willing to put up with
I have a friend that works at EA and while he goes through crunch time like everyone else, he has drawn the line in the sand at working on Sundays. He told his managers he would quit if they made him, and guess what, they haven't made him. It really comes down to not relying on other people to treat you fairly. Make up your own rules and stick to them and people will respect you or pass out of your life.
2004-11-11 05:45 pm (UTC)
As a game journalist
As a game journalist, I've been to EA's offices a few times, and I talk to a lot of people there. It seems everyone I meet at EA has just gotten there, and people everywhere else are just coming from EA.
I'm glad you're speaking out, I think this is something the mainstream media should take some attention. I think everyone understands the nature of software development and crunch time (which goes with any job, see our print deadlines), but it's been pretty well realized that EA cares about one thing: money.
The one-year development cycle that they've gotten by creating a pressure cooker is one evidence, but you also see stuff like the Catwoman game - as soon as the buzz went through the shitter for it you could tell they cut back on development dollars to cut their losses. EA is very well run from a business standpoint, uses all the touchy feely Gallup leadership principles, allowing it to operate under the radar.
They can alienate their employees, because, as you said, there are lots more people clamoring to work in those swanky offices just north of LAX or down in Redwood City.
Hang in there, and good luck --- I hope everything works out and he can get out of there and find something better.
2004-11-11 05:45 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately the department of labor disagrees
I think the FLSA trumps whatever California labor law you're refering to. Plus, a lot of us aren't in California anyway. What you should do instead is contact your local politicians to have that section of the FLSA repealed. I don't work for EA, but I've been in the industry for over 6 years, working for 2 different studios. I also have a lot of friends working in other studios and it's the same BS everywhere. Some places are better than others, but they all have a lack of ethics and efficiency when it comes to overtime. I'm currently trying to get a computer graphics R&D job outside of the industry. I'll still be doing something I like and it'll be better for me and my family.
"Fact Sheet #17E
: Exemption for Employees in Computer-Related Occupations Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
This fact sheet provides general information on the exemption from minimum wage and overtime pay for employees in the computer field under Sections 13(a)(1) and 13(a)(17) of the FLSA and Regulations, 29 CFR Part 541.
The FLSA requires that most employees in the United States be paid at least the Federal minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime pay at time and one-half the regular rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek.
However, Section 13(a)(1) and Section 13(a)(17) of the FLSA provide an exemption from both minimum wage and overtime pay for computer systems analysts, computer programmers, software engineers, and other similarly skilled workers in the computer field who meet certain tests regarding their job duties and who are paid at least $455 per week or a salary basis or paid on an hourly basis, at a rate not less than $27.63 an hour.
Job titles do not determine exempt status. In order for this exemption to apply, an employee’s specific job duties and compensation must meet all the requirements of the Department’s regulations. The specific requirements for the computer employee exemption are summarized below.
See other fact sheets in this series for more information on the exemptions for executive, administrative, professional, and outside sales employees, and for more information on the salary basis requirement.
Computer Employee Exemption
To qualify for the computer employee exemption, the following tests must be met:
* The employee must be compensated either on a salary or fee basis at a rate not less than $455 per week or, if compensated on an hourly basis, at a rate not less than $27.63 an hour;
* The employee must be employed as a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer or other similarly skilled worker in the computer field performing the duties described below;
* The employee’s primary duty must consist of:
1) The application of systems analysis techniques and procedures, including consulting with users, to determine hardware, software or system functional specifications;
2) The design, development, documentation, analysis, creation, testing or modification of computer systems or programs, including prototypes, based on and related to user or system design specifications;
3) he design, documentation, testing, creation or modification of computer programs related to machine operating systems; or
4) A combination of the aforementioned duties, the performance of which requires the same level of skills.
The computer employee exemption does not include employees engaged in the manufacture or repair of computer hardware and related equipment. Employees whose work is highly dependent upon, or facilitated by, the use of computers and computer software programs (e.g., engineers, drafters and others skilled in computer-aided design software), but who are not primarily engaged in computer systems analysis and programming or other similarly skilled computer-related occupations identified in the primary duties test described above, are also not exempt under the computer employee exemption.
“Primary duty” means the principal, main, major or most important duty that the employee performs. Determination of an employee’s primary duty must be based on all the facts in a particular case, with the major emphasis on the character of the employee’s job as a whole."
2004-11-11 09:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Unfortunately the department of labor disagrees
I'm pretty sure that the reverse is true... FLSA is superceded by California state law. For the studios out of state, I'm not sure -- I don't know if they operate under California law because the corporate headquarters is in CA, or if other labor standards apply. This is something the lawyers should be able to answer. I've been contacted by a few separately, and one offered to help even if we were outside of California -- there are lawyers that will represent individuals who have had similar treatment in other states.
2004-11-11 05:51 pm (UTC)
This is EXACTLY why jobs are moving OFFSHORE
First, my sympathies to those affected.
I too am in the software industry (not Gaming s/w).
But, software enggs. in other countries dont seem to mind the long working hours and terrible work conditions.
Maybe that is why our jobs are moving offshore, because we are spoilt rotten with luxury.
2004-11-11 05:56 pm (UTC)
Re: This is EXACTLY why jobs are moving OFFSHORE
Luxury? Are you mad?
I'm sure this has been said before but... is there any way the employees could report this practice to OSHA? Particularly in light of Senate Bill 88...
Taking another tack, I'm sure that *many* EA employees have lost their health to this over-stressful work environment. Surely in this litigation-happy-state that's grounds for a lawsuit? Particularly if a whole bunch of EA employees/ex-employees get together. (I can send you in the direction of at least one guy who'll join in but, for now, he should remain anonymous...)
Thanks for sharing the essay. I bet it'll be a real eye-opener for a lot of people.
Something can be done! My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer and I am helping with the class action lawsuit against EA for overtime violations. I would very much like to talk to your friend about putting an end to this kind of exploitation and making them pay for what they have already done to so many people. Please pass on my email address; firstname.lastname@example.org