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EA: The Human Story [Nov. 10th, 2004|12:01 am]
ea_spouse
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?


===

This article is offered under the Creative Commons deed. Please feel free to redistribute/link.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 03:40 pm (UTC)

EA Spouse

Everything you've read above is true on our end too.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: unionjosh
2004-11-20 12:47 am (UTC)

Re: EA Spouse

My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer and I am trying to stop these conditions. I couldn't tell from your posting exactly what your position is but please drop me a line if you want to do something to change this write me at unionjosh@local16.org
Josh
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
(Deleted comment)
From: ea_spouse
2004-11-12 07:22 pm (UTC)

Re: Fantastic post -- archive??

EA definitely exploits younger workers through their internship program, particularly considering the cost of living around EARS (where the internships at least originated, I'm not sure if the other studios have internships now). This effectively limits takers of the internships to those with parents who can pay for them to live there throughout it -- pay, so that their kid can work for someone else. It's just lovely.

I don't plan on having this entry go anywhere, and if I post anything else to the journal, I will make sure the post is linked from the main page. =) However, although it is important that students and aspiring gamemakers recognize the dangers of the industry, I think it's also important that they be exposed to its benefits. I've gotten a lot of emails from shaken students who wanted to go into the industry but are now afraid to do so. There are dangers, but it is also in many ways still a great place to be. I will be writing more about this when I post a FAQ for the journal, hopefully sometime soon.
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Re: interns starve - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: interns starve - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: interns starve - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 03:58 pm (UTC)

More Shacknews!!!

EA Workers Readying Lawsuit:

http://www.shacknews.com/ja.zz?comments=34477
http://www.gamespot.com/news/2004/11/11/news_6112998.html

Looks like you are not alone.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 04:00 pm (UTC)

You made GameSpot and Blue's!

http://www.gamespot.com/news/2004/11/11/news_6112998.html

http://www.bluesnews.com/cgi-bin/board.pl?action=viewthread&threadid=52808
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
ERTS dropping? - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 04:32 pm (UTC)
Although I am not in the gaming industry, I am in the IT industry ... and I say that it may be time to utilize consolidated barganing.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 04:36 pm (UTC)

Larry Probst's Compensation

The issue of executive pay always piques my interest. Since EA is a publicly traded company, executive pay is no secret. So here's Probst's 2003 compensation:

http://tinyurl.com/4xkek (http://tinyurl.com/4xkek)

With a base salary of nearly $700k plus a million in bonuses, I'd ask him how many hours a week he works...
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 04:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks to the writer of this post, i thought it was only EA consumers that got ripped off, now it seems their own employees are even worse off

This article confirms what i have known for many years
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: astrogib
2004-11-12 04:52 pm (UTC)
Here's another gaming geek that will boycott these motherfuckers.

Good luck with the lawsuit. I hope you bury these shitheads.

best & butterflies,
e
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 04:59 pm (UTC)

I don't understand this

If you or your husband are victims of this abuse it is only because you have given permission to EA to abuse you. Step away from it and do something else. You can quit, you can sue, or you can put up with it. It seems that since your husbands employment still continues with EA it is because you either need the money or things are not as grim as they are presented. Remember no one can take advantage of you unless you give them permission to do so. Walk away money is not everything. Furthermore, if your husband is as good as you say he is he might find better employment somewhere else. I am sorry for you but complaining isn’t going to fix anything, it only shows that you are weak and passive. It is your life take charge and quit whining.

We all are a minority of one, if you are not you are common.

(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 05:23 pm (UTC)

Re: I don't understand this

"complaining isn’t going to fix anything"

Hello? Look at what it's doing right now. People are realizing that there is a problem in the industry, and mobilizing to do something about it. The point of "whining" like this is to find other people with a common interest, and use it as a jumping off point to do something.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 05:15 pm (UTC)

Unionize for God's sake!

I worked in the game industry for seven years before coming to my senses and doing sensible things with my time like art work for my pleasure with no compensation.
There are only two choices in this situation: leave the game industry or form a union to prevent those kinds of abuses. These stories are far too common...
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 06:22 pm (UTC)

Re: Unionize for God's sake!

Unionizing has been attempted at least 3 times at the studio in question. The results are people get fired and when do they have time right now a good chunk of the employees are working 9AM to 2AM they only have time to sleep.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 05:29 pm (UTC)

Re: EA The Human Story

I couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, I made the same complaints the entire time my husband worked for EA. I joked that I was going to start an "Angry Wives" or "EA Widow" club for the other women who spent more time e-mailing or phoning their significant others than seeing them face-to-face. The sad thing is, it's not really funny, is it? Thankfully my husband decided the resume boost and golden noose (ah yes, the "vesting shares" trap) of EA was not worth his health or our marriage. He quit this summer and is starting his own company. Someplace where quality games can be made while people still live creative, content, and quality lives.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: keeb
2004-11-12 05:36 pm (UTC)

Simple Question

If this "cruch-time" did not produce any measurable results, what would be the actual point of having it? I see no benefits to the company.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 06:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Simple Question

"crunch-time" is usually a panic measure introduced by incompetent management.

In small doses, like when there's a specific deadline to meet and tasks that need doing by then, it can be benefitial. However, when management see this benefit, their idiot over-simplifying brains think "hey, why not force the staff to be in constant crunch-time, that way we'll get the thing done for half the price".

Of course this overlooks the fact that people are subjected to extended crunch time generally work at well below 50% of their capacity, and end up totally burnt out, with the attitude, ulcers and headaches to prove it.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 05:40 pm (UTC)

This is SO true, I've been there

After years of this, I stopped working for EA.

There is nothing wrong with working hard. Sometimes things happen and you have to fix them. Sometimes you want to add something extra to the effort because you are very proud of what you are working on.

THIS IS NOT WHAT IS HAPPENING AT EA. They indirectly forcing people to be at the office around the clock because they wear this as a badge of honor. It is in fact a disgrace. Some people are highly compensated for making this happen. Most however just have to look back many years later and ask... what happened to my life, possibly my health.

This does NOT need to occur. EA has creates thousands of games. The are on their 15th version of Madden. This is not putting a man on the moon for the first time.

Most people at EA confuse long hours with working hard. Most are afraid to say the Emperor has no cloths. Those there now are wasting much of their life but will not realize this from many years.



(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 05:48 pm (UTC)

EA: The Human Story

At Industrial Light and Magic we are union. I.A.T.S.E. Call F.X. Crowley at the union 415-441-6400 and unionize.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 05:53 pm (UTC)

Re: EA: The Human Story

Except that ILM is not very competitive in terms of pay. Most non-union competitors to ILM pay OT AND better salaries. A union isn't always the answer.. if you can get the same result without a union, even better.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 05:49 pm (UTC)

EA workers readying class action lawsuit against EA

I came here via a link from GameSpot.

I'm very sorry to hear about your So's problems and hope that s/he will be in a better company soon.

As for the person that stated that Gamespot probably wouldn't post it. Surprise.


http://www.gamespot.com/news/2004/11/11/news_6112998.html
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 05:58 pm (UTC)

taking back your time and your life

It appears that this is a rather common story of people being overused by companies. We no longer live in an age where companies care for their employees like family. People are viewed as expendable. So why not work them to death, if the employee will do it. Here is a link to the movement for "Take Back Your Time". Our society today puts little value on family time, time to maintain health, time for spirituality,or time for community.
http://www.simpleliving.net/timeday/

Just think if we all used our actions to show what we felt was important. If we were able to set fear of being unemployed aside to say, "I deserve to have things other than work in my life". Our actions would reflect what so many people are thinking and feeling. Companies WILL NOT stop until people refuse to work these crazy hours. Unions use to help protect the workers, with less unions being used, people need to ban together, make a statement that they want their lives to be different. Make a statement and say, "I choose to live life, rather than be a drone to help someone else retain their millionaire status!" Become involved in what you believe in! You are important. Let Big Corporations know that by talking to others, making a statement to leave after your 8 hours, take your lunch. Now more than ever, support a government that values people more than corporatations. The current administration just recently abolished mandatory overtime for MILLIONS! We can not continue to support an administration that does not value the people of this country, who are the main support for all functioning businesses.
Please express with your thoughts, words, and actions that you and all people are worth LIVING a life and not just merely existing! When we ban together we have strength to make change happen! TAKE BACK YOUR TI:ME!

(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-12 05:59 pm (UTC)

I understand

Though I have never worked for a game development company, I do work in the Computer Information Technology field. I used to work for a Company called Nando Media, and when I first started it was you typical 9-5 job, with a rotating on-call shift. However, after time, the job was turned into 9am-9pm plus additional on-call, short announcments for travel, and NO OVER TIME PAY, NOR COMP TIME. What is funny, however the employee hand book I was given stated in BOLD that COMP TIME was given to all Full Time employee. Did that happen? No. My manager Joesph Overocker (at that time) said if one of his employees wanted COMP TIME, "...they could have all the time off they wanted, just don't expect to return back to work". I remember working 7 days a week, traveling to data centers working 12-14 hour days far away from home without no compensation. So I quit, I took up my issue with the Labor Board and Employment Security Commission, even had three hearings set up but lost. I appealed the Commission's ruling and took the matter all the way up to the state, and still lost. The defendant didn't even show up or show representation. I suppose the state choose to favor busniess over the little guy. The end result was... I was out of work for 7 months, but happy to finally find something else - where I am appreciated, and treated well.
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