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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?


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[User Picture]From: shapermc
2004-11-10 09:48 pm (UTC)
Good luck on the situation. Luckily I just don't like my job, but the hours are good. I had seriously thought about getting into "making games" for a long time, but there are too many stories like this out there. Again good luck.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 09:48 pm (UTC)

ea spouse

How can I get in touch with you or your spouse. THere are others at EA who would like to meet.

I can be reached at brucekirs@yahoo.com

Thanks
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From: unionjosh
2004-11-13 05:09 pm (UTC)

Re: ea spouse

Hi,
My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer and I am helping with the class action lawsuit against EA for overtime. If there is any information I could give I would love to meet with some of you. I can be contacted at unionjosh@hotmail.com
josh
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 09:54 pm (UTC)

...

I've been in the industry for several years now, and I've experienced "crunch time" with several different companies now, incuding contracts with EA. It eventually lead to my divorce, and the fact that I was always crunching was used in a custody battle against me.
I now work for a smaller company, which is able to see me as a person, instead of an asset. The hours still suck, but I'm compensated accordingly, and get plenty of time off between projects. Unfortunately, as you mentioned before, the smaller companies are being engulfed by the huge game making machines like EA.

My heart goes out to you, and I applaud you for sticking by your SO
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From: shinkuirochou
2004-11-10 10:02 pm (UTC)

Re: ...

How very unfortunate that all that crunch time, which is already bad enough, also added more strife to your life because of hte divorce and custody thing.
I can understand these kinds of hours for people like doctors, but not for video game makers. I am a huge fan of video games... but what I'm saying is nothing, except possibly saving lives, is worth all this hell.
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games and crunch - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 10:00 pm (UTC)
I've been working for EA for more than a year and half now, and I'm already on my third title. My last recent title had an *insane* schedule, that very nearly broke my will to keep going in my chosen career. I'm fearful of another bad crunch on my new project, which may kick in as soon as early next year. I'm also afraid of losing my job if I make too much noise, so I keep doing what I'm told to do. I would be happy to support any effort to change these ridiculous schedules they have us follow, so I can go back to loving what I do for a living.
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From: ea_spouse
2004-11-11 08:09 am (UTC)
I don't know if you're checking back for responses to this comment, now that there are so many, but please feel free to contact me at ea_spouse@hotmail.com if you're interested in either spreading the word or getting more information supporting the class-action lawsuit.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 10:27 pm (UTC)
STFU biyotch and go back to work! :D

Larry
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From: ea_spouse
2004-11-10 10:31 pm (UTC)
Bad CEO! No cookie!
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
From: theredeye
2004-11-10 10:44 pm (UTC)

PLUGGED

I totally just plugged you on insertcredit.com because I CAN DO THAT NOW.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: ea_spouse
2004-11-10 10:48 pm (UTC)

Re: PLUGGED

Insertcredit.com is awesome. Thanks for the plug.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 10:56 pm (UTC)

EA SO's rant

First I have to say that everyone I have met at EA has been great. They are highly intelligent men who are dedicated, want to create an amazing product, love what they do and would kill themselves to do it. Unfortunately, that's what they have to do. Why? I was convinced, after only the second season of being an EA SO, that it is all about poor planning. Shouldn't the same game every year mean roughly the same requirements (people, resources, time) every year? We definitely heard the same explanations aka excuses every year. Unfortunately, after three long crunchy years, EA has killed my SO's social skills, commitment to me, libido, drive to do anything other than work etc etc etc. So I moved out. The perks are nice when you have time to enjoy them but the one thing you don't have as an EA SO is time with your SO. Monkeys could manage people better than the EA execs.
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From: ea_spouse
2004-11-10 11:00 pm (UTC)

Re: EA SO's rant

Clearly, what we need are some monkeys.

On a serious note, thanks for your comment, and I'm sorry things turned out the way they did for you. I agree about the poor planning, and the repetitive excuses. Either they're totally incompetent or they simply don't have the proper drive to do things right -- I have a feeling it's the latter more than the former, salted over by many dollar signs.
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Re: EA SO's rant - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 10:57 pm (UTC)

well stated.

i agree. totally. perfect, well said.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: unionjosh
2004-11-13 05:19 pm (UTC)

Re: well stated.

Hi,
My name is Josh Pastreich. I am a union organizer and I am helping with the class action lawsuit against EA for overtime. Do you work at EA? Did you in the last 4 years? If so, drop me a line at unionjosh@hotmail.com
josh
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 11:05 pm (UTC)

Your choice

Last company I worked for started this BS (Stormfront) when EA came onsite as our publisher. I was going to let them illegally fire me so I could sue them, but I got sick of wasting my time so I could teach someone else a lesson, so I quit to start my own company.

The way this changes is when people stand up. If you work for EA and let them treat you this way, you are strengthening their company and making it harder for anyone else to stand up, sue, or compete. Are you an enabler? It's your choice.

Politics also plays a big part in this. Bush's policies towards workers have given employers a new license to abuse. Write your representatives (http://www.house.gov/), vote and do it wisely.

Our EA producer told me this was how games was now, and if I didn't like it I should look for another career. BS. I'm not going to let a few greedy newcomers who know nothing about games or human decency take this industry from me.

Leo
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From: ea_spouse
2004-11-10 11:59 pm (UTC)

Re: Your choice

Well said. Best of luck with your company.
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Re: Your choice - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: euri
2004-11-10 11:09 pm (UTC)
I don't work in the game industry, but I work in an office environment, in a position of authority. If I pulled any of this shit, I would probably be sued out of house and home. This is outrageous.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-11 02:25 pm (UTC)

shut up stupid

if you don't work in the game industry shut up!!
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From: meatfreedom
2004-11-10 11:11 pm (UTC)

Choose Life

This is the way EA works. They are a slab of pain and degradation, a cesspool of moral and spiritual ruin, and a home for evil.


If you work there unaware, you still have a chance for escape to a better career life. It's not too late!

If you work there aware, then either you are currently occupying a relatively comfortable sitting perch from which you can dominate and miserablize others, along with a fat fancy paycheck, plus no worthwhile home life to speak of; or it is a hobby, and you are a demon put on this earth to lower the standards, for the holy children of God.


Yes, there are other hell holes. Perhaps too many. But there are always choices and options.

No "video game" is worth a destroyed life, the only one you'll ever own.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 05:03 am (UTC)

Re: Choose Life

Or if you work here and are aware, you're going to give it one last gasp to try to fix the problem, meanwhile dusting off the resume.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 11:26 pm (UTC)

benefits

But we get a 30 foot tall tree at christmas. With decorations and everything. That makes up for it, right? Right?
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 11:51 pm (UTC)

FEH!!

I too work in a game company. It isn't that bad for us. We do get deadlines and practicly live in the office. But the company I work for is much smaller and hasn't been engulfed yet.
However, I have friend who now work for the big boys because a few months ago, the company I'm still at was giving signs of death. It's fine now.
Some of my friends regret leaving because now they have even less of a life working for bigger game companies. Sure they earn a little bit more money and they have the caterer bring them fancy foods from time to time, but they have no more time for themselves. And if they don't like it, too bad.
And as for the money, we all got raises when things picked up, so it wasn't worth it after all to leave for that.
Many of my co-workers have worked for television and films. But it's a quite uncertain field and often you loose your job after 6 months because the company ran out of money.
So we are dooooooooooooooooooooomed!!!
Let's get a lawyer!
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Re: benefits?? - (Anonymous) Expand
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 11:50 pm (UTC)

Wow

Preach on sister. I've always been shocked there has never been a mainstream mention about some of the work practices at EA.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-10 11:57 pm (UTC)

ATTENTION TO THOSE LOOKING FOR A LIVABLE JOB.

Activision is hiring.

Very livable hours.

Treyarch, Neversoft, Infinity Ward, Shaba, Z-Axis, etc..

krunko@gmail.com

email me if you're sick of the hours.
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From: ea_spouse
2004-11-11 12:03 am (UTC)

Re: ATTENTION TO THOSE LOOKING FOR A LIVABLE JOB.

Activision, of course, has its own stories... we had the option of going to Activision and chose EA instead. For those reading this, do your research, and talk to people. That's about all I'll say for any headhunters that post in these threads.
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Activision jobs - (Anonymous) Expand
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-11 01:54 am (UTC)
weren't most of those guys ex_EA guys who were sick of EA and left to do there own thing? Ironic.
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