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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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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 06:14 am (UTC)

DO SOMETHING!!!

God bless you and continue to give you and your SO strength, ea_spouse. I'm a battle-weary developer for ea-tiburon in Olando, fl., and after reading through and drawing strength from this amazing thread I think you've shown great leadership bringing the people in the trenches together on the issue of employee abuse by electronic arts management.

When the time comes for action instead of discussion and commiserating, we should work together to make a change! Who is with me? If you think ea best practices are WRONG, then show your support during Steve Chang's next company meeting! I challenge all Tiburon employees who agree with and follow the sentiment of this thread to wear hawaiian shirts during the next company meeting!! That's right, just like the movie Office Space.

Do you want to show solidarity, or are you just a wannabe lurker or whiner? I guess we'll all find out where allegiances lie at the next company meeting.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: ea_spouse
2004-11-13 06:38 am (UTC)

Re: DO SOMETHING!!!

What a neat idea. Though do you guys have time to go out and buy Hawaiian shirts? Maybe a color would be better. And you have regularly scheduled company meetings? I suppose you could keep the shirts in your cubes... Let me know if I can help get the word out about this.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:23 am (UTC)

WORKING HOLIDAYS


-----Original Message-----
From: Boyd, Thomas
Sent: Monday, August 30, 2004 3:06 PM
To: LOTR3 Team @ EAHQ
Cc: Campsey, Jen
Subject: Labor Day policy
Importance: High
Hi Team,

As many of you have noticed, Labor Day, September 6th, is our beta. Unfortunately, this means the LOTR:TTA team will need to treat Labor Day as a regular working day to hit our ship date.

However, we will trade you this day for an alternate day after the project is over. Please work with your manager to choose an alternate day off after the project is completed.

If you have Labor Day plans already that you need to attend, work with your manager to make sure someone else is covering for you.

Apologies for rescheduling national holidays. Please let your manager know if you have any questions.

T

(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 04:58 pm (UTC)

Re: WORKING HOLIDAYS

I am another unhappy significant other

A prominent NC developer doesnt give off labor day or memorial day, although you are 'permitted' to take a vacation day. You get a grand total of four holidays: july 4th/new years/thanksgiving/xmas. Even mcdonalds managers get more. I find not having memorial day off to be quite an insult to veterans, especially while we are at war. This has become new management policy without warning, and is symptomatic of other problems there.

consider yourself lucky to at least get this consideration for an alternative day off.


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BAHHAHAHA - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:23 am (UTC)

Lowly EAC Peon

It's not just a Tiburon problem, or an EALA problem, it's happening at EAC and EAX as well; and judging from the posts around it's not something that will be stopping at the bigger studios that EA has bought. I'm sure it'll start happening at EA Chicago if it hasn't, and EA Montreal, EAUK, EAJ, etc...

We all know the problems, the question is what is the solution?

We all seem to be working these massive amounts of hours with compensation only coming to us if we have a semi-competent manager who's put in the same place and they actually have the ability or "budget" to hand out a sliver of the immense pie.

Sure, we can all rise up and complain to management; but what are they to do? Throwing more bodies at the problem has proven to not be a solution; just look at QA. "Not enough 'coverage'? -- Get more people!" I'm pretty sure it happens with the dev teams as well; I can only speculate as I'm a lowly EAC Peon in QA...for now. Myself and many other Sr. Testers are all looking for employment elsewhere; but everyone keeps it below 'management radar'.

Yes, i'm posting anonymously; I fear the wrath of an Non-Disclosure Agreement we have all signed, the wrath of a Cease & Desist coming to EA Spouse's posting and LJ removing it.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:26 am (UTC)

Just Another Member of the EA Lonely Wives Club

Thank you so much for what you have said. It is all so true! As another spouse of an EA employee, sadly, I can relate to everything you have said.

I remember years ago when my husband began working at EA, we both really liked the company. He was happy going to work each day and felt so lucky to have a job doing something he enjoyed so much. There were crunch times of course, but they were manageable. Usually not much more than 3 months a year, working 12-14 hour days, 5 or 6 days a week. We both accepted them as part of the industry and looked forward to when they passed.

Then over the last 3 years things began to change. During crunch time, the hours began to get longer and longer and the occasional weekend was replaced by mandatory weekends… EVERY WEEK FOR MONTHS!

During the last year he was transferred from one crunch to another giving him a total or 4 months in the year that were neither ‘ramping up’ or crunch times. His typical work week during this time is to arrive around 10:30am (he breaks the 10am rule to be able to spend a couple hours with our kids each day) and leave between midnight and 4, with the occasional all nighter. (How any human can possibly work over 30 hours in a row when they have been working over 12 hours a day for weeks on end is beyond me.)

Weekends were better thankfully. Sometimes he would even be able to leave early enough to say good night to our kids. You can’t say EA doesn’t have a heart.

With the holidays coming and games shipping, luckily there is a break from crunch time right now, but we all know it’s just around the corner. Each time I say I can’t imagine how EA could make it any worse and each time they seem to find a way.

To me, my husband is the most interesting person I have ever met. To our children, he is a hero who they would spend every waking moment with if they could. To EA, he is just another artist they can exploit to help increase their bottom line. They have no regard for human health and wellbeing, let alone dignity.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 03:55 pm (UTC)

Re: Just Another Member of the EA Lonely Wives Club

I'm a lonely wife at EAC. There should be a support group for us. I call us work widows.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:28 am (UTC)

hawaiian shirts

that is a truely awesome idea!! judging by the dress of many i see in the halls, finding people with that many hawaiian shirts would not be a problem and judging by the many people i talk to in the halls, finding support for this is also reasonable.

hey, tiburon employee, spread the word in other channels to read this post. i am not sure people will find it on their own!
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 08:03 am (UTC)

Re: hawaiian shirts

DO IT DO IT DO IT GUYS. That would be so awesome.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:28 am (UTC)

Electronic Arts

I worked at EA for a year and a half. Upon hiring, they ask you CAN you work over time? When you hear this question you ask your self how much is overtime?? So I did. They explained to me where there could be a few weeks without a day off and very long shifts. So they were upfront about the whole thing. My first project when we started overtime, I was informed that we were working from 9am til 10pm, I had no problem with that, that was the commitment that I told my boss

I would do. I was also told that if it was mon-fri our dinners were paid for and if it was really late the company would pay for a taxi home. Now on sat and sunday, if our caf wasnt open EA would take us out for lunch and for dinner. ( GEEE i see no problems there???) I was always paid my overtime, I made over a thousand dollars plus a pay check when we were doing the over time. Vacation pay was ALWAYS added into our paychecks. When you were hired you were told you were on a contract, we all knew this. So at the end of the project, you knew you were going home, BUT if you prooved your self then you were kept on for another project. I was kept on for 3.

Inbetween projects we even received paid days off, for all our hard work. (I see no problems there either) During my third project with EA I became pregnant. I did not have to do any overtime if I didnt want to, they brought me in a special chair and everything. At 3 months along I went into premature labour. With no questions asked, ea filled out medical papers for me so i could go on sickleave, and still get paid by our employment insurance. (Again, I dont see any problems there either).

Even now 2 years after having my daughter, I still go back to EA to visit friends and co workers. I have always been welcomed back, and i still have project managers that ask me to come back. If it wasnt for me having a child as young as I do and needing me as much as she does I would be back at EA in an instant. I love that place and miss it very much.

I worked at the Electronic Arts in Burnaby BC Canada. Maybe things are run different elsewhere, but when writing stories about how bad companies are maybe you should state your location and not bash the good name of the one site.

Yours Sheri K
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:34 am (UTC)

Re: Electronic Arts

Good for you that you were lucky to work at one of the few decent branches of EA -- too bad most of the rest of the branches don't seem to be the same way.

Read through the past 20 pages. You're one of a very small handful. This problem is endemic throughout EA.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:31 am (UTC)

Hopefully some good will come of this

You know something's wrong when they send their managers to seminars like "Managing Within the Law" (more like "how to squeeze the most work out of your employees without actually breaking the law"). Most if not all game companies crunch at the end of a project but EA has turned crunch into the status quo and is the worst of them all. The managers on projects like the upcoming LOTR rts game have reached a new low and I can only hope for the people working there that this negative publicity changes things for the better. And how much do you want to *bet* the team will be informed that the project missed their sales target so the bonuses will have to be cut back for the year!

Mark Skaggs should be chained to a computer in a small hexagonal cube and forced to re-model the same 3d rock 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for 20 years for the way he's treated his team. Oh well, this thread will probably earn him some kind of bonus from his superiors...
(Reply) (Thread)
From: unionjosh
2004-12-22 07:59 pm (UTC)

Re: Hopefully some good will come of this

According to the class action lawsuit, they should have had a couple more of those meetings.
How are those "goals" set? From what I understand, unrealistic numbers are pulled out of the air. Then workers bust their asses working on the game, the game makes money, the studio makes money, the company makes money, but the game does not reach the made-up target number so the workers are penalized. That does not sound like a system that was mutually negotiated and agreed upon. It seems to me that things would work differently if workers were sitting at the table when these policies were being made. I know some workers in video games think negotiate, contract and union are outdated terms, but I can't think of another industry that could benefit as much from them.
I can't chain Mark to a desk, but I can bring him and his ilk to a bargaining table if everyone will stand together.
Josh Pastreich
IATSE Local 16
unionjosh@hotmail.com
unionjosh@local16.org
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:34 am (UTC)

VIVENDI LAWSUIT

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?section_name=dev&aid=3721

This guy had it right. Here's a clip from the article, written months ago regarding the lawsuit brought by a programmer against Vivendi:

"More than that, questions need to be asked about the competence of management. What project manager creates a project plan that calls for workers to work 12 hour days for three months? Equally, what kind of project manager creates a project plan so utterly flawed that it requires that kind of work at all? The status quo in the development sector regarding working hours isn't just a sign of worker exploitation, but a sign of utter incompetence on the part of a certain level of development management within the industry."

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[User Picture]From: hoppalong
2004-11-13 07:43 am (UTC)
And I thought I got bad benefits. I guess I should be lucky that I get paid overtime and only work 40-50 hour work weeks, even despite the crappy 401(k) and the super expensive health insurance provided.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:48 am (UTC)

Beware Future EA young ones....ex-tiburon exmployee

For those of you enrolled in the UCF Engineering program. EA is after your life... Good pay does not make up for the sacrifice you will be making.
For those of you at Ringling School of Art and design... Go to Pixar/ ILM... you are very talented individuals and i hate to see you guys working on games like madden and nascar.. Go to Neversoft and work on creative fun titles with reasonable hours.

I used to work for Tiburon as a programmer. I have transfered to Midway and love it here. You will become fat from forcing the caffeine down just to stay awake at tiburon.. why do you think cokes are a quarter. They want you to drink coke all day! You will work on the same title from year to year and nothing will change until theres a new console. Then you will be forced to work un real hours just to bust your ass on a new console title and get shafted on your bonus becuase its a transition year. Blame Jon Shappert for much of the problems at tiburon. He needed his early employees too sacrifice themselves so his company can be what it is now, His dream came true but at the sacrifce of the employees. He now drives the Canadian team to be as good as Tiburon is. What that mens is pushing his employees to the maximum!!! EA = Great games, but at a hazardous cost. Just my thought, glad I made the move.,
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 06:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Beware Future EA young ones....ex-tiburon exmployee

You had to pay for your coke????!!!!
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:51 am (UTC)

EA's opinion toward organized labor...

...is exemplified by the location that they chose to hold their Holiday party at. It's one of the hotels that is being picketed by locked-out workers in the current multi-city strike. EA employees will have to walk thru a union picket line to get in:

Celebrate the end of another successful year at EA’s 2004 Holiday Event
You and a guest are cordially invited

Date: Friday, December 10
Time: 8:00 PM - 1:00 AM
Location: The Westin St. Francis in San Francisco

Partake in a little gambling*, eat to your content, and dance with abandon!

The details:

The event is open to all EA fulltime and EA temporary employees located at Redwood Shores and Walnut Creek

RSVP by Friday, November 26: Click on the link below and designate if you will be bringing a guest

(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 07:54 am (UTC)

QA Tiburon employee

Hey I know long Tiburon Hours, as i am a Tubron QA employee. One question for the others at Tiburon who work long hours. Why are all those fancy cars in the parking garage when all you guys do is work. You work for the cars you cant drive, Find another job, work less, dont drive your penis mobiles, and enjoy life. Just my thoughts!
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 08:09 am (UTC)

Re: QA Tiburon employee

not all tiburon qa employees are jackasses like this one! working conditions are far from ideal for most in the studio. one chat with a sleepy artist or programer would be enough to shed a more communal light.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 08:10 am (UTC)

Current Ringling Artist.. EA came to us!

I am a currently a senior at Ringling School of Art and Design, and have fowarded this thread to Phyllis Shchaen in Career Servies. She needs to know what is going on in the Studio which whom she is placing many graduates, and interns, I had an interview with EA last semster when they came down to give a presentation here. I did not get the internship but was STILL planning on sending my demo reel to them. I will however change my mind, and MANY OTHER STUDENTS are talking about this. Ringling should not allow there stududents to work for sweat shops. Ringling STudents are better then this. I have spoken with fellow students which were Interns this past summer. What they had told me was amazing. They dont want to work there based on their internships! These are AMAZING artist which interned working on game art that was on the level of an Academyt of Arts Student, or an Art institute student. It was doing shit work, but they did get paid! The second there 40 Hours was up they had to leave the office. The Interns could not work more then 40 hours... THIS IS HOW ALL THE EMPLOYEES SHOULD BE TREATED.

My intern friend and I have decided to post flyers around campus warning future grads to stay away. Ringling is much to blame. I am going through my senior thesis and the hours the faculty require is ridiculous. True we are paying and preparing for our future, but they are training us to expect the 90 hours work weeks. I am brainwashed to think this is how the industry is suppose to be... If the students put a stop to it now and not agreed to work for EA, there games would decline grealty. Students are just happy to get a job, and when they get there inital 40 thousand out of school they are happy. The money is good, as a first year grad, but the work sucks.... This is how i feel and all i have done is listen to my fellow students. Just my thoughts, i am now seriously going to research many companies and talk to employees there to find out what its like. We should start a Gaming site where all the gaming employess talk about there day to day activites and which studios are best to work for. I am scared to be entering this industry.. Good luck to all fellow Ringling Artist whom are have been working to get into this field for their entire life. I have, but will really consider on staying away from EA... Activision here I come!

(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 10:14 am (UTC)

Re: Current Ringling Artist.. EA came to us!

You mean "their students" and "their day." "There" is a direction. "Their" is the possessive pronoun. I'm not sure I'd want to play a game that was programmed by someone who can't even spell correctly.
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Good for you! - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 08:23 am (UTC)
I'm sorry to be the one to inform you of this... But that's how MOST things in the gaming industry work.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 10:17 am (UTC)
That doesn't make it right. You must be one of those slave driving project supervisors who expects these people to sell their souls just to work for your company. Do you not realize that the whole point of this person's post was because she's trying to raise awareness and put a stop to this abuse?
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Agreed - (Anonymous) Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
they pay you well - (Anonymous) Expand
Paid well? - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Paid well? - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Paid well? - (Anonymous) Expand
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 09:44 am (UTC)

Ex EA Employee...excercising restraint...

Good to see someone speaking up on this issue...the best thing you can do for your husband is be supportive and if at all possible encourage him to leave and find a better situation. Once you leave EA you look back and wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

I'm going to try and add to this without getting too impassioned and angry. I worked for EA for quite a few years...and I can tell you that, what was written here, is not an exaggeration...a bit melodramatic perhaps, but EA will work you into the ground if you let them.

-mandatory crunch time-
Crunch time was anywhere from 12-15 hours a day and typically lasted anywhere from 3-6 months, though on one project, we did those kind of hours for 9 months.

-chasing the carrot-
The rewards EA gives are intended to keep you running hard on the treadmill. Stock options that vest over three or four years, so you have to stay if you want that money...and in order to stay you have to play the game their way. Golden handcuffs. We did see end of project bonuses, but they they were very inconsistent, and some guys that worked insane hours throughout the project received a bonus check that was insulting. These came to be known as the "fuck you bonuses."

-the mind job-
EA really puts a lot of effort into trying to get you to believe that you are doing something very important and that in the end all the extra work will pay off. But as I found out, over and over again, it doesn't. The bonuses come nowhere close to being adequate compensation for all the extra hours. It usually takes getting burned two or three times for you to learn your lesson because they always end the project with the word "Next time we'll do it better."

-intimidation-
There is also the intimidation factor...at EAP (which later was folded into EALA) there was always the subtle threat that if you didn't shut your mouth and do exactly what management mandated, (regardless of what harm their mandates did to ones personal life) you would suffer the consequences. If you happened to be one of the few who was brave enough to speak up about it...the response was usually a very flowery and wordy version of "if you don't like it, leave." or you were dismissed with a condescending look and a, "I can see how you might think thats how it is, but it's really not." Issues that the team had were often given some sort of demeaning title like "verbal junk food," and long meeting ensued with management trying to convince employees why they were wrong...never "how we can fix it."

-teachers pet-
EAP Management played favorites in a big way and rewarded "loyalty" over good performance. The producer of Generals made some really big mistakes that cost the team weeks of overtime and yet in the end was rewarded with a raise and a promotion. In case you are wondering, "loyalty" as far as we could tell meant running to the VP and squealing on your co-workers for every tiny infraction or misstep. We all saw a lot of examples of this kind of behavior and in a professional atmosphere where the team is subjected to long hours and unrealistic demands, it's just uncalled for. (and wreaked havoc on the teams morale.)

-young and stupid-
These were all very hard lessons for me to learn, in the beginning I was young, naive, and swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. Young people get into the games industry because they love games, and EA takes full advantage of that enthusiasm. These kids will join up, give their heart and soul to the project and do it for peanuts. EA eats these kids alive and tosses them when they have squeezed them for all their worth. Believe it, I have seen it happen over and over gain.
Every hour of overtime we work lowers our hourly rate! How much is your time worth to you? These guys just don't understand, this is your life, and you're giving it away for free! You can't get it back and when you find yourself in your mid-thirties (considered an "old timer" in this business) you'll be kicking yourself wondering what the heck you were thinking.

continued...
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-13 10:14 am (UTC)

Re: Ex EA Employee...excercising restraint...

-what I did-
I crashed and burned, and then I left. I was utterly miserable and the money I was making didn't matter to me anymore. I was seeing a talented team of guys misused and treated like children on a daily basis. My wife encouraged me every day to just leave. I cashed out as many options as I had vested, gave my notice and never looked back. I took some time off at my own expense and eventually found a job at a nice small developer and things have been great ever since. My only regret is that I didn't leave sooner.

-who's to blame?-
Ultimately, I am. It would be really easy for me to just blame EA, but I was the one who continued working there. I can hate EA and their management for their policies and general attitude toward its employees, but I was the one who stayed there. Perhaps, instead of taking the role of the victim we need to start taking responsibility for our choices. Sounds harsh, but thats they way I see it.
Seriously, Why not just try going home after an honest days work? I wonder how many have actually tried doing that? Just ignore the mandates and go home. Can they really fire you for looking out for your own well being? I've got to believe that if they do, they are doing you a big favor.

-punishment?-
The whole crunch time thing is an industry wide problem and who better to go after than the biggest predator in the jungle. But I admit I still have a lot of bitter feelings toward EA and can't really look at it with an objective eye.
My personal feeling is that I would like to see some action taken against them for no other reason than for all the poor bastards that, for whatever reason, feel like they are trapped working for EA and have no other choice than to keep on enduring their BS.
Plus, there is a steady stream of young people that are always willing to sign on and bare their necks to the fangs. I'd like to see these guys keep their love of making games longer than the current one or two years before they turn into bitter and scarred vets.
Is legal action the right way to approach it and what would the long term ramifications be? Only time will tell...I'd like to think that it might make things better for everyone.

-lessons learned-
It sounds cliche, but money doesn't make you happy if you have no time or energy to enjoy it. I made a good living at EA, the pay is decent and the benefits are good, but at what cost? My, health, mental state, and social life all suffered as a result of my tenure there.
I would say, if you feel compelled to work for EA, get what you want out of them and get the hell out before they eat you alive. My monetary situation is nothing like it was when I was EA and yet life is good. I'm still in games and working for a good company, and I'm feeling some of the old spark coming back. If you are working in a place that you hate, it really is up to you to do what you have to do to get out and get happy.

on that note...I have droned on far too long, and hope that all this energy does someone some good.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
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