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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: occupied
2004-11-28 08:15 am (UTC)
Its a job.

Problem being is that too many people complain over such miniscule matters.

YOU ARE whats wrong with your country/
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-28 08:31 am (UTC)
F*** EA and the horse they rode in on they sound like bas****s to me.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-28 12:40 pm (UTC)
ill put this info about EA in my signature in other forums.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-28 12:57 pm (UTC)

Testers

Hello,
I found this article very interesting, particularly because I was an employee at EA for seven months and based upon my experiences, I can verify that all of the information described in this article is true.

The unfortunate thing is that nobody, and I mean nobody, talks about the testing teams that are assisting the development teams produce the best quality product for the customer that is possible, given the time constraints that everybody on a project confronts. For example, on the FIFA franchise, there are roughly 30 or 40 testers working with the development team to isolate every possible issue that a customer might confront while using the product.

The development teams work extremely long hours, but simultaneously, the testing teams work equivalent hours, and receive a ridiculously small amount of money in exchange for their labour time. Its so small, that nobody can possibly earn a living working as a tester at Electronic Arts. Of course, everybody in the company operates on the assumption that the testers are high school graduates with very little education and thus, constitute unskilled labour and should not earn more than $10 Canadian an hour for their efforts. At least, thats the only rationale explanation for the pay scale associated with the job and the fact these employees are kept on contract with no benefits. Yes, thats correct, absolutely no benefits. However, upon closer inspection of the quality assurance department at Electronic Arts, one would find many people with university degrees in business, computer science, architecture, and economics. Alot of these people got into the gaming industry because they truly love video games, but how many of them can possibly remain in the industry that they love when they work 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day, for 3 or 4 months straight at a time, for $10 Canadian an hour ($15 for overtime). They can't.

As a result, Electronic Arts loses highly skilled workers that want to work in the industry because they can earn much better salaries and receive much more respect in different sectors of the economy.

I would also like to add that for all those people that complain on the message boards about all of the bugs in the games released by Electronic Arts, and immediately assume that the testers messed it up, think again. Every single bug, and I do mean every single bug that you find in your game when you buy it and install it on your machine at home, has in all probability, already been found by the testing team, logged in an internal database and discussed with the development teams. Everybody is exhausted, the time constraints are unmanageable and decisions are made to ship known bugs. Bottom line. End of story. Its as simple as that.

All I can say is good luck to those that remain at EA. Good luck to those that remain in the video game industry. I hope its better at other companies. I choose to exercise the flexibility of my university education and pursue work in another sector of the economy. I doubt that I will play video games again.

Ciao.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-28 09:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Testers

I'm in development, but have also been a tester. Sorry to disagree with you, but as important as the work is (and make no mistake - it is tremendously important) it is reasonably compensated.

By no stretch of the imagination is game testing "highly skilled." You can grab anyone off the street and in less than a day get them productively testing any software product. It takes no education.

I would also disagree that "every single bug" is always found by Test. I'm not faulting their efforts - they try hard, and find what they can - but it's possibly to take ANY software product, game or otherwise, off the shelf and find defects in it that the testing team didn't find. To believe otherwise is incredibly naive.

Test is not Fun. I know that from experience.

If you have a university education, you (or anyone else in Test) can get a more skilled job outside of Test that pays benefits...but don't try to tell anyone that testing is worth more money or more benefits than it merits.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-28 02:37 pm (UTC)

Learn some Economics

Here's some advice for people in the industry. I know you're all intelligent and creative. Pick up a copy of Das Kapital by Karl Marx, read it, forget all the propaganda that you've been programmed with for the past 20 to 30 years of your life about economics and the state of the global economy, open your eyes and see your situation for what it really is.

I'll let you figure that out for yourself.

Then go form a union or do something else.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-30 04:24 am (UTC)

Re: Learn some Economics

This forum doesn't need to endorse any socialist communism to be productive you stupid marxist fuck. Don't sully the name of unions with the name of that seditious worthless "economist".
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-28 08:02 pm (UTC)

I'm out!

Should EA read this, they can consider me a customer no more. I currently own a rather large amount of EA games from many different platforms. I will no longer support their pocket books as they walk over average joe. Something that I am and something that many of us are, average joe's or janes. They say that the majority of the wealth is held by the top 10% of the population. Well, as far as my money goes, and that top 10%, if any of them are EA games exec's... they'll be loosing some cash.

I don't support unethical business practices. Slave labor (which can still happen even if you are paid!) is something I'll never get behind.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-28 09:27 pm (UTC)

Re: I'm out!

As an EA employee who is not dissatisfied with my compensation or my working conditions, I would respectfully ask you to continue to buy our products if you enjoy them.

Slave labor cannot happen if you have a choice, and I have a choice. I choose to work at EA, and to make our products better.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-29 01:43 am (UTC)

:)



That's a mule kicking a mountain lion's butt... (or chomping on his tail to be more specific), and yes, the mule eventually wins (http://www.pbase.com/kenron/inbox)
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-29 01:46 am (UTC)

3d artist from Czech Republic

If this is true, it´s a shame what EA is doing. I´m from Czech Republic and I´m very far from EA Games offices. So I knew only what was on their website. I thought they are one of the most professional companies in gaming world, I mean also appreciating their employees the best. But I changed my mind. I work as a rigger for 3d animated series and I feel even better, I´m not in game industry. But I have a lot of friends who are there and I hope they won´t be once eaten by some big corporate monster and lose opportunity to escape to smaller competition company. And hopefully there still are a few in Czech Republic, so people can choose and give fuck on bad employer.
I´ll send a link to this article to few people.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-29 02:19 am (UTC)

Hmmmm

sounds EA needs a Kick IN the Ass !!
one word UNION!
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-29 02:25 am (UTC)

I work at EA, a boycott doesn't help us.

If there is people planning to boycott the work I do, that will only intensify the amount of future laid offs.

Realize that for god sake!

I know there's a lot of ranting on this journal. But please remember that even if the company is screwing things, is the company I work for.

And I'm definetly not planning to quit right now. I got many mouths to feed, and also I have a reputation to protect.

A freakin boycott is not going to help me whatsoever. The lawsuit is in process, and let see if it solves the problem in the next years.

In the meantime stop this ranting/boycott campaign.

YES!!! WE ALL KNOW EA IS FUCKING UP BIG TIME!! It's on the news, the media, etc.

But please lets just end up this blaming game. Whoever is not part of EA right now, and keeps ranting the same same shit we know already, please shut the fuck up!! It's our problem, we are the ones who are dealing with it every day.

And I'm not being chicken for saying this. It's smart that I warn you that this shit about EA is not helping at all. By the contrary is exposing us.!! (See the ranting from that loser Joe Straitiff)

I want to keep my job at least for now. I'm not messing around with your jobs overseas or with other so called members of this industry. So please don't mess around with my shit.

I don't put my bla bla in your jobs. Why should I let you put your hands in my butt? It's not your fucking problem.

I really do respect the blog from the ea spouse and I hope the efforts on the lawsuit give peace and benefit to all of us.

As for the Joe Stratiff rant, I must say:

"Joe, I met you at the Urbz. Stop your public whinning. You were never a significant part of our team, you've failed because you simply didn't made any efforts, only when it was too late.

Your rant doesn't have anything to do with unpaid overtime. The overtime you had was due only because you screwed things up big time, and you had to spend that "extra unpaid hours" fixing the big pile of shit you made with your coding." It was simply fair.

I rest my case.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-29 02:57 am (UTC)

I too work at EA.

And perhaps a boycott is not the answer, I do not presume to know what is.

However neither is a rant such as this.

The question set forth before us then, is this.

What can we do as an industry, because we are, in fact, the industry, to take personal responsibility for the direction the industry that we love is taking.

What constructive steps can we take to make things better for ourselves.

Ultimately it is not up to the publishers, our audience, the few who have taken the first steps, or ea_spouse (or ea_spouses for that matter), to make this change.

It is up to us.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-29 03:29 am (UTC)
It's very sad but true. The game industry is still an infant and some serious clensing is needed. Schools left and right are jumping on the "get a job playing games!!" bandwagon, and so we have 1000's of naive students being taken in by these large companies who take advantage of the naive student.

CRUNCH TIME IS NOT A PART OF DEVELOPMENT. Crunch time is a sign of poor management OR a poor worker... a combo of both.

The people up top really have no love for the industry. Instead it's the love of money, and that's screwing it up for everyone. I always had this feeling that the industry is going to take a dive. The people who stick around are the ones who had the love.

I am lucky to have an employer who is not like that at all. Work 35 hours a week and paid lunches. If I throw in extra hours, it's documented and paid for. We go out, I bring my wife and kid to work, it's a blast. No one tells me I have to stay late, I know my job and I do it.

Finally something is happening. Not a lot of employers know that even if they pay someone 50k a year, they are still entitled to overtime or comp. Hehehehe, I bet they know now :D
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-29 09:01 pm (UTC)
the game industry will ALWAYS be an infant due to its anti-family attitide.

My California studio doesnt hire anyone over 40 years old and discourages hiring women
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-29 04:32 am (UTC)

We are aware of this situation

We are all aware of this situation and will deal with this type of work related abuse!
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-02 08:17 am (UTC)

Re: We are aware of this situation

Who is "we" ? Is that the Royal "We"? Can we get it in writing?
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From: luhoran
2004-11-29 03:50 pm (UTC)

...

I feel for you and your spouse... Being a gamer, I have supported EA. But this... this is absolutely unexceptable. I, for one, am not buying EA games. Not just to hurt EA. But for your spouse... and for you... and for EVERYONE who, in all, has been thrashed violently around for a meesly paycheck. FUCK EA!

-Kit

P.S. Give my regards to your spouse. I support him and you all the way :). Brilliance will never be crushed.
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[User Picture]From: jonax
2004-11-29 05:00 pm (UTC)

Not at all surprised...

I had expected as EA acting like this for a few years - You could tell that once their licenced game machine had started going for a while. They never had the same magic as in say the Mega Drive era (e.g. Desert Strike), and I always assumed it being that either the developers were disgruntled (due to the treatment from EA) or someone in the chain of command was stifling progress somewhere.

Thanks for posting this EA_S :) I'm currently a student at a Scottish university studying for a BSc in Computer Games Technology (i.e. becoming a programmer), so hearing experiences like these from people actually inside the industry (or even better, those with a view and nothing personal to lose) helps me & similar students out a lot. :)

BTW - Edge, one of the more mature games magazines in the UK, has just covered this blog - Hopefully they'll be a few more joining in soon :)
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-29 05:28 pm (UTC)

Medicority and ethics

I suppose this is why EA has never produced a Halo or Half-Life, a Doom or Warcraft. I'm not suggesting there is no talent working for EA, but the environment described here isn't exactly condusive to helping talent thrive or to retaining it. For one, it seems marketing personel dictate, not designers, coders or artists. If quickly churning out ten licensed mediocre titles is going to make more money than putting resources into one truly great game, then guess what. Combine that with employee burn-out and high turn over rate, and potential gets wasted. Sure, some of EA's games are fun for a very short while, typically a one night rental, but you're always left with an impression that they could have been so much better if only if...

I will not be supporting EA in any manner till I discover they've changed, and I will pass on this website to the gamers I can get in touch with, the same as it was passed on to me. To the EA employee asking not to be boycotted, sorry, but ethically I must, because in the long run more people will be better off if consumers take a stand against such disturbing practices.

As for, "I don't put my bla bla in your jobs. Why should I let you put your hands in my butt? It's not your fucking problem.", sorry, but how I spend my money or the message I want to send is indeed my problem.
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From: (Anonymous)
2004-11-30 03:26 am (UTC)

games without love

Thats the point. Games without love. It was the same story with Atari in the late seventies. As soon you have cold manager people giving you deadlines and pushing you over the limit only that they can get more cash in their lame phony asses everything gets screwed. The only thing they doing is causing headaches and farting in their leather chairs.
Seperate these grey business people from the developers and you get a great peace of gaming software.
It's that simple.
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