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



This article is offered under the Creative Commons deed. Please feel free to redistribute/link.

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[User Picture]From: dumbcracker2
2004-12-13 04:47 am (UTC)
I'm happy that there are wives out there looking for the well being of us video game people. I love you EA_Spouse, your kind heart has begun a hurricane of lust in my heart.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: dairylives
2004-12-13 04:49 am (UTC)
waitaminnit!!! EA makes video games?
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: hamilton
2004-12-13 04:45 pm (UTC)
As a consumer I can only help by not buying EA games.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-14 07:38 am (UTC)
Hamilton, you're certainly not helping those of us who work there and wish to keep working there!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-13 11:22 pm (UTC)

EA's policy will eventually backfire on them

After reading your very thought provoking email I can wholly understand why you despise EA in the way you do. I live in the UK, and over here a company would not be allowed to make employees work the shocking hours you mention. EA's policy of making people work horrendously long hours to get the job done has on numerous occasions in the past backfired on them. Many of their games (particularly older games) have been heavily criticised for flaws and glitches, and I suspect this is because they make their employees do such long hours, which results in fatigue and leads to faults in the game. As your post was quite recent I suspect that the game you mention must either be Goldeneye Rogue Agent or one of the recent Lord of the Rings games. If it is indeed Goldeneye, it only goes to show EA that abusing their employees does not work (the game has received numerous bad reviews).

I feel that it would only take one large lawsuit to succeed and EA would be at the mercy of all the disgruntled current and former employees that they have treated so poorly.

(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-14 10:58 pm (UTC)

Re: EA's policy will eventually backfire on them

I work for EA in the UK and despite what you say the same problem is alive and flourishing here too. Regardless of all promises not to repeat the same 'mistakes' again, it looks like it's going to be another year of long hot summer nights spent at our desks eating pizza, with the vague hope that we might just make it home in time to say goodnight to our wives and kids.
Although companies in the UK can not legally fire you for not doing overtime (and yes they do make a point of saying that OT isn't enforcable) I don't remember the last time during the months of 'crunch' that anyone on the team was encouraged by their managers to 'go home and see your family' - on the contrary.
I've lost count of the number of late nights spent driving home in a total daze and repeating those immortal words: 'just one last push... one last push...'
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-14 01:44 am (UTC)

Apologies, EA Spouse

EA Spouse, I apologize. I was deliberately baiting bwingb on page 43 to see if I would eventually read any logic or rational thinking. The tug-of-war was entertaining.

As a former EA employee, I support you, your spouse the momentum you have initiated and the hundreds of other 'EA Spouse-equivalents' laboring away in front of their computers.

Only intelligent contributions from here on ...
(Reply) (Thread)
From: ea_spouse
2004-12-14 08:57 am (UTC)

Re: Apologies, EA Spouse

Thank you. =)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-14 02:50 am (UTC)

Breaking - with NFL license exclusive, I bet Tiburon will be more overworked

EA just announced nabbing exclusive rights to anything NFL related for handhelds, consoles, and pc's. Now there's even less incentive to keep a creative workforce (so perhaps more abuse is possible). Plus it's a blow to Visual Concepts, which is said to have better working conditions...
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-14 02:54 am (UTC)

Re: Breaking - with NFL license exclusive, I bet Tiburon will be more overworked

I wrote this petition:


Please sign it.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-14 02:53 am (UTC)

EA: The Mac Donald's of the Game Industry.

Just look a the brand EA Big Mac!

No really, I agree that this overtime is the responsible of the mediocrity on the latest franchises.

Just to make an analogy, you compare a restaurant that serves quality food. Well prepared... and also fancy places you can go and spend $50 and up for a dinner for 2 people. Then you compare it to Mc Donald's with its fucking fast food that contaminates the stomach of the great majority of our fellow citizens.

The same situation is happening with EA. You have franchises that took 2 or more years, that actaully went GOLD. Say HL2 or HALO 2. EA is getting games ready (?) in less than a year. So you'll have your "happy meal" "your #4 Combo" ready.

It really sucks. I don't know you guys but I'd prefer to eat well, and if psssible, to take my girlfriend to a fancy restaurant.

Para Ta Ta ta... i'm lovin it!
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-14 08:19 am (UTC)

Re: EA: The Mac Donald's of the Game Industry.

Fantastic overgeneralization.

Please drive through.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-14 05:05 am (UTC)

EA is not a game company. It is a marketing company

EA is not a game company. It is a marketing company. Games just happen to be the widget that they market.

(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-14 09:23 am (UTC)
There was a crack about this by Bing Gordon at the company meeting. "Top 10 Best Reasons to be an EA Employee." There were a lot of jokes about long hours, and not enough pay, and the crack about you was, "Blogging courses for EA Spouses through EA University." as one of the top 10 reasons to work at EA.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-14 03:17 pm (UTC)
Typical. Did they joke about the lawsuit, too?
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
typical - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: typical - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: typical - (Anonymous) Expand
From: unionjosh
2004-12-14 07:11 pm (UTC)

spouses are fighting back

(AppleInsider, Dec. 13) -- According to a Mercury News
article published this morning, employees working at
Apple Computer's campus in Cupertino this weekend
received a fringe benefit they weren't expecting in
the form of a spontaneous protest staged by an
employee's spouse.

The husband of the unnamed employee, Michael Gough,
reportedly dropped through the campus to demonstrate
his frustration about the overtime hours he said his
wife was required to work at Apple. He drove a small
car around Apple with a sign reading: KAPAO: Kids and
Pets Against Overtime."

"I was driving around with two teenage boys and a
dog,'' Gough said, "and we had a loudspeaker on the
car and our basic message was, 'We are kids and pets
against overtime, and we're here to shout out a
message of solidarity to all of you hardworking people
at Apple Computer who are working long hours on the
weekend during the holiday season.'''

At one point, a security guard stopped Gough's car,
but a small crowd of employees nearby were cheering
him on
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-15 09:09 am (UTC)

Re: spouses are fighting back

So which is the husband, a kid or a pet??
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
From: bwingb
2004-12-14 11:41 pm (UTC)

food for thought

It is easy to fly into a passion... anybody can do that, but to be angry with the right person to the right extent and at the right time and in the right way… that is not easy.


He that would be superior to external influences must first become superior to his own passions.

Samuel Johnson

Courage and modesty are the most unequivocal of virtues, for they are of a kind that hypocrisy cannot imitate; they too have this quality in common, that they are expressed by the same color.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

Abraham Lincoln

The stupidity of men always invites the insolence of power.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Authority founded on injustice is never of long duration.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of their inadequacy and impotence. They hate not wickedness but weakness. When it is in their power to do so, the weak destroy weakness wherever they see it.

Eric Hoffer

(Reply) (Thread)
From: bwingb
2004-12-14 11:45 pm (UTC)

Re: food for thought

I thought certain individuals here would enjoy some more "stupid fucking shit" to read.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-15 02:38 am (UTC)

Interviewing with EA

I'm going to be interviewing at the EA office in Vancouver shortly and I've been reading alot of the comments on this blog and wonder why I might be bothering to interview. It sounds worse at EA than the other game companies I've worked for. As someone who manages the entire development of the product from design to product ship, I hate having to ask people to work overtime and really only do it around large deadlines. Everyone knows it's expected during those times but I don't want to work alot of overtime hours myself and I'd hate to be in a position where I'd have to ask people to work weekends for months at a time. If that is the case, then there is obviously a huge problem with the project schedule and/or expectations from upper management. The project managers need to be stronger and tell upper management what can and cannot be done in the timeframe allowed. If they want it by "X" then this is what they will get based on a 40 hour work week. Trying to do it any other way just sets you and the team up for failure.

Anyhow, any comments on what to expect from EA when I interview and how they might respond to my question regarding the pending class action lawsuit?
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-15 02:59 am (UTC)

Re: Interviewing with EA

Absolutely, embrace the experience as you'll learn a lot!

It will be an interesting, alarmingly disorganized, very contradictory experience for you. If/when you address the blog or the lawsuit, it will be deftly brushed aside or they will lie outright about most/all issues that have been discussed in this blog.

While on an academic level, you absolutely have the right approach as a project manager, it simply will not work at EA Canada. Aside from the inflammatory posts on this blog, most of what has been described/explained is very accurate.

Good luck!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-15 06:00 am (UTC)

Passing thought, would EA push livejournal?

If this was shut down it'd probably be mirrored and generate even more attention, but I'm wondering if ea might ask livejournal to hand over ip's of posters and other info in hopes of discovering their identities. I wouldn't put it below them to ask, but I don't know livejournal well enough to guess if they'd capitulate or not. EA however is a big boy in the world of corporations now.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: ea_spouse
2004-12-15 08:57 am (UTC)

Re: Passing thought, would EA push livejournal?

At this point, the blog has gotten too big, and the 'damage' is pretty much already done. It is possible that EA might try to pressure livejournal if they thought they could be successful with it, but I doubt that they could -- in general livejournal is pretty good about defending free speech, though I don't know that the service has been used in precisely this way before. At any rate, I'm not terribly worried about it, though I have saved a couple of pages for archival purposes, just in case. I am not terrifically familiar with the technology, but I don't know that it's actually possible for livejournal to start handing over IPs even if they wanted to; it depends on how their database works. If I were to turn on IP identification now, it would not be retroactive, which leads me to believe that the database itself is not recording IPs.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-15 07:45 am (UTC)

What's all the stress for?

is it really that difficult to change the player names in team rosters every year?
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2005-01-10 09:46 am (UTC)

Re: What's all the stress for?

Yes it is, I did it for FIFA for 2 years, and it was the most difficult mountian a red-taped bull-shit I've ever had to climb...

and I did the 5-6 months 7 days a week getting paid half of what the industry standard was for my position... hooray!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: ravidrath
2004-12-15 07:29 pm (UTC)

Watch out, EALA!

Having been an employee (well, intern) at Origin during Mr. Young's tenure and have friends that knew him from his Virgin Interactive days, I can't help but laugh.

I would be hard-pressed to think of anyone WORSE "to build improved processes that ensure high quality games are built on workable schedules."


Really, how does this guy stay employed? He is largely responsible for many of their worst corporate mistakes, including EA.com and the collossal money-hole, Majestic.

(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2004-12-16 01:30 am (UTC)

Is he the only one? Nah.

I can give you an equivalent: there is a certain "producer" at another video game company located in Ontario, Canada who has single-handedly fired, demoted and demoralized a very talented, dedicated team of artists and programmers to quit due solely to his lousey management skills. How bad is he? Since the latest game began production over THREE years ago, less than a handful of the original 35 employees are still there. Recently, three more were fired with no reason given, right before Christmas. Nice guy.
If the parent company in New York thinks the game will have any kind of quality, it has long since become a myth. A year ago the producer was pushing ridiculous deadlines on the employees to prepare the game "to show to the press." A year later, it hasn't been shown once to anyone. Talented people were fired, more quit out of frustration and exhaustion, some resigned from the industry altogether. Is this 'producer' producing anything? No. Why hasn't he been sent home and replaced with someone who actually has the skills necessary to do the job? Who know. This is how the game industry is; broken and sick.
I support EA Spouse and what she is trying to accomplish to make the situation better on behalf of all the overworked, exhausted video game employees who just love what they do and want to do the best job they can.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
From: deadb0dyman
2004-12-16 05:51 am (UTC)
he chose to work there if you don't like it suck it up and quit
(Reply) (Thread)
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