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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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From: _boneflower_
2005-01-28 06:19 pm (UTC)

Eat the Rich

Oh, dear. I've heard some bad things from people in any kind of game/software development, but this is one of the worst. I'm sorry you guys have to go through this.

Death to corporations, ne?
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-01 07:29 am (UTC)

I quit EA....

And got a $20,000 a year raise at a competing company!

Suck my balls!
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-03 04:50 pm (UTC)

Re: I quit EA....

You were obviously employed in the EA HR department.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-01 05:27 pm (UTC)

Rats flee a sinking ship?

Read all about it here:


From the looks of things, Jenson hoodwinked the public last week.

We're all waiting for your conference call this week, Warren. Why are so many senior VPs, execs and directors suddenly dumping shares when, as you reported, EA's future is strong?

If you don't want to answer that right now, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act may force you to later on. It's only a law, you know.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-29 07:43 am (UTC)

Re: Rats flee a sinking ship?

nice, whomever posted this has some damned foresight. now here ea is with ANOTHER class action lawsuit.....

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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-01 11:13 pm (UTC)

Comments from Gamer

Well, i don't work for any game industery, but i surely played alot of games. From my experience, there is something about the game produced by EA, that is hard to describe. And this jornal answered my weary. During gameplay, i feel that the game developers have the quickly-do-and-be-done-with-it kind of attitude. I made this comparison with Valve and Id software. After reading this journal, i realized that the problem was not with the developers, but the management instead.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-17 04:15 pm (UTC)

Re: Comments from Gamer

Got to say, I know what you mean. EA are simply trying to, as you've said yourself, be a Godzilla style monster on a rampage in the Gaming Industry at the moment, and being able to buy a majority share in Ubisoft seems a mighty good way for them to proove just how big they're becoming, and I ask myself "Why the hell are they so successful?". I just couldn't really figure it out, because a majority of the games they produce I find are, no offence to your SO, kind of poor quality- this I think is an example in the finished products, which SHOWS the fatigue and exhaustion the workers there go through, causing the games to just drop. Then, EA get a game out quick, buy up a few smaller companies and push them to work faster (Can anyone say Free Radical developement team, or even possibly Ubisoft?), get money simply because the game is based on a franchise and NOTHING ELSE, and they pay their workers an illegally LOW amount.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-02 10:25 pm (UTC)

At my work....

We've decided to boycott EA games. I work in the gaming retail, and we encourage people to buy anything but EA games. It isnt much, but after the NFL thing, that was it for us.

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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-03 08:45 pm (UTC)

Yeah, totally

Wow, I totally know what the whole thing is like... I used to be an employee at Maxis, a subdivision of EA. Crunch was crazy, people lost it...

www.montana-band.com (http://www.montana-band.com/)
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-04 05:41 am (UTC)

"...Your time is OUR money"

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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-04 04:08 pm (UTC)

"On behalf of corporate America..."

"On behalf of corporate America we'd like to thank you for siphoning valuable time away from loved ones, for trading weekends for work ends, and taking one for the team, even as your overall quality of life takes a nose-dive. Thanks to your hard work and dedication, 26% of Americans don't take any vacation at all. So keep up the good work, America, and remember, your time is our money!"
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-04 04:27 pm (UTC)

I'm a robot programmed not to know...

... that < a href=http://www.inch.com/~sindorf/Pete_Miser-640.mov
>I'm a robot.</a>
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-04 04:29 pm (UTC)

Blargh.. guess that didn't work.

Here's the link. Cut and paste.

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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-07 08:39 pm (UTC)

This never sat well with me, it has been nearly a year and its one of the things that come up when talk about internal problems in the past couple of years at work. Lots of things bug me, but this one is at least concrete. Everything seems straight up until the last part.

It has to do with EA_spouse's post because this producer disagreed with implementing a high risk, high cost feature into her project that would have piled more onto the already over full plates of the guys working on it. I spoke with her a couple weeks before this, and she was very aware of what management was doing. I heard she got a hold of this email the following week anyway before she was "laid off". I got it when the chain was 2 deep, I don't know how far it got sent out or how many people saw it before she did. I think that's disgusting. What happened to the feature? People slaved away at it for about 4 months and it got cut anyway.

I can't do anything now except post it for people to see, if anyone is still following this blog. We don't talk because we are scared for our jobs. This is why we just go along. I have to get out.

-----Original Message-----
From: Wilkinson, Kevin
Sent: Thursday, February 19, 2004 11:28 AM
To: Leczynski, Rick; Dang, Moira; Mohseni, Kiana; Harrison, Bill; Bosa, Lino
Subject: XXXXXXX re-design

Here is a first pass at a revised plan for XXXXXXX redesign. I have assembled a mini-swat team to help with this for the time being. Jason Leigh(MVP) will be redesign the interface with visual mockups from Rick Stringfellow. Bert Sandie has assembled the schedule/plan below - Thanks Bert!

The swat team is meeting John Friday morning to present the plan/schedule and current state of the design. I wanted to send this note to make sure the deliverables below will work for the respective teams. Please provide feedback by end of day today - thanks!! Stay tuned for an update after Johns meeting.

I am at EAX in meetings this afternoon.

-Thanks, Kevin

Note: Naomi is not aware of what is going on at the moment. I am working with John to resolve this as Rory is away for 3 weeks. Please keep things quiet for the time being.

(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-15 04:21 am (UTC)
Wow. No deluge of 'suck it up or quit' emails. I thought you guys had all the answers ...?
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-10 04:20 pm (UTC)

Mark Skaggs is a fat Bitch

What a moron.

"...the team that brought you Command & Conquer™ Red Alert 2™, Command & Conquer™ Yuri's Revenge™, and Command & Conquer™ Generals..." announces Red Alert 3

The team that brought you all those games does not exist. Each time, the team scatters to the four winds after they have to endure one of Mark Skagg's "infamous" projects. There is maybe a small handful of members left over from Generals, and maybe 2 or 3 loyal mutts left from Red Alert.

Mark Skaggs is a novice developer turned producer who witlessly tortures his every employee with his illogical, nonsensical ideas and noise-making. His incompetence has been the bane of everyone who comes in contact with him, and has been the major reasons for the insane crunch and piecemeal team building.

Mark Skaggs spends so much time at work, in fact, that he must constantly impregnate his wife so that she will be too busy to complain. His ethics are as deep as his insight, and he very often forgets to wear deoderant.

Like most egotistical producers in this industry, he is blinded by an insatiable lust for attention, like an only child. He has no viable or applicable industry experience or know-how from the developer level, and infects any idea he approaches with his inferior mind.

Do not go within 100 feet of Mark Skaggs for fear that you will be infected by his ignorance.

Thanks you.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-11 08:40 am (UTC)

Re: Mark Skaggs is a fat Bitch

game producers act the the children who buy their games
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-15 06:52 am (UTC)

Game Programming Student

I know that this comment probably wont be read, but I just have to say that its horrible that the game industry is doing this. Being in the industry has always been a dream of mine ever since I got my first NES when I was 13. I haven't ever worked in the industry yet (but I will (pray) I do when I grad. from college), but the long hours is something that the professor(game developer) at my college tells us about all the time. To be honest with you, that really sucks that your "SO" is going through a hard time and all, but to me it would be a dream. Maybe not to work at EA, but to work on a game with a team long hours, and doing what the team loves doing. I know that I'm not in the industry and I don't know what "Crunch Time" is like yet, but I already rarely sleep as it is from working on my own personal projects and studing. I guess to wrap it up, it sucks that people at EA are getting treated that way, and I hope it changes.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: ea_spouse
2005-02-15 09:23 am (UTC)

Re: Game Programming Student

I am still reading all comments. =)

What I really would like you and others like you to understand is that what you talk about used to be our dream. My SO and I entered the industry together and we share a great passion for making games.

What you must also understand is that a team that suffers physically is doing something wrong. They are either not skilled enough to be tackling the project they're attempting (rare), poorly managed (less rare), or working for something that they believe is genuinely and uniquely benefited by their sacrifice. These three conditions are not internally exclusive; sometimes it's all three. And while the last case looks the most attractive to you, and is easy to focus on romantically, like all dreams, it cannot be lived interminably in reality. It is easy for you to rarely sleep and work on your own projects because you are young. Trust me; I've been there. But if you keep abusing yourself this way, your body will slow down. To some degree your body is going to slow down even if you treat yourself properly. The question will be whether you find that right treatment for your body -- I should mention, the only one you're going to get -- before you do yourself serious damage. If you think I'm kidding, find some people who work in this industry and ask them.

It is critical that you attempt to understand these things, because you and people like you are our future. And our 'future' runs a deadly risk of stealing our lives from us, right now. It is difficult in many cases to be a veteran in this industry simply because there is a definable age bias -- it isn't just EA that wants young bodies who will throw their living resources at a project. The industry will to a certain extent be driven by the lowest common denominator -- the worker who is willing to harm themselves for the sake of some CFO's Ferrari. I am asking you not to be this person. I promise you that you will regret it for yourself, and if you don't have enough self preservation to be deterred by that, think of the people as a whole -- the people that make this industry -- that you will harm by demanding no standards for how you are treated. I know it's hard to see any of this from the outside, but I'm asking you to try.

When I was in college I had an animation instructor tell my group that if he ever caught any of us working for less than twenty dollars an hour he was going to come and beat the crap out of us, because it harmed HIS job. This is the same thing, only the standards are far lower. And it's worse because when we work the deadly long hours -- and make no mistake, I am not saying that a three week crunch before ship is going to kill you, I'm talking about the incessant hauls that have been carried out at EA -- we are not making good games. It simply isn't possible.

If the game is good enough, if the people are good enough, there is no need for this nonsense, and therefore to tolerate it is sheer stupidity. We can keep riding the track that we're in or we can push the industry to a greater standard. Look at the quality of games being made today. Very few are of the caliber that will be remembered in future years. Why do you think that is? The answers aren't simple, but most of them have to do with people.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-17 06:44 pm (UTC)

Just total shock....

I knew EA was in it for the money, but I had no idea it was THIS bad.

I do play many games, and I gripe and complain when bugs come about. But I know it's actually the publisher pushing the dev team too hard, the unneeded Christmas deadline, etc, but this is just appalling.

It is difficult to avoid many EA games, but then again they themselves think that the PC game phenomenon is dying. I wrote a letter to Computer Games Magazine outlining the reasons why they may think that there is a decline in PC sales. I always thought they needed to allow developers more freedom and more time to produce games, and I myself, as a gamer, would gladly wait until it's done and considerably stable. The game media, magazine publishers, and the game developers themselves cause a false sense of NEEDING a game. I really don't care what's in development unless I can see it on the shelves or actively participate in a beta test.

I really don't like the idea that the publisher creates unneeded hype and then throws on the much-dreaded arbitrarily-decided deadline. This in turn gives the publisher a reason to MAKE a crunch-time. Slow and steady wins the race, but EA probably hasn't read Aesop's fables.

I did mention in my open letter published by CGM the many companies EA has destroyed in trying to find the goose that lays the golden eggs. Origin is pretty much without its founder, Westwood has been KIA, and now I fear for Maxis. If Will Wright can see this, I urge you to buy back Maxis from EA, PRONTO!!! Now I have heard that Ubisoft is in the process of being purchased. A grim day for game companies indeed, when the bloated EA comes knocking at your door and instates a fascist regime.

I had a feeling EA was evil, but had NO idea the depths it had plummeted just to make a buck. They currently should STILL be making enough to actually allow for a longer development cycle and avoid crunch times as much as possible to actually foster a complete product. I have seen many a small publisher produce a product that performed very well and is better in quality, but at a reduced cost in human fatigue.

I say again, mend your ways EA, or you will find that PC gaming is dead.... for YOU, anyway.

My condolences to your SO and anyone else who has gone through this experience.

--The NOT so anonymous Anthony Jurjonas

P.S. I found the exact letter I wrote to PCM that appeared in August 2004. Here it is, scanned by terokone on the earth and beyond portal:

It's funny how EA sounded the death knell for PC Gaming at the DICE conference, and given its track record of obliterating the companies they buy and destroying good franchises, it's no wonder. We'll never see Tiberian Twilight, or the next Ultima game with Richard Garriott, and now I fear for Maxis and Gas Powered Games.
EA is a console company, and it shows. EA Sports produces the most popular sports games, but the formula is essentially rehashing the same game with updates every year. There's no innovation. PC games demand innovation, and this is where many EA games have fallen flat.
If EA is making bucketfuls of cash from its console division, it can afford to produce quality PC and console titles to ensure that they continue to do business in both markets. If EA was to actually allow companies to reach their full potential, PC games as well as consoles would flourish.
Instead, we see Westwood employees getting the boot, despite the Command & Conquer games as a whole doing rather well. We see artistic and developmental differences in Origin causing Lord British to abdicate his hard-earned throne. And now we may se EA demolishing Maxis in the way a tornado rips through SimCity. In the end, we all lose if EA continues to operate in this way. Perhaps PC games are dying... at least for anything EA touches.

ea_spouse, I thank you for bringing to light the other side of the screen. Understand that I had no idea the conditions your SO was subjected to, but we were saying the same thing... EA wants to maximize profit in the shortest amount of time, regardless of consequences.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-17 06:47 pm (UTC)

Re: Just total shock....

PCM = CGM... not sure why it came out that way.

And thanks to terokone, if you're out there. Saved me the trouble of looking for my letter. :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2005-02-17 10:23 pm (UTC)


I am still in school and my futur goal was to become a game designer and such i always thought it would be kool to be 1 and no that I helped make that game....but this this has really made me change my mind , thank you for giving this information i will steer clear of anything but gaming
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From: thecanadianicon
2005-03-01 06:07 pm (UTC)

Re: WoW

i dont think this should discourage you to go into the game industry, just EA until they clean up their act and start making games for the fun NOT the money.
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From: ravidrath
2005-02-19 09:07 pm (UTC)

New IGDA QoL Article...

Hey guys. It's been a while. :)

Here's a pretty good article on Quality of Life, citing a lot of evidence showing that crunch isn't fiscally responsible, either.


Enjoy and discuss!

(Reply) (Thread)
From: ea_spouse
2005-02-21 06:57 am (UTC)

Re: New IGDA QoL Article...

This is a great article. As usual Evan Robinson is right on the mark as far as I can tell. I also read it from the QoL list. Thank you for posting the link. =)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: ravidrath
2005-02-19 10:13 pm (UTC)

New Lawsuit Against EA!

Just found this in my mailbox, courtesy of the fine folks in the IGDA Quality of Life committee.


(Reply) (Thread)
From: ea_spouse
2005-02-21 06:59 am (UTC)

Re: New Lawsuit Against EA!

Fascinating. I'm sure there will be some ripples in the game industry due to the terminology that the media is pulling from the complaint ("not creative", etc), but I just got done reading the actual complaint itself -- you can read it here:


...and it specifies a lot more than what the Yahoo article is saying.
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