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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: terrtle
2005-03-23 01:28 am (UTC)
as far as the "game degree" thoughts go

my plan is to go to digipen for a BS in RTIS and later return for a MS in CS to broaden my horizions. i dont expect to be a game programmer (and i use that in the simplest terms - i wish to be the guy writing the code) for more than a decade or so before i move on to management or some other programming related job (hell, look at the lifespan of most programmers, they have to leave in a matter of 2 decades AT MOST usually because of carpel-tunnel). would the MS in CS from digipen be viewed the same as one from another college? i want to go to digipen to jumpstart my career in the game industry, but i don't want to be locked into making games forever.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-23 05:58 am (UTC)

don't get a "game degree"

-especially if you dont plan to stay in the industry long term. Game degrees are worthless in "normal" industries and of minimal value to the actual game "industry"
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-23 10:25 pm (UTC)

suomalaista apua or english help

haluan että joku neuvoo suomeksi että mitää teen kun minun The sims double deluxe peli ei toimi...kuj yritän lataa sitä siihen tulee teksti kieltä ei ole rekistöröitu tai jotain vastaavaa...haluan että joku kertoo mitä teen....ärsyttää kun missää ei saa apua...:S:S:S:
what i can do fof my The sims double deluxe game...when i´m insatlling it...it say"something like that...: error getting language from teh registry....i want help...
auttakaa joku minua/help someone me, please...
-kottarainen-
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-23 10:41 pm (UTC)

One of the best? Not anymore.

Never been so happy to see shares that I own drop.
Another thing thats not been mentioned, EA failed to appear in the Sunday Times 'top companies to work for' list in the UK. In previous years they came in at number 9 & 21.
EA Europe is no better than the US offices.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-24 12:49 am (UTC)

Re: One of the best? Not anymore.

Hopefully, this is a trend to put companies like EA to shame. Media enterprises - newspapers, magazines, etc. - have a responsibility to report the truth, not to run idiotic contests based on employee surveys often manipulated by sociopathic companies like EA.

Fortune Magazine is the worst at promoting this list/contest "Best to Work For" shit. This past year, Fortune reviewed the practices of Edward Jones, a small financial adviser firm that had placed #1 two years in a row in the "Best Company to Work For" crap-assed award. In 2002 and 2003 Edward Jones placed No. 1, and placed in the top 10 last year. This January, Fortune disqualified Ed Jones from the "contest" because the employee surveys did not match the recent news events. Employees at Ed Jones turned over e-mails that reported long-time corporate abuse, fraud and staff disenchantment generated over these issues.

I'm grateful to ea_spouse for starting this blog. Someone has to shine a light on this garbage. EA is not the company it claims it is. So what if it placed in the top 100 on Fortune's annual "Best Companies to Work For" list a few years ago. EA hasn't placed on it since, and as far as I'm concerned, should never again place on any such "Best to Work For" list in any magazine/newspaper.

These stupid awards about "top companies to work for" only serve the bloated egos of CEOs; they have nothing to do with the quality of life for employees who slave under these CEOs. Such lists are not relevant and, in my view, constitute fraud. Any media that cooks up these contests deceives the public and the employees who are forced to participate.

I'm glad the stock is tanking. EA deserves its crap rating.

Don't buy the company's stock, and never buy the media's hype.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-24 09:58 pm (UTC)

Before celebrating the drop in share price...

... it might be worth considering that the only 'perk' most EA employees get on top of their basic salaries are share options and bonuses. If the share price plumets then this only makes it worse for the employees.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-25 04:17 am (UTC)

Re: Before celebrating the drop in share price...

no way. i own the stock and i'm glad to see it drop. see previous comments as EA is no longer going to be offering up options and such. besides, they never gave many options anyway. it's the really really big guys who are benefitting from options, see mr. probst et. al and the amount of options all of those goons are holding onto. i'm waiting for the stock to drop so i can option myself some puts or shorts on this puppy......all i can say is.....fall, fall!!!


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insider trading - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: jax_fox
2005-03-26 01:38 pm (UTC)

Wow...

I didn't understand how hard EA pushes everyone... O.o ...It's a wonder how they can do that and get such a little amount of good games...Now I see why everyone hates EA
O.o
I'm thirteen and I actually understood you...yay me! ^_^
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-29 12:55 am (UTC)

Shareholder lawsuit filed today

There's more here -

http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/050328/phm038.html?.v=4

"Notice is hereby given that a class action lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of all securities purchasers of Electronic Arts, Inc. between January 25, 2005 and March 21, 2005, inclusive (the "Class Period).

Specifically, shareholders charge that Lawrence Probst, III and Warren Jenson violated the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by withholding vital information in their conference call to investors earlier this year.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-30 09:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Shareholder lawsuit filed today

Um, dude. Isn't this insider trading? Probst, Jensen, and a whole bunch of other higher ups dumped a bunch of stock at the end of January:

http://finance.yahoo.com/q/it?s=ERTS
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[User Picture]From: genuinesmile29
2005-03-31 01:04 am (UTC)

Is there hope?

I'm a seventeen-year-old high schooler on the east coast. All my life I've loved video games. Although I'm a little ashamed to admit it, I liked to go to other people's houses when I was little just so I could play (my parents wouldn't buy me a system). So naturally I've been looking into careers in the industry as I near college. Reading these entries has pissed me off as well as inspired me. I don't know a whole lot about business or the structure of the software industry, but I think it would kick ass to head up a company where the employee came first. Video games aren't about making money! They're entertainment, as well as art. I've never really been sure of where in the VG industry to insert myself, and I've got a lot to learn, but I certainly wouldn't object to creating an environment where video games, which I love and have been dear to my heart, could be grown, not manufactured.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-03-31 04:06 am (UTC)

Re: Is there hope?

Same here. I live in NYC and is currently a second year in college majoring in computer arts. A while ago I heard EA NY is holding a summer internship session at my school (they do it every year) I was so excited but it collides with my 3D class so I couldn't go. Later I asked the seniors, and one of them told me:

"Dude, I'm fine with working for EA as an intern during the summer, they don't show you who they are there. But there is no way in hell that I'm going to work for them. I mean, 70 hours a week for 50k a year for the first 4 year totally sucked."

That's not the exact quote but it's close enough. Now hopefully I can find another video game company around NYC.
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Re: Is there hope? - (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Is there hope? - (Anonymous) Expand
From: dcdc
2005-04-01 03:25 pm (UTC)

typical in todays corporate greed based environment

Wow, after reading this I don't plan on supporting a company like EA by purchasing any of thier products any longer.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-04-09 01:25 am (UTC)
Here's a funny:

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2005/04/04/daily39.html

EA is listed as #66 on the "most ethical companies" list compiled by Business Ethics.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-04-09 01:27 am (UTC)
More information here: http://www.business-ethics.com/whats_new/100best_2005.html

These people are on crack.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-04-24 02:32 am (UTC)

If You Don't Like It

If you don't like it don't do it. Great games take time.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-04-25 08:37 pm (UTC)

Re: If You Don't Like It

The point of this blog being, EA doesn't schedule enough time to make the games it makes. Instead of coming up with a reasonable 1.5-2 year schedule, it schedules games to be made in one year, and then forces the people to work overtime to fit the work within that time frame. Stop trying to give input on a topic that you don't know shit about.
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[User Picture]From: un_known_artist
2005-04-26 07:57 pm (UTC)

Re: HOW TO COPE -- I used to work at Maxis

How about we all acquire some Victory Gin and Victory Cigarettes. Maybe then mindless labor wouldnt be so horrible. Wait yes it would. Life imitates art.

Its companies like this one that is a major detriment to all others. They set the bar of slave labor and other up and coming companies think... "hey that seems like a good idea."... In turn they try the same and the rotation begins.

Its a sad day that companies completely disregard an individuals personal life (family, friends, TIME OFF, etc...) and expect you to become that lowly man working mad hours, sporting a pair of coke bottle glasses, working for little to no money and complaining about the loss of his stapler.
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From: _wanderjahr_
2005-04-27 01:32 am (UTC)

Electronic Arts under Investigation

Electronic Arts under Investigation

Tuesday, December 17th, 2004 Posted: 9:19 AM EST (1319 GMT)

REDWOOD CITY, CALIFORNIA (CNN) – World renowned human rights organization Amnesty International has launched an investigation against popular video game developer Electronic Arts, accusing the company of severe mistreatment of its development staff.

Known for its best selling Madden football series, video game production company Electronic Arts has been having an extremely profitable year, with hits like Battlefield Vietnam, its NBA and NFL Street series, and its annual reiterations of its classic football, basketball, and hockey series. Coming off a groundbreaking purchase of exclusive rights to the NFL teams, logos, stadiums, and of the NFL players association for the next five years, Electronic Arts was looking to establish itself as one of the dominant forces in modern day gaming.

Now, Amnesty International, an organization dedicated to unveiling massive human rights violations all over the world, partially credited for the investigation that led to the capture of war criminal Slobodan Milosevic, has launched its own independent investigation that wants to further explore rumors of Electronic Art’s treatment of its workers, specifically its development staff . As of this point, Electronic Arts has refused to assist in Amnesty International’s inspections.

Larry Probst, long time CEO of Electronic Arts, was sailing back to American shores on his private cruiser, returning from a recent visit to Eastern Europe. Mr. Probst reported as saying, “Amnesty International’s accusations are completely unfounded. For the sake of the integrity of our products, as well as for the well-being of the consumer, we are not allowing the inspectors to interfere with our highly secretive development process.”

When asked what Mr. Probst was doing in Eastern Europe, “Uh…I definitely wasn’t enticing starving families into working for me, then locking them in cages, and finally, throwing them in this ship’s brig to be sent to headquarters for slave labor. No, definitely not that.” When further pressed as to what was in his ship, Mr. Probst responded, “Not slaves.” After a series of barely audible screams and yells that were heard, seemingly coming from the bottom of the ship, we left Mr. Probst with one final question, “What the **** was making all that noise?!?” To that, he responded, “My stomach…?”

After revealing the contents of our interview to an Amnesty International representative, who chose to remain anonymous, was quoted as saying, “Well, we don’t really care. We’re just waiting for the CIA to stick the next Pinochet in another third-world country so we’ll actually have something important to do. It gets somewhat boring around here if you don’t have a war criminal to pursue. I usually spend most of my time touching myself. Where it hurts.”

It has been revealed that Michael Vick, quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, as well as the player featured on the cover of Madden 2004’s package, was one of the “whistleblowers”, whose firsthand accounts of torture on the part of Electronic Arts towards it developers, are the keystones to Amnesty International’s investigation.

“Yeah, I’ve seen these poor starving dudes all over their offices. These guys are underfed and overworked. Freakin’ twenty-six hour days they got over there. No lunch break either. If they don’t work hard enough, they usually get beaten with unsold copies of Medal of Honor: Rising Sun.”

CNN's Popi Sen in Albany, New York contributed to this report.

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From: (Anonymous)
2005-04-29 12:26 am (UTC)

The Larry and Warren show . . .

. . . coming Tues. May 3rd; EA is scheduled to hold its conference call with investors who may be curious about the falling stock, labor troubles, numerous shareholder lawsuits, etc. (Rumours are the call will happen tomorrow, Friday, April 29th):

http://biz.yahoo.com/cc/3/55463.html

At this link, Yahoo will keep the audio file for up to several weeks.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-05-04 05:13 am (UTC)

Re: The Larry and Warren show . . .

EA said in the CC they are opening a studio in China


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From: (Anonymous)
2005-05-05 01:04 am (UTC)

Looking for Interview Subjects

Hi folks --
I'm the producer of The California Report, a statewide public radio news program that airs on NPR member stations in California.

I'm trying to get in touch with a few "disgruntled" or "not at all disgruntled" game developers -- whether programmers, artists, engineers, writers, etc. I'm interested in hearing from folks who feel taken advantage of, or from folks who love the demands of the job.

We're doing a series on Gaming, and one of the stories centers on Quality of Life issues. I need some information about what it's really like to be a game developer in California -- at a major publisher, or as an independent/freelancer.

I'd really like to hear from anyone who can articulately describe the quality of life in the "game development" world. If you have a perspective on quality of life issues, a unique personal story, or if you know of someone who does, it would be great if you could call or email me. We're on deadline, so I need to talk to folks fairly soon -- even a few minutes by phone will help.

(It can be off the record if you aren't comfortable actually having your voice on the radio.)

As an artist and a writer, I know what it's like to work extra hours because you are passionate about a project and trying to meet a deadline. Sometimes you get seriously taken advantage of, other times it's worth the sacrifice and you don't mind it. Whatever your position, I think it's important to get this story out there and I'd appreciate any information you folks might be able to share.

Our show is pretty reputable, which is why ea_spouse suggested we post here. We are very conscientious in our reporting. www.californiareport.org

Kindest regards,
Stacy Bond
415-553-2346
sbond @ kqed.org
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-05-06 07:29 pm (UTC)

Re: Looking for Interview Subjects

From reading all the stuff here, they don't even get to drive home at normal time. So better try to catch someone who got away from that hell, or wife/husband of people working in EA. No, I haven't worked there, those are just logical conclusions.
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-05-07 07:57 pm (UTC)

A better way to make games! See link

No matter how much we hate EA, one thing remains: IF their way of making games is the best ,then they are right. No one wants to hear a bunch of whiners. Most of people thinks that we just want more money or more fame. So the point on which we should base our crusade against them is by letting everyone know that there IS a better way to make games. I think that every project manager and every game programmer should see this link:

http://enginesofmischief.com/blogs/ramblings/archives/2004/11/11/643
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