EA's dirty undies

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    EA's dirty undies

    copied from: http://www.livejournal.com/users/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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  3. #2
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    Interesting. I wonder if anyone on this forum works for EA or has worked for and could chime in on this.

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    Geez, some people can complain about anything can't they?

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    Quote Originally Posted by SeraphSword
    Geez, some people can complain about anything can't they?
    Dude, are you crazy? 80 hour workweeks? If my boss asked me to work that hard I'd give him the finger in 2 seconds and quit.

    Being a slave of the game industry is not my idea of a good living...and these guys deserve better, no wonder all the new games that come out aren't even decent until pacth 1.3.

    PS: You're a wuss for removing your awesome avatar.

    Real Men use Metal Type.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SeraphSword
    Geez, some people can complain about anything can't they?
    What the... are you serious?

    __________________________________________________ ______

    It's horrible to see such farming and "sweatshop" type behavior in such a highly talent driven field. We younger ones who have not quite ventured as far as full time employment for a major developer have been taught the line that with a good drive, good talent, and a degree of some sort that the world is but an oyster to pluck a pearl from. Unfortunately, industries from manufacturing to IT and now entertainment have fallen victim to the all-mighty concept of "the bottom line" and establish policy that seems to benefit those at the top, while those on the bottom are denied such historical rights as overtime pay and other benefits. It is a stark wakeup call to all of us that have the illusion that our industry is immune to hyper-capitalistic motivations of market cornering, perpetually sought after growth and inflated executive salaries, at the cost of those who in reality create the wealth, the workers. It's absolutely infuriating. My best wishes go out to this person and thier significant other. I hope there is some positive resolution to this horrible situation, and that he moves onto an environment where he is respected and treated with the decency that all workers deserve, be they skilled, unskilled, blue or white collared.

    Last edited by Helium Macaroni; November 13th, 2004 at 06:26 AM.
    "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed, The world in arms is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from an iron cross."

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    Quote Originally Posted by SeraphSword
    Geez, some people can complain about anything can't they?
    I don't know, I've done the 80 hour work week thing when I worked 55-60 hours a week at my job AND went to school everyday at the same time. I burned out completely in 3 months. Even if I absolutely loved the job, I would get tired of that abuse quickly. I have a life outside of art, I have a life outside of work, I have relationships and MANY interests that keep me sane and having to deal with that kind of work environment would either have me quit promptly or do what my unfortunate cat is doing in my avatar.

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    what IS the cat doing in your avatar....?

    edit: on another thought...don't the workers have a little responsibility for themselves? They aren't actually chained to the wall, are they? If I was in that situation, I'd start sending out demo reels...If they can't find the people to work 80 hours all the time, then I guess they couldn't work people 80 hours all the time, right?

    Last edited by jetpack42; November 13th, 2004 at 07:55 AM.
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    i always thought of ea as one hell of a fucked up UBER-company that abuses its customers.. now it says that they also abuse their workers..
    FCUK EA!

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    edit: on another thought...don't the workers have a little responsibility for themselves? They aren't actually chained to the wall, are they? If I was in that situation, I'd start sending out demo reels...If they can't find the people to work 80 hours all the time, then I guess they couldn't work people 80 hours all the time, right?
    I think this would answer you question more or less;

    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.
    I think if things stays this way long enough, they'll realize it's about time they formed a union.

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    That explains a lot about EA games =P Sorry to hear such things actually go on. From what I've heard Blizzard wouldn't do that. Look for jobs on their main site everyday! =)
    80 hour work weeks with no extra compensation in the $$ or time off is totally messed up. If they are going to "crunch" people uneccessarily just to get a game out as fast as possible you'd think they could afford some downtime, at least a few weeks in between jobs. It might be dangerous to ask, because I'm not full aware of how these things work outside of my small grocery store job I had through school but....is there not a union or something?

    They have a perfect scam, they can release so many titles in such a short amount of time and not even worry about their employees because even if they did lose the ones who enjoyed the money they are getting, 10 more struggling people in the video game industry would step into their place. They should release a FEW pay to play games, hell with the kind of hours they are getting from their employees it should only take a year or so, and imagine how much profit they could bring in. Get a few million people addicted to 3 pay to play mmorpgs or something with their cheap labour to get the game done they'd have enough to buy entire countries in no time. When they have these countries they could simply abolish any labour laws. Sorry you had to go through this.

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    Dudes, I was being sarcastic.

    I've got a cousin who works in the video game industry as a 3D artist. Everyone expects those crunch times, but it's only supposed to be those last couple weeks (and occasionally before a milestone), and then you get comp time after. After the last game they completed, my cousin was given enough time off to go do some charity work in Brazil. Honestly, I can't imagine why their hasn't been a lawsuit over this, unless the laws actually exempt this kind of behavior.

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    all this so they can make carbon copy of the previous year's madden but with updated rosters.

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    Gaah! Isn't that illegal under California labor laws? I drive by their spiffy LA offices every day....

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    Well I'll happilly never work for them. Not that they make any games I am interested in anyways.

    That's amazing and if this is true and if the artists there see it and stand for it..I damn those artists.


    -Joshua James

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    Hehe..Hey Chuk isn't it on the way towards that cool Tiki themed electronics store?

    -JtJ

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    (chuk does a Homer) Fryyyyyye's....... The Frye's ad commands my attention every morning in the Times like some hypnotic serpent, ready to charm me into helplessness and BAM! suck my wallet dry. But that's off-topic- sorry! Legends abound about the EA campus, tho- the foot-wading pool, the Starbucks in the lobby, etc, etc- all is posh and deluxe. I haven't heard about the insane hours yet- I wonder what other viewpoints say? This is one person's observation- I'd like to get confirmation, and to which office (or all) this pertains to.

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    Bottom line is that EA has also done an amazing psychological thing, taken the power away from the employee with scare tactics of unemployment.

    Well you know what, if this lady's husband would rally the friggn troops a little and went to management letting them know that they will lose 30 employees today if they don't change this, EA would not tell them to hand in their pass card, id, and have a nice day. Because, the uppermanagement, in effect, would be fired also for allowing this to happen.

    It utterly blows me away how employees stay divided like this, EA NEEDS YOU, believe it or not, there is no possible way they could just replace a substantial part of their development team and stay on schedule which threatens them as a company which gives the employees leverage of....POWER.

    Bottom line, unionize.

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    I've heard similar things about EA from other people.

    I wouldn't survive working from early morn to evening everyday on a football game or shooter.

    'Crunch-time' for me is working at all

    Jamen jag tror att han skäms, och har gömt sig. Vårt universum det är en av dom otaliga spermasatser som Herren i sin självhärliga ensamhet har runkat fram för å besudla intet.
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    My cousin works at EA. He used to work for Legend Entertainment, but decided he wanted to move to San Diego, and got a job with EA. I can't remember the numbers exactly, but they offered him regular hours, then like a couple weeks later had him working insane hours like in Palida's story here.

    I'm curious as to what game this person's working on....

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    I dislike this situation a lot...

    Just think about it. EA has so many aspiring artists that want to work there, I bet the kind of push that idea of people always wanting to come in on the side to get the current workers working harder. That's just a little too crazy though... hope something changes.

    Just take a look at my signature. Treat artists like crap.

    Edit: Nevermind don't look at my signature.. wrong link. Anyways people treat artists like crap... so bye.

    Last edited by Daunting; November 13th, 2004 at 05:30 PM.
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    This just in: Class Action Lawsuit

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    ive worked for EA on several projects.. if i ever take on another project with them i will make it a point to let them know up front that i absolutely will not give up months of my life to work obscene crunch hours because they didnt manage the project correctly,, or are just plane trying to save money by working a small team twice as hard.. if i feel like the workload ive been given is unfair i will request that they hire another artist to compensate.. its fair to expect occasional crunch and i am ok with that,, but it really shouldnt be something that you plan for... too many companies just accept crunch as a normal and substantialo part of game developement,, but in my opinion its a product of poor management or poor contract negotiation.. it can and should be avioded.. its only a matter of time before developers get unionized and then everything will change..


    -Lono

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    This is starting to go all over.http://www.gamespot.com/news/2004/11...s_6112998.html

    Heard some people talking about it on CGtalk also. Hope this get's settled out. I'm all for improving and mainstreaming the game industry even more but if you have crap in ya you should get it beaten out.

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    Even if I absolutely loved the job, I would get tired of that abuse quickly. I have a life outside of art, I have a life outside of work, I have relationships and MANY interests that keep me sane and having to deal with that kind of work environment would either have me quit promptly or do what my unfortunate cat is doing in my avatar.
    Isn't that some kind of a mouth musical instrument? Mongolian or Inuit I can't remember.

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    I thought he was lighting up a bong.....

    "If you only heard one side of the story, then you must be deaf in the other ear." - Sok N. Wett

    Sok's Sketchbook Thread Last Updated November 25
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    ... Russian Roulette, without the bullets.

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    Took a while but I figured it out. The cat's got a revolver in it's mouth.

    Edit: Doh! Posted 10 seconds too late.

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    "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 think this is VERY interesting, becuase the game company I work at would always try to use this as an excuse as well. Now I am contract, but I still say this industry needs a some serious reform or at least a wake up call.

    Last edited by otis; November 15th, 2004 at 01:46 AM.
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    get the media on this... cnn to run a story on it during a slow news day

    it'd blow up

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    I havent worked at EA, but in my 3 years in the games indusrtry I've met about 10 people who have worked in art, design, management, programming, and tech support positions there. Every last one of them said it sucked, and I trust their opinions.

    After spending a few hours reading the replies on the live journal website, I am left fascinated and disgusted. So many horror stories. I really hope some positive change comes from all of this.

    "He turned and looked. A giant yellow duck was trying to force itself into the diner."
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