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The 7 - Video Games - EA: The Human Story Register and log in to post!
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Guru Zim
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#1 Posted on 11.11.04 2346.27
Reposted on: 11.11.11 2350.22
Taken from http://www.livejournal.com/users/ea_spouse/

I'm reposting this here for two reasons: 1) People need to know about this kind of abuse that is taking place in the world of video game development. 2) The people that are affected have no recourse, because the industry is so small and specialized that once you make waves you are black balled and can't get a job.

I don't know anyone who has worked at EA so I can't verify this story - but this is a sentiment I've heard before from others in the industry.




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?


===

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

(edited by Guru Zim on 11.11.04 2149)

(edited by Guru Zim on 11.11.04 2149)
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#2 Posted on 12.11.04 0053.24
Reposted on: 12.11.11 0054.56
I've talked with some people who work with EA, or know people who work for them. Most of them are saying that the article is very true of their situation.

-Jag
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#3 Posted on 12.11.04 1038.50
Reposted on: 12.11.11 1039.58
YOU'LL NEVER TAKE MY MADDEN AWAY, NO MATTER HOW BAD YOU TRY TO MAKE ME FEEL ABOUT IT!

Uh, I mean, that sucks, but as someone who has been working routinely from 5:00 am to 6:00 pm M-F and 5:00 am to 3:00 pm on Saturdays at a job that would ideally be an 8-5 M-F job I say BOO HOO!

If you're on salary (which thankfully I'm not) you're screwed, but if you feel the company is taking advantage of you, you should quit and go do something else. Maybe she should ask her husband if it's worth the hard-on he must get telling people that he works at EA, because that's likely the reason he's putting up with that crap.

(...and back to work *I* go...)
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#4 Posted on 12.11.04 1123.52
Reposted on: 12.11.11 1123.58
As a follow-up, Gamespot (gamespot.com) did a little digging and found that a class-action lawsuit is in the works.
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#5 Posted on 12.11.04 1238.56
Reposted on: 12.11.11 1239.30
JayJayDean, I think that the workload is only half the issue. The company was less than straightforward with the guy ahead of time, telling him that the crunch wouldn't be so bad, when it becomes clear that they were planning on everyone working 90 hour weeks by the end. If the company wants to abuse its employees in such a fashion, it should be up front with them when they interview and such.

Here's (livejournal.com) another entry about working at EA.
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#6 Posted on 12.11.04 1400.06
Reposted on: 12.11.11 1401.40
If they are salaried employees, and they were made aware of potential unpaid overtime in advance, they have little recourse other than a new job.
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#7 Posted on 12.11.04 1640.31
Reposted on: 12.11.11 1640.46
    Originally posted by Grimis
    If they are salaried employees, and they were made aware of potential unpaid overtime in advance, they have little recourse other than a new job.
Sorry, but this statement demonstrates ignorance of California law.
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#8 Posted on 12.11.04 1651.56
Reposted on: 12.11.11 1652.16
I'd think the EMPLOYEES are as ignorant about California law as Grimis and myself. They are either entitled to overtime or they're not based on Seante Bill 88...you'd think they'd KNOW whether they are or not. Why would you take a salary job if you were, by law, supposed to receive overtime? If EA is violating their rights by withholding overtime compensation, then to hell with EA, but if their within their rights to keep the guys on salary, why wouldn't they try to get through paying out as little money to their employees as possible?

(Personally, I'd think if company morale was suffering to the point of people bitching about EA in blogs and such, *I* would choose to hire some new faces and ease the burden on the staff, but that's just me.)
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#9 Posted on 12.11.04 1950.23
Reposted on: 12.11.11 1950.29
The better question is why hire someone on salary when they are eligible for overtime?

Really, for all the money and alleged talent involved, there should be no reason these people are working 90 hour work weeks at any point, poor management or not. For crying out loud, they're only making video games. If Madden ships a month late, its not the end of the world.

Its best that this is all coming out publicly. Hopefully, anyone who applies for employment at EA will come across this before accepting any offers.

The conspiracy minded side of me can't help but wonder though if this is about more than just liberating the EA workforce. This is generating a large amount of sympathy for the EA employees, and when EA decides to pay them overtime, what's to stop them from saying that to compensate, they need to raise the price of video games? Its been known for a while that companies are looking to inflate the price. This way, EA can make you pay more, and make you feel good about it since that programmer got fairly compensated (presumably). Especially since the original post is anonymous, who's to say this didn't come from within EA?
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#10 Posted on 12.11.04 2112.14
Reposted on: 12.11.11 2115.53
If it is, it seems to be really cruddy timing. With ESPN reducing the cost on their sports titles to entice people to buy (and a fairly competive product), it seems the last thing EA would need is "bad" publicity and then an increase in price.

There was a time in my career when I can also see my wife writing something like that. And if you do, it seems like you say screw it and send it to corporate headquarters OR you do it anonymously because you've got a family to feed and don't want to be the one who tests the waters by rocking the boat.
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#11 Posted on 12.11.04 2253.26
Reposted on: 12.11.11 2253.43
A really dumb question...why would any of the current crop of EA sports games really require that much effort? I mean, they're for the most part, the same game, with updated statistics, a few nice little bells nad whistles, and updated graphics...it's not like they're building from the ground up...

...unless that's how they do things.

(The previous was the opinion of who's last EA game purchased was WCW Backstage Assault, and who rarely plays sports games)
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#12 Posted on 13.11.04 0021.58
Reposted on: 13.11.11 0022.29
I thought that too (although the second link was more to do with creating a new game, which obvioulsy would be a different situation.)

I guess adding and tweaking the new features adds a lot of time each year? Or maybe we're just looking at the cause/effect flliped; it's that the minor improvements take so long, that's why there's no major overhauls year to year.
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#13 Posted on 13.11.04 0741.20
Reposted on: 13.11.11 0741.24
    Originally posted by Grimis
    If they are salaried employees, and they were made aware of potential unpaid overtime in advance, they have little recourse other than a new job.


Depends on the state, Grimis.

In Illinois, there is the "One Day Rest in Seven" law, which "Provides for employees a minimum of twenty four hours of rest in each calendar week and a meal period of 20 minutes for every 7 1/2 hour shift beginning no later than 5 hours after the start of the shift. The law allows employers to secure permits from the Department to work employees the 7th day provided that the employees have voluntarily elected to work."

Now, does Cali have something similar? I don't know. If they do, EA's screwed. IIRC, the penalty in Illinois is minor, but if it keeps adding up... it'll suck.
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#14 Posted on 13.11.04 0751.55
Reposted on: 13.11.11 0752.00
Maybe it is ignorance of state law, but if the state law is that way that is a far reachiing state law. That leads me to...
    Originally posted by Teppan-Yaki
    In Illinois, there is the "One Day Rest in Seven" law, which "Provides for employees a minimum of twenty four hours of rest in each calendar week and a meal period of 20 minutes for every 7 1/2 hour shift beginning no later than 5 hours after the start of the shift. The law allows employers to secure permits from the Department to work employees the 7th day provided that the employees have voluntarily elected to work.".
Does that apply to contract workers? That's my biggest beef with all of this. If these are hourly workers, I can understand why the laws are in place and why this may be a problem. But if the employees signed a contract, as long as both sides are upholding the legal aspects of the contract, then there is nothing that can be done.

The reason I ask about the contract in regard to Illinois law is that, theoretically, the law would apply for the Cubs and White Sox too...
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#15 Posted on 13.11.04 2108.53
Reposted on: 13.11.11 2108.55
There are some exceptions to the rule, as stated in ODRISA, but the argument could be made that the Cubs, White Sox, et. al. are seasonal teams -- they get an off-season to rest when they're not working.

EDIT: A contract, to me, is a salaried worker, which still falls under the idea of a blue and/or white-collared worker. Depending on the semantics of who's being contracted to work, that is.

(edited by Teppan-Yaki on 13.11.04 2110)
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