View Full Version : The Truth About EA

Resource Consumer
12-11-2004, 11:35:38

might be a bug explanation too!

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.

Resource Consumer
12-11-2004, 11:36:03
Had to chop in two - bastard management

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?


12-11-2004, 14:08:01
Take heart, disgruntled EA programmer, soon they'll just have Indians programming for you.

12-11-2004, 14:13:35
All of that work just to have me pan their games in reviews.

12-11-2004, 14:47:52
In truth I always wondered how they plowed forth with new games every 12 months. Now I know...slave labor.

12-11-2004, 21:56:39
This seems to gel perfect with a conversation I had with an EA artist online too...

Certainly I would never buy an EA game if I could avoid it. That's already fucking policy.

No longer Trippin
12-11-2004, 22:24:49
Can't say I'm surprised.

13-11-2004, 07:43:19
Sounds like a case of the mythical man-month. They must really believe that working twice as many hours over 12 months is equivalent to finishing a game in two years at the normal pace.

13-11-2004, 09:37:25
It's normalizing the exceptional. They've crunched and crunched... and made it their norm. Happens all the time.

If people want good jobs coding, they need to follow the jobs. There's plenty of places where they cannot find enough qualified coders in the USA. Same as it was in the 70s.

And India is now outsourcing to China. So it won't be Indians doing the coding, it will be Chinese. ;)

Provost Harrison
21-11-2004, 01:36:28
It's amazing how the west continues to push ahead with it's anti-working class strategy, claiming how it is a failure and the only way forward for people is to work as part of the system. But as this demonstrates (and this is just one example in a countless number) people do need to be organised, there does need to be collective bargaining power. The right-wing governments of the world may allude to this free market for labour but this only seems to be fair when it works one way...people need to start fighting back and spit out the right-wing ideology they are fed and swallow...

It happens everywhere. People who are classed as professionals seem to get as much shit as traditionally 'working class' professions nowadays...

21-11-2004, 16:00:00
Originally posted by Shining1
Certainly I would never buy an EA game if I could avoid it. That's already fucking policy. You don't buy games then?

21-11-2004, 22:31:04
That wasn't what I said. But let's just say that the 'EA' symbol counts as a con when I look at a game and think 'do I really need this?'

Most of my massive corporate favs are done through Vivendi and Microsoft. Hell, MS now owns Ensemble and Bioware. Not that I have any love for Ms or Vivendi either, but those names at least still seem to have an aura of quality about them. EA titles are buggy and crap by definition, if someone makes something like the Sims2, they're working outside the normal system.

22-11-2004, 20:30:17
Provosts Harrison...

The EA Artists (the people discussed in the blogs) are not "exempt" employees. That means that EA is going to have to pay them for all that over-time, and penalties. Commercial Artists are considered a regular working professional. Those at EA have just caught on that they are protected like most workers...

Unions are parasites that should never exists except when the workers actually need to unionize for negotiations. Otherwise, a union is just one more class above the workers, and is just one more leech sucking out money from the worker's wallet.

22-11-2004, 20:47:06
When EA moves all their jobs over to India or China, these people will be bitching about losing those crappy jobs.

22-11-2004, 22:34:15
They already have at some game companies.

22-11-2004, 23:23:55
So what does America do in two or three generations time when the Indians and the Chinese make everything and have no need to be owned by big Amerian companies?

Is outsourcing the start of the decline for American dominance? =)

22-11-2004, 23:36:15
You probably hope so.

22-11-2004, 23:43:32
Get the fuck out, Venom. :mad:

23-11-2004, 00:07:42
Make me.

23-11-2004, 05:39:31
India and China will eventually get bit in the ass by the same bug that got the Japanese, the fact that once people get some, they want more.

Manpower costs will rise as the standard of living rises, and the US will be competitive again, this pattern has been going on for some time.

23-11-2004, 06:29:45
Japan is making games, and they haven't taken over yet. I think that among other things, differing tastes have prevented any one country from taking over. Looking back, if there had been no NES, we might have soldiered on forever with the almost-monochrome Atari 2600.

23-11-2004, 06:44:18
Venom: I honestly don't care. If you're seriously thinking that I'd rather have Chinese or Indian world dominance than American, I think that about does it.

Deacon: I don't think Americans will be beaten at games, or any cultural activity for that matter, in the near future. But competing involves having your own people doing the work, not others.

23-11-2004, 09:50:39
Originally posted by Chris
India and China will eventually get bit in the ass by the same bug that got the Japanese, the fact that once people get some, they want more.

Manpower costs will rise as the standard of living rises, and the US will be competitive again, this pattern has been going on for some time.


Unfortunately getting China and India to the level of the US might take more resources than we have... asteroid mining anyone?

23-11-2004, 13:16:04
Originally posted by Shining1
Venom: I honestly don't care. If you're seriously thinking that I'd rather have Chinese or Indian world dominance than American, I think that about does it.

Well shit, you get to make a joke and I don't. That just ain't fair. Relax a little bit. Unless I hit too close to the mark.

23-11-2004, 20:33:46
Who said I was joking? =)

23-11-2004, 23:15:42
Outsourcing is a concern, but appeals to "Buy American" aren't going to have much more effect on technical hiring than they did on the auto market. If Americans dither until the forces holding back India and China have been removed, then I don't have a problem with it. The government is pursuing education reform, and companies are getting involved with schools, but that still leaves homes.

I don't think it'll come to that. Standards of pay and benefits overseas could change. Nobody wants to make peanuts forever. :)

24-11-2004, 07:30:11
Plenty of great games coming out of Germany.

Plenty of good, bugged games coming out of American managed Indian outsourced games. Just like the stuff we keep domestic. Bet most gamers can't tell the difference in the product.

And most game budgets are up with Hollywood budgets... and now hiring serious Hollywood talent to do the voice acting. Indeed, most of the major Hollywood players are looking for a partnership or at EA to be its new sugar daddy.

24-11-2004, 22:20:27
The main German company, CDV, makes good games, but gets a LOT of complaints from gamers.

04-12-2004, 09:50:53
You want the truth?! You can't handle the truth!

06-12-2004, 22:09:26
EA is spinning, and spinning, and spinning.

An interview with their Executive VP of HR...

The main points:
* "People just don't understand."
* "They really aren't entitled to overtime pay. They are just mindless slaves."
* "EA will join forces with all other wantabee Evil Empires of the Game Publishing world, so we can reclassify everyone involved in making games 'Slave Game Maker' ".
* "Let them sue! They won't win! And then we will punish them!"
* "Fuck you! Give us more money! We will own all games soon! MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

07-12-2004, 00:21:17
'Waiting for the legislative process to catch up with the tech industry?'

I may have to start boycotting even good EA games... :/

07-12-2004, 06:15:12
We are looking at reclassifying some jobs to overtime eligible in the new Fiscal Year. We have resisted this in the past, not because we don’t want to pay overtime, but because we believe that the wage and hour laws have not kept pace with the kind of work done at technology companies, the kind of employees those companies attract and the kind of compensation packages their employees prefer. We consider our artists to be “creative” people and our engineers to be “skilled” professionals who relish flexibility but others use the outdated wage and hour laws to argue in favor of a workforce that is paid hourly like more traditional industries and conforming to set schedules. But we can’t wait for the legislative process to catch up so we’re forced to look at making some changes to exempt and non-exempt classifications beginning in April.

Is it me, or doesn't it sound like they don't want to pay?

07-12-2004, 08:58:56
Damn straight they don't want to pay. Corp is out to win... and its taking steps to close out whatever loophole it can about the matter. That's how it translates to me, once ran through Corporate Double Speak to American.

07-12-2004, 14:31:44
Absolutely agreed.

Aprils a long time away if you're doing 80 hour weeks, too!

13-12-2004, 08:17:08
I really don't see any alternative to continued outsourcing. If we going to allow open trade with these countries then why wouldn't a compay move to China were the average hourly wage is around $0.45? Short of putting up trade barriers and only agreeing to trade with countries which use fair labor and enviromental laws I don't see how we can stop outsourcing.