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The Almighty Buck Entertainment Games

EA Games: The Human Story 1143

Posted by Zonk
from the programmers-have-to-sleep,-remember? dept.
An anonymous reader writes "An Electronic Arts employee spouse speaks out against company crunch time practices. From the post: "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?"
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EA Games: The Human Story

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  • ea_spouse (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:27AM (#10787797)
    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 a

  • by jbellis (142590) <jonathanNO@SPAMcarnageblender.com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:36AM (#10787907) Homepage
    "Within weeks production had accelerated into a 'mild' crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad... When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm."
  • by KaiserSoze (154044) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:37AM (#10787917) Homepage
    Further down TFA you would see that the 8 hour, 6 day weeks were only the beginning. Next came 12 hour, 6 day weeks. Finally, that was upped to 12 hour, 7 day weeks. Now, I work on a major software product team, and even in our worst hours/days before ship we didn't have to pull those kind of shifts. Maybe a weekend, maybe a long night, but never multiple 85 hour weeks. Please RTFA and then post.
  • by ebh (116526) <ebh-slashdot@hyp ... g ['l.o' in gap]> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:40AM (#10787959) Journal
    No, ninety hour weeks are NOT an inevitable consequence of working in this industry.

    45-50 hours, maybe. But >80 hour workweeks are usually seen only at startups where if a major deadline is missed, the company fails. And in those cases, the people put up with it because there's usually more than just a wage involved--working long hours at a startup can make you millions in the end.

    Established companies pushing their staff that hard is not only morally wrong, it's bad business. Sure, EA makes a lot of money, but how much more could they make if they didn't have such high turnover?
  • Probst Salary (Score:3, Informative)

    by iamjim (313916) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:41AM (#10787972)
    According to forbes, as of March 2004, Probst was making $150k/yr and held $150M in stock.
  • Been there. (Score:5, Informative)

    by LightningBolt! (664763) <lightningboltlig ... NOSPam.yahoo.com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:43AM (#10787991) Homepage
    I've worked at 3 different game companies, including EA. EA is the absolute worst for crunch time. I, along with most of my team, worked every single day for 4 months straight, 80+ hours a week, and were told by management that we had it easy (other teams had had mandatory Saturdays for a whole year). After crunch time was done, I mentioned my concerns about the overtime to management. This led to my being placed on a probationary "get your act together" period, one step away from being fired. Knowing that life could be so much better, I quit.
  • Re:Illegal (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:49AM (#10788066)
    Did you ever work in the industry?

    I did and I know from experience that this is a very difficult thing to do - you are made to feel like you are letting the team/project/world down, and you aren't going to get promotion and you aren't even going to have your job at the end of the year because your project will get canned and it'll be your fault.

    At this point, legality thoughts go out of the window and survival thoughts take over, especially when you have a family who depend on you for most of the income.

    (Wonder how many still-in-the-industry anonymous 'cowards' we'll get on this topic...)
  • by forgotten_my_nick (802929) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:49AM (#10788070)
    Well it happens but you can't do it. There is a limit to the number of hours you can work before you have to take forced comp time or the company gets in trouble.

    I forget what the hours are.

    I've had this happen on a project before, and then they tried to do it on a second project and everyone just dug their heels and said "screw you". They didn't have a choice as EU laws are much more protective of the employee (even if the salary is much lower of a US employee).
  • by JWG (665579) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:50AM (#10788080)
    For everyone out there who says "tough, deal with it" obviously is one of those people who is being abused by their employer but is too scared to admit it. There are labour laws, guidelines and regulations that make 85 hour-weeks illegal (assuming the annonymous story is true, of course). Most people are too scared to take on their employer becuase their employer is their livelihood, but that does not give an employer the right to treat their employees like crap. Here in Canada, Ontario specifically, you can go file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, which has offices in almost every major city. If your employer takes action against you for even talking to the Ministry of labour, threatens to take action, or tries to get you to sign a contract that it is forbidden to talk to the Ministry of Labour, not only is it illegal, but it gives both you and the government the right to sue. The Ministry of Labour is even allowed to prosecute and fine employers itself, the judges and courts are theirs, the fines are what they decide are appropriate. I am sure similar laws exist out there in just about every other Country/Province/State, it is just a matter of investigating it yourself and having the courage to talk to them. Sure, you MAY get fired, but your employer WILL get fined by the government, the government then signs off on any wrongful dismissal suit you file, and trust me, they then keep a careful eye on that employer to make sure they NEVER treat future employees like that again.

    My little brother has gone through this process twice, all he did was speak out against dangerous and illegal working conditions for summer jobs. Both times he was fired, both times he went to the Ministry of Labour, both time the employer was fine 10k, charged with various labour crimes, and in the end, he received settlements worth more than what he would have made working the whole summer. And guess what, both times, he got ALL his money before the summer was out.

    Assert your rights, you'll be surprised just how many you have.
  • Re:Illegal (Score:3, Informative)

    by TopShelf (92521) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:51AM (#10788090) Homepage Journal
    If you're exempt from overtime pay (as many white-collar workers are) they don't have to pay you for such work. And they can always fire you without specifying a given reason.

    I agree, though, unless there are extraneous reasons for staying (absolutely can't miss a paycheck, etc.) I'd say these guys need to make some decisions about what's really important to them.
  • CEO Salary (Score:5, Informative)

    by dykofone (787059) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:52AM (#10788104) Homepage
    From the "article":

    If I could get EA CEO Larry Probst on the phone, there are a few things I would ask him. "What's your salary?"

    According to Yahoo Finance [yahoo.com] it's a paultry $1.45 million. Course, with options he exercised about $23 million.

    [Note: To anybody in a corporation, I highly recomend against looking up your CEO's salary. It's one of the most depressing things you could possibly do (my CEO makes in one hour what I make all year).]

  • Re:ea_spouse (Score:4, Informative)

    by grimwell (141031) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:52AM (#10788110)
    Form a union! Collective bargining does have a puprose. Remember it was the union(organized labor) that first bought us the weekend. And it really is the best bet. Management can't legally fire anyone for forming a union and they sure as hell can't fire the entire team working on a project.

    Best bet is to talk to a local teamster rep. If you can't find one, head to a local UPS. They are there.

    Be careful tho. Management hates Unions and will likely dick over anyone they think has bought unions in or is thinking of it.

    Might also consider filing complaints with the local OHSA board. For they too have rules covering how hard employers can drive their slaves.
  • Re:Game industry (Score:2, Informative)

    by post_toastie (649723) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:57AM (#10788174)
    If you're a motion picture actor in the US, you're (most likely) in the Screen Actors Guild. You're in a union, with all the benefits thereof. Programmers are probably more equivelent to crew members in film. Who are also unionized. Are you suggesting that prorgrammers unionize?
  • Re:Illegal (Score:3, Informative)

    by Cyph (240321) <yoonix@speaLIONkeasy.net minus cat> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:58AM (#10788208)
    Funny you should mention that. Here's one of EA employee entries posted as a comment to the ea_spouse entry.

    http://www.livejournal.com/users/joestraitiff/36 8. html

    Essentially, that person got fired for doing pretty much what you just mentioned.
  • Re:WTF?!?! (Score:5, Informative)

    by harrkev (623093) <kfmsd@@@harrelsonfamily...org> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:05PM (#10788290) Homepage
    Wrong. The Department of Labor enforces things like overtime laws. The problem is that it only works if you are not "exempt."

    Typically, "Exempt" refers to "professions" such as lawyer, doctor, and engineer. It can also apply to "management." A software coder without the word "engineer" in their title might be able to be considered non-exempt. The only way to know for sure is to contact the department of labor: http://www.dol.gov/ [dol.gov].

    They may be a bit slow to answer their phones, but keep trying!

  • by Qzukk (229616) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:10PM (#10788345) Journal
    It means B in most cases (IE, salaried people). Sometimes its A (hourly wage, required to clock out then keep working) but thats highly illegal.
  • Re:Repetition (Score:4, Informative)

    by nojomofo (123944) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:13PM (#10788387) Homepage

    Huh. I do application development and data warehousing for a pharma-related company. We're a tech company in that our main asset is data and the knowledge of how to use it. I do a lot of programming, though not 100% of my time. And, with the exception of maybe 2 weeks of crunch time per year, I work 40-45 (50 max) hours a week. During crunch time, I might work 60-70 hours/week.

    I communicate well with people who don't have a tech background. They can't outsource me. They wouldn't try, nor would they want to try. If you make yourself more than just a commodity programmer, you'll be surprised how reasonably people will treat you. If you're really just a commodity, people will treat you as such.

  • Re:ea_spouse (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:24PM (#10788530)
    All -
    EA isnt the only shop, but it is the "rolemodel" for American businesses who consider us Software Developers as the "crack" whores of industry.
    This kind of BS wont quit unless the paying American public voices its opinions to the ones accountable for this abuse: EA Games HR dept and the Board of Directors.

    All of the below information is posted on http://investor.ea.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=88189&p=iro l-contact

    Buy 1 share of Electronic Arts (about $47). Once you do, you now own the company.
    Contact VP of Human Resources "Rusty" Rueff Tel: (650) 628-1500 go to the operator, have them pass you on to Rusty.
    - tell Rusty or his admin that you are a shareholder and that you demand an explanation for these business practices, and that you find this illegal abuse unacceptable. Then go to Rusty's Uberboss... the board.

    ***

    Communication with the Board (per Electronic Arts)
    If you would like to communicate with members of EA's Board of Directors (including members of the Audit, Compensation or Nominating and Governance Committees) please follow the instructions below:

    To report concerns about accounting, internal auditing, securities laws and other related matters, please read on:

    General Communications with EA's Board of Directors

    Stockholders wishing to communicate with EA's Board of Directors as a whole, with a committee of the Board (such as the Audit, Compensation or Nominating and Governance Committees), or with an individual director may do so by sending an email to StockholderCommunications@EA.com or by sending a letter to EA's Corporate Secretary:

    EA Corporate Secretary
    Electronic Arts Inc.
    209 Redwood Shores Pkwy.
    Redwood City, CA 94065

    Attn: Stockholder Communications

    Enjoy your civil right to be pissed and do something. All it takes is a phone and an email address.
    As an example - I have already taken these steps. We need only 100 more, and the board will hear us.
  • Not just EA (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:32PM (#10788612)
    Having recently left a major game developer (not EA), I can tell you that the same practice exists at other game companies. When I left and interviewed for a new job, I would always ask about crunch time. The answer at game companies was universal, every single one said that they had crunch and that it was unavoidable. I also noticed that the amount of crunch time (admitted by interviewers) was inversely proportional to the quality of the games of the studio and the talent of the people. My sample size was about 10 - 20 studios and yes, this is obviously a very subjective opinion of my interview process. I was lucky enough to interview with a studio that I would consider to be one of the two most influential in the industry today (not Id :-). Their crunch time was the only one that I felt was reasonable. Its employees were the brightest I have ever seen at a game studio. Go figure!

    I don't believe the game industry managers understand how much talent they are loosing out on and how inefficiently they are running their studios by their current practices. In my opinion, the game industry needs more visionary and mature leaders.

    The job I accepted was not in the game industry. I now work half the hours, get twice the pay, and still really love what I do. Maybe I got lucky.
  • FYI, a lie (Score:3, Informative)

    by spottedkangaroo (451692) * on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:36PM (#10788659) Homepage

    Not to discredit the entire article on one little thing...

    But she says that programmers aren't exempt until they make $90k a year. That is a lie.

    department of labor [dol.gov] says it's $455 a week... he makes more than that I'm sure. Perhaps it's only wishful thinking.

  • Re:Chinese Bosses? (Score:2, Informative)

    by BLAG-blast (302533) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:50PM (#10788825)
    Electronic Arts must have many Chinese bosses. They tend to brutalize their workers.

    No, if they where Chinese I'm sure there would have been a marked increase in ouput/productivity. This is typical American bosses at work (oh do I so wish it wasn't so), drag every ounce of work out of the employee because it's getting your money's worth (it doesn't matter about productivity - I guess EA hasn't hired any managers who read "the Mythical man month").

    One other thing about Chinses bosses, they get executed if productivity doesn't go up (can somebody provide a link to that C.2000 story?).

  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:3, Informative)

    by SillyNickName4me (760022) <dotslash@bartsplace.net> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:06PM (#10789054) Homepage
    > A person has a hard enough time running their own life, but socialism's idea of fixing this is that by putting ANOTHER person (or group of persons) in charge of 100,000,000+ lives, then that will somehow just work out.

    As opposed to putting a person in charge of approx 225,000,000 people? (an elected person maybe, but socialism does not exclude that option, certain extreme governments that called themselves communist did, but that is an entirely different story)

    If you want to critisize socialism, at least get an idea what it is about. There are countries in northern Europe that use a form of socalism, have democratic governments, and among the highest living standards in the world, so it can definitely work (oh, and unlike the USA, they do not have approx 12% of their population livign below the poverty line either)

  • From my view (Score:4, Informative)

    by mestreBimba (449437) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:08PM (#10789070) Homepage
    a lot of game companies schedule the production cycle with crunch time built in. They plan on exploiting the coders. They know how week the job market is currently. It is an easy way to lower production costs. Buying dinner for a team of 40 every night is a lot cheaper than paying them for 6 extra hour of time per day.

    Where I worked we were told that the over time hours were "mandatory". It did not matter if you were on track with your personal chunk of coding. You were to be in the office during the mandatory hours. As you can imagine morale was pretty poor.

    After they closed down a lot of my co-workers went to EA, a few went to Lucas, and a couple to another studio of the same company. The guys at Lucas have been laid off, as have the guys who went to the other studio (as the co. went bankrupt).

    But you want to hear horror stories.... just talk to an ex Saffire employee about how the company (Saffire) wanted them to all work without pay. There are still several hundreds of thousands of $$$$ of back pay from that fiasco that will never be paid.
  • Re:Whiners. (Score:2, Informative)

    by feorlen (214880) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:24PM (#10789267)

    You are a troll. But I will respond anyway.

    If that is your only answer, I'd love to see how you are going to live in Redwood City on $7 an hour. That $7 an hour, full time, without subtracting taxes or anything, is not even enough for a median one bedroom apartment. "Sorry kid, no ramen for you this month."

    Before you claim I'm full of shit, here are some numbers:
    San Mateo County, California general information [ca.gov]
    San Mateo County housing statistics [smhealth.org]

    Important points to note:
    Median income, two person household (2001): $64,100
    Average rent for one bedroom apartment: $1415
    Average rent for two bedroom apartment: $1764
    Median sales price for single family home: $590.000
    Average sales price for single family home: $792,735
    Housing wage (full time to afford average two bedroom apartment): $33.60
    Average wait for Section 8 voucher (subsidized low-income housing): one year.

    Oh, wait, San Mateo is too expensive? How about this?

    Santa Clara County [hacsc.org]

    Or these?

    Bay Area Housing Affordability [ncccsf.org]
  • Hey Lady (Score:3, Informative)

    by MicroBerto (91055) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:27PM (#10789302)
    Last time I checked, nobody had a gun to your husband's head.

    I'm pretty sure this is a relatively free country. If your husband doesn't like it, then he's free to go find another job. If YOU don't like it, then you're free to divorce him. So quit crying to the tabloids and do something about it.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:33PM (#10789349) Homepage
    There are law firms in California who handle such cases. Kingsley and Kingsley [unpaidwages.com] is one. A class action lawsuit by an employee who recently quit might be safest.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:44PM (#10789485)
    The person in question should contact their lawyer. Under California law a salaried exempt employee is guaranteed 8 hours pay each day just for showing up at work. If your programmer SO shows up at work for an hour then leaves and Electronic Arts docks his pay they risk having him or her reclassified as salaried non-exempt for which there is a statutory overtime pay requirement, which would leave them open to having to pay time and a half any overtime worked and that can be documented for the last two years.

    This is a right that is granted to Salaried Exempt personnel in California to balance the power of Corporations in asking for overtime without compensation. Whether EA grants comp. time or not , you can take it back an hour at a time with or without their permission until you, not the company, are satisfied.
  • by Analogy Man (601298) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:59PM (#10789665)
    There is always the possibility of a mass revolt. Suppose if at 8:30 pm Friday (all the executives are off having a cigar) someone sent a corporate wide call to action out and they ALL walked. Pagers might go off over the weekend, but you could put the $xxx million project that has to be on the shelves by November 20th in the ditch. What are they going to do? Fire you? So? Organization is protected activity. Call up the Teamsters, see how many of their products make it to store shelves with them on your side.
  • Unionize... (Score:3, Informative)

    by dfj225 (587560) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:13PM (#10789822) Homepage Journal
    My suggestion: unionize. This may seem really out of place for professional programmers and engineers, but consider this. My father works as a financial reports reviewer for the SEC and his job is unionized. Before they had the union, people in his position were abused. Now, they have a great atmosphere, good pay, and wonderful hours. I know, it is weird, but isn't the point of a union to prevent abuses like the ones written about here?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:29PM (#10790079)
    id Software has a reletively small dev team. 15 - 30 people. They make huge block buster games. There are plenty of small developers that make quality games. Ritual Entertainment is another one, Gearbox and more. If you want the small devs to survive, buy their games.
  • by mad.frog (525085) <steven@criERDOSnklink.com minus math_god> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:35PM (#10790130)
    Hey, I would have joined a union in a heartbeat when I was at EA. Wish someone had come calling. Union organizers, you are missing a big chance.
  • You don't get it. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Cigarra (652458) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:17PM (#10790602)
    It's not about putting one person in charge of everybody else's life, but about making sure that the STATE (run, of course, by persons) takes care of those aspects of community organization usually left behind by self-improvement-seeking individuals. E.g. health care, education, human rights watch.
  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Radius9 (588130) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:49PM (#10790970)
    In California at least, where EA is based out of, the noncompete part of it is generally illegal and unenforcable for any period of time. It basically protects the company to the extent of, I could probably get nailed on it if I left EA while working on Need for Speed to go to Activision to make a functionally identical racing game. Other than that, they are not enforcable.
  • by zzyzx (15139) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @04:00PM (#10791125) Homepage
    "Why would a really productive programmer want a union which represents them and someone who does a 1/10 as much productive work?"

    Because 10 years down the road, there will be new programmers with more energy and a better understanding of the new technology and the really productive programmer won't be as productive anymore.
  • How to Start A Union (Score:2, Informative)

    by mpapet (761907) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @04:06PM (#10791220) Homepage
    The Animation Guild (TAG), local 839 of the IATSE. They represent animators, TDs, writers, etc. at Disney, Warner Bros., DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Sony Pictures Animation, Nick, Universal, and a bunch of smaller studios. We've been around for 52 years, and we've fought the same issues you're all dealing with now.

    The first step is for EA employees to sign representation cards. Those cards indicate an interest in being represented by TAG in collective bargaining.

    When about half of the EA employees have signed rep cards, the company is required to hold a secret ballot election in which the everyone votes. If the majority vote yes, the company is required to bargain with the union.

    There's a reason the most stable and successful studios in feature and TV animation have almost all been union. When we have our rights respected, we're more creative and productive. Unfortunately, company executives usually don't respect us unless they're forced to.

    Call Steve Hulett at (818) 766-7151. He's the Guild's business agent, and he can meet with you, get you rep cards, and answer your questions. We've already gotten a smattering of rep cards from EA, but the problem is that most people in the games industry don't know about the Guild, and don't know what their rights are, so they stay silent.

  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thangodin (177516) <elentar.sympatico@ca> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @04:16PM (#10791341) Homepage
    Boo hoo. You have a hard job, and would kill to work in the game industry. Okay, jackass, I've worked in the game industry, I've put in 100 hours in a week in shops that have mandatory 80 hour weeks, and here's a newsflash for you: IT DOESN'T WORK! The lead programmer on one of the projects at our company was asked, "How goes the battle?" He said "The battle is lost." Turns out the coders were so damn brain fried that they were adding two more bugs for every one they fixed. Finally, senior management stepped in and ordered everyone to take a week off, and capped hours at 60 per week. Once they did that, they were able to pull it out of the toilet.

    It's kind of exciting, in a fucked up, macho, Russian roulette kind of way. It's the camraderie of the battlefield, sometimes complete with a body count. Have you ever worked 100 hours a week, and wondered why your heart is beating 120 beats per minute--when you're sitting down? Extreme exhaustion does that to you. Hell, I was in really good shape at the time. Good thing, or I'd probably be dead. The problem is that it can take as much as 4 hours after work to calm down enough to sleep, so if your job is leaving you 8 hours to sleep, you may only get 4, and eventually, that will kill you. One of my coworkers told me about a company he was at--one of the coders called in sick and never came back. They found him dead on his couch. The smell was pretty bad. His immune system was so depressed that a minor cold turned into galloping pneumonia, and he was dead before he knew how sick he was. Too many hours, too little sleep, too much stress. And none of this is really necessary. I can't count the studies that show that extended crunch time is actually less productive that normal hours.

    A lot of people would kill for that job--until they saw what it was doing to them. If they didn't catch on soon enough, they might die for the job. Too many people think that working in a game company is all fun and games. Apparently you're one of them. EA exploits that misperception to rope people into a sweat shop. So do most of the other big game companies. Of course, the people demanding these hours never put them in themselves. They work 9 to 5, if that, take days off when they feel like it, and you'll never see them in on a weekend.

    This industry is insane, and it's because of companies like EA, who do their best to screw anyone they come in contact with. There are damn few decent shops to work in anymore. When I leave this job, I'll probably never go back to game development (though I've said that before.) And if you think that working in the games industry is the ideal job, you probably have no fucking idea what you're talking about.

  • by driftingwalrus (203255) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @05:33PM (#10792211) Homepage
    But, the modern tech worker finds himself ONCE AGAIN in the position of having to fight for an eight hour workday!
  • Perhaps inspired by ea_spouse Joe Straitiff weaves a personal story [livejournal.com] of what happened around him and his project prior to his dismissal. If this stuff doesnt make you cringe I dont know what will. And trust me folks, I work for EA, stuff like this does happen.

  • by gvibes (579654) <gvaebes@NoSpAm.yahoo.com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @06:25PM (#10792820)
    I would venture that 90-95% of employment in the US is terminable "at will" - they can fire you at anytime, and you can quit at anytime.
  • by mad.frog (525085) <steven@criERDOSnklink.com minus math_god> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @07:09PM (#10793281)
    The problem is neither unconcerned nor incompetent managers; the managers there knew *exactly* what was going on, and were complicit. In hindsight, they knew the only way to accomplish the schedule mandated was by burning people out, and they did it anyway.
  • by lee7guy (659916) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @08:35PM (#10794052)
    If I wish to work somewhere that requires 80 hours a week, then I should be allowed to do so.

    No, you should not. That is why most societies have established laws that govern what goes in a working environment.

    Basicly, it comes down to resource efficiency, burnt out employees don't work very well. Instead they cost society/the company money when they need sick leave (or welfare in severe cases).

    First problem is, you get an introductional boost in productivity in the first period of long hours work, but in the long run it is diminished below levels of what normal work hours would produce.

    Second problem, the more severe, is manegement failing to make this connection. They can't see the very basic fact that overworked people don't work very well. "Huh? Too much work? But first five weeks of overtime increased production a lot. It's just you bastards getting lazy.".

    Some country, or a large company, I think it was in france anyway, cut work time from 8 hours a day to 6. Lo and behold, production increased, workers were happier and sick leave were less than ever.
  • Complain..... (Score:3, Informative)

    by CharlieG (34950) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:41PM (#10794845) Homepage
    WAY back when (22 years ago) I worked for a mid sized electronics company that was playing overtime games with their electronics techs (same kind of games that are being played by EA). Well, I was with the company, oh, 6 months or so, when all the techs were called into the office. In the office was someone from the state labor relations board. It seems a couple of months BEFORE I started, someone had dropped a dime on the company to the state labor board. They didn't just fix the problem with that guys pay, but they went back something like 5 YEARS, and fixed EVERYONES pay, plus a penalty. They explained in the meeting what our rights were, gave us a phone number to call if there were any more problems, and watched our CEO had every one of us a check for what we were due

    I'd say EA is skating on VERY thin ice - particularly with the clear $42/hr law in CA. If you get it to the right folks - they could end up owing all their developers back pay, with interest, and a penalty
  • Re:It is for real.. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:57PM (#10795260)
    This has been well verified, with the CEO actually saying that this was a "joke".. Shame no one told anyone else it was a joke.

    For a while after "the email", the CEO would joke about it to try to lessen its harshness, but make no mistake: the spirit of that email came straight from the heart. I started at cerner not long after that email, and since I've been there, they went from "40 hour work weeks, little more at crunch time", to "corporate wide policy of 48 hour minimum, much more at crunch time". Some teams even have a mandatory "12 hour days, 6 days a week" policy. All unpaid overtime.

    The email may have hurt the company, and the CEO may pass it off as a joke, but the end result of that email is he got exactly what he wanted.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 13, 2004 @04:30PM (#10808343)
    These posts are mostly accurate and I am experiencing the same thing and am happy that this has blown into the open. Winds of change are afoot!

    But to put things into a more accurate perspective:

    1. I have worked for other game companies and have undergone worse crunches for longer periods of time. This is not just an EA problem, it is an industry wide problem with few exceptions.

    2. I don't believe EA is offshoring talent. Why would they build EALA and have plans to grow to 1000 people? EA is expanding in multiple countries, and especially Asia to expand influence into that market which is significantly different than it is in North America. Offshoring would imply jobs are getting replaced. EA in America is growing (too fast in my opinion)!!!

    3. EA has consolidated nearby studios into larger super studios. I personally don't see anything wrong with this and have personally been part of such consolidation causing me to relocate.

    4. I believe there is a genuine effort in process to change EA's behavior. We are performing detailed surveys and there has been active attempts to solicit the view of employees and how to improve things.

    5. I believe crunch is a result of old habits in a quickly evolving industry. In the beginning, making games was the result of a small group or even 1 person that was passionate about making games. They would spend all their time on it and did so of their own free will. Since then, the industry has grown technologically and has struggled with changing from this crunch mentality. People that are passionate love what they do and spend extra time on their projects!

    6. EA is not the evil churn-factory empire that consciously spits out employees -- although it happens a lot! They really believe that working longer hours results in greater productivity. This is their mistake. More on that later...

    7. EA pays decently when you consider salary, bonuses, and benefits. However, it is not worth working 80+ hour weeks. That is not right.

    8. I hate to say it but I'd rather crunch for a company where survivability is virtually guaranteed. It's far worse to crunch just to survive to the next project where even that is questionable, nevermind not getting any bonuses!

    My story: I've been making games for a decade now. When I was younger, I enjoyed working long hours. And during these crunch periods I went through many relationships. It took me years before I identified that working these kind of hours were destroying long term relationships. Now I am in a serious relationship and want to get married, start a family. My priorities are changing. I want to be able to spend time with my family to be and spend more time with my girlfriend. She has suffered so much in the past 8 months where I spent much of that time crunching. She has barely seen me for months now. The problem is that I was much more gullible than she is. I honestly feed her any information that EA tells me in meetings. Turns out we are getting strung along with empty promises. She has a good memory and gets mad at me when there is a change. I work with many experienced people -- no longer just a bunch of kids, most of the people I work with are industry veterans like myself.

    The cost of crunch
    But the problem in my eyes is that higher level management believes that working longer hours results in increased productivity. But the truth is, it costs far too much!

    1. The more fatigued people get, which results in bad decisions and sloppy mistakes. More mistakes dogpile into a bigger mess, resulting in more crunch "needed!" I know myself and after 10 hours of focused effort, I quickly deteriorate into inefficiency. When I'm required to work 12+ hours in a day, the next day I come in tired and haggered and inefficient. Just a couple hours in one day will ruin the very next day! Just this point alone should be enough to not consider crunching... but there's many more associated costs!

    2. The family factor is completely overlo

I've never been canoeing before, but I imagine there must be just a few simple heuristics you have to remember... Yes, don't fall out, and don't hit rocks.

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