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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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  • by FortKnox (169099) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:31AM (#10787823) Homepage Journal
    Cause every programmer at one point or another wants to make video games. Don't like your job? Leave... there are 500 people that want to be in your place, anyway!

    That's why most of the industry is young. Us 'older people' with families realize that they can't be in the gaming industry. I have a wife, kid, and another kid on the way. I'm not about to sacrifice my family so that I can work on video games. Sure, it was a dream of mine, but that's what the industry is about. Long hours, low pay, no pats on the back. If you don't like it, there is hundreds willing to take your spot.
  • Game Quality (Score:4, Insightful)

    by VistaBoy (570995) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:32AM (#10787838)
    Also, I'd rather wait a couple more weeks (or months) for a game than to get it right now but have to patch it because it's really buggy or missing promised features.

    Take your time, EA, and make a really good game. The people will buy it if it's quality.

  • Two solutions (Score:1, Insightful)

    by antifoidulus (807088) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:33AM (#10787860) Homepage Journal
    well, first of all, whing on the internet never achieved anything(or all /.ers, myself included would be overacheivers). As I see it, you have 2 solutions: quit or organize
    It's not like the CEO is secretly stealing millions in retirement accounts or anything, yes he is making a lot of money, but you knew that before you took the job. You don't like the working conditions there, don't work there. I highly doubt that someone who works at EA games can't get a decent job somewhere else. My bet is that he works there because he loves(or loved) what he was doing. It's not like it's a 19th century coal mine or anything, he won't die at work, so I fail to see how these working conditions are at all opressive.
    If he still loves the companyh but doesn't like it's ceo, then he can also organize a strike, let the company know you mean business. Though honestly you are unlikely to invoke much sympathy over a white collar worker's problem at a video game company....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:35AM (#10787900)
    $90+ k / year? And you're bitching? Poor baby. If you don't want the stress, take a part time retail or food service job.

    Oh wait, you're making 20 times that much money, and you like it. Live with it.
  • Illegal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Neil Watson (60859) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:36AM (#10787903) Homepage
    AFAIK you cannot be forced to work overtime. Thus employees could have said no. If there we dismissed then that would be grounds for a law suit. EA may treat their employees poorly but it seems that the employees treat themselves just as poorly. Stand up for yourselves.
  • by jdcook (96434) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:37AM (#10787925)
    to form a union. Only the lazy and the stupid need unions, right? I'm sure that the free market will ensure you are treated fairly.

    I haven't had this much schadenfreude since hearing about O'Reilly's loofah.
  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:38AM (#10787934)
    QUIT! See how much you like the unemployment line. How many people here would kill for that job at EA? You make me want to puke.

    Working 12 hours for 7 days a week for months. Yes, I certainly would kill someone if they tried to make me do it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:41AM (#10787967)
    Get over it... there's a lot of IT people that would LOVE to work at EA, even with the long hours.

    And a lot more people COULD work at AA, if they had any clue about human resources, management or planning.

    This 'get over it' mentality is quite dangerous. Sure, you can stand by and watch how people get exploited systematically. Right up till the point where it happens to you. It's just not right for any job to make a family life impossible - and if it must, people should be compensated properly.
  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RareHeintz (244414) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:42AM (#10787979) Homepage Journal
    Here's a news flash: Humane labor practices != socialism. Jackass.
  • by eyefish (324893) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:42AM (#10787982)
    I was wondering, if EA is engaged in breaking the law, and nobody does anything about it and the government doesn't seem to care, should software engineers unionize?

    Think about it, if there are the screen actors unions and contruction worker unions, why can't there be Software Engineer Unions?

    Maybe then we can make sure to work 40-hour weeks with extra pay. Maybe then will Project Managers put on themselves realistic expectations, maybe then will CEOs learn that software making is a profession as valuable as business management.

    I lived through something like this myself during the first internet boom. I worked over-100-hour weeks every week of the year. I still remember having spent two new year eves working. All I had was two weeks of vacation a year which I had to take in one-week instances, and having provided a two-month advance notice.

    I was not paid overtime, weekends, or holidays. I did it because I was young, naive, and trully excited about what I was doing, but when I think back I was definitelly exploited along with my fellow co-workers.

    In the end I started my own company and moved to a country with better work practices. Let's only hope that those still toiling for the further advance of computer science get a better deal soon. Uninioze and I'll go back and join you. I know what you're going thru, and I will do all I can to support you.
  • by icedivr (168266) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:44AM (#10788001)
    Did you actually finish the article? The 48 hour weeks were merely the tip of the iceberg. Yes, 48 hours a week isn't that uncommon, but six full days a week? I think the point of the article is that "crunch time" was not the extraordinary circumstance we all occasionally endure, but a way to manipulate people's schedules without any additional remuneration. It was clear that "crunch" was standard operating procedure.

    The 85+ hour weeks combined with the "take it or leave it attitude", that's insane.
  • by blether (817276) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:45AM (#10788023)
    As long as they are making huge profits, EA are not going to change their practices unless their employees or the law force them to.

    If, as the article says, EA are acting illegally then the author should report them or sue them.

    If not, the employees can organize or quit.

    Doing nothing is not an option. No company ever changed because someone whined at them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:47AM (#10788044)
    ...about being slave-driven in a sweatshop, you'll be eliminated and your job outsourced to an Indian programmer who'll gladly work twice as long hours as you, and for less than a third of your pay.
  • by Demon-Xanth (100910) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:47AM (#10788046)
    This story can almost be word for word swapped with a story about some guy working in the coal mines about 100 years ago. They were told if you don't like it, get a new job (but first pay us back the money that you owe us).

    Consider the difference between this and the Telco and gas industries:
    During the winter, there is a MAJOR crunch time for those industries. It's not uncommon for telco employees to work 84 hours a week for a couple months. Why do they do it? One, it's MAJOR bling in a time when it's needed. Two, they know it's going to end. When the weather calms down and warms up, they all take thier vacation time and can relax. The money saved up allows them to do stuff that they missed while getting systems back up or filling tanks.

    Would they work under crunch time, all the time? HELL NO. Thier job can't be done on extreme exhaustion. Would they work like that without compensation? Maybe for once in a long time, not for a couple months at a time.

    Why do they get compensated so well? Unions and management that understands that running an employee hard for a short period is cheaper than wasting them for 9 other months, but they must be compensated.

    They don't like the long hours, but they do welcome it. I consider what most of the software industry does to be on par with factories in third world countries. After all, if a guy making clothes doesn't like working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, he can always get another job. Can't he?
  • by lukewarmfusion (726141) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:48AM (#10788053) Homepage Journal
    And what sucks is that you're too experienced to take a low-paying crap job and not experienced enough to get a high-paying game industry job.

    That's not entirely true - you can't give up on a game career yet, but it's an uphill battle.

    I remember looking at game design/development jobs once and thinking, how can you get the experience they require if you don't already have it? That goes for a lot of other positions, but in gaming it seems just about as difficult to break through as movies or music.
  • Rise up. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:50AM (#10788073)
    This is bullshit.

    Have some pride as a human being.

    If your job is:

    ruining your health.
    ruining your family/husband/wife relationship.
    taking all your free time away from you.
    working you 7 days a week.

    Get a different job. Demand better for yourself.

    So what if there are 500 people waiting for your job? Let them have it, do something else.

    Personally I'd rather be poor and happy then rich and fucked up the ass by a big company.

    Why don't they just hire enough people to do the job? Because people are despirate and let themselves get taken advantage of. Show them that their money can't rule your life. Show them that their benifits can't turn you into a slave.

    Go be a fucking plumber, they get benifits too. Program because you like it, if you like it. Otherwise fuck those assholes.

    Your NOT A WAGE SLAVE.

    If you have a family to take care of, I can understand. But what is the family going to do when you die at 45 from a heart attack because your overworked, unhealthy, and stressed out?
  • Re:Illegal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KingKire64 (321470) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:50AM (#10788079) Homepage Journal
    Yeah but there is a fine line here. In reality its the smae thing, but companys rarely say "We need you to work overtime", they say Dec 10th is your deadline we need it by then. You dont have to make the deadline but miss enough and they has a reason to fire you. I know it sucks but, If you dont like it get another job. They have the right to drive ppl to the most out of them, on the other hand the employee has the right to quit.
  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rblancarte (213492) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:50AM (#10788082) Homepage
    Hey 'Cheese, I say you read the article before you spout off. This person is talking about their significant other being the equivelant of a freaking slave. He is now being forced to work 12 hour days 7 days a week with what looks like no compensation. I will say this, I have no desire to work for EA, especially after reading this.

    I agree, this person should really just quit, don't blast them until you read this whole thing. It is really quite sad. You would like to think that a company like EA is about more than the bottom line, but it doesn't look like it. Reading this makes me consider never buying any of their games again.

    RonB
  • by xutopia (469129) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:50AM (#10788083) Homepage
    held together by the corporate politicians.

    People should unionize. Get something moving. Go on strike or something! Why do people keep up with such crap? Are we all just a bunch of sheep?

  • No Respect (Score:3, Insightful)

    by blueZhift (652272) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:50AM (#10788084) Homepage Journal
    It is easy to gather from this story that EA doesn't have much respect for its software engineers. But why? Unfortunately, it's no big surprise that a huge corporation has trouble respecting its workers, but here on /. we'd like to think that software engineers, specifically game programmers are special. I mean really, these people's sweat and creativity has made billions of dollars for EA, so why aren't they treated like kings and queens?

    I would speculate that despite all of the success, programmers are still a part of a generally despised class, that of geeks and nerds. Yes some of these people have become famous and made a lot of money, but so have a lot of lawyers and we know how popular that class is! Heck it may well be that the CEOs, Directors, and Managers are the same people who used to beat the nerds up and steal their lunch money in grade school. Why expect them to treat the nerd class any differently now, especially when there are even cheaper nerds overseas who'll take the abuse for a lot less money?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:50AM (#10788085)
    It's just an inevitable consequence of working in this industry, and most of us understood that even before going to school for it.

    The problem is that everybody who chooses a career in software development is fundamentally a spineless weakling. The same types who had sand kicked in their faces by the jocks, was tormented throughout high school, has no social life, and has no self esteem. They are typically too nice, and too accommodating, especially when the boss turns out to be one of the jocks who climbed the social ladder to get where he is.

    Heck, even garbage collectors have a union. Life doesn't have to be this way. There's no need to be trampled underfoot. It's often forgotten how much power is wielded by those who have the skills to write good software. Only by presenting a unified front can software workers fight back against evil corporations who have unethical labor practices, and who continue to export jobs. Everyone agrees that the product suffers in both cases.
  • by mestreBimba (449437) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:51AM (#10788092) Homepage
    I worked in the game industry for a year and 1/2. In that time I worked on 3 projects, and was always in cruch. I averaged over 75 hours a week for that year and 1/2 period. Some weeks I spent over 120 hours in the office.

    Bad management, unrealistic schedules, artificial deadlines, I've seen it all while deathmarching. And the end product was always rushed out the door before it was ready..... so it was junk. The company killed a lot of previosly sucessful franchises by pushing junk, in order to meet financial obligations. There were controlled by their debt, not by any desire to produce a quality game.

    Thankfully the company I worked for is now bankrupt, and hopefully dead.
  • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:51AM (#10788099) Homepage
    If Maxis is indicative of the rest of their corporate culture, EA Games is concerned only about getting your money, and do not do any quality assurance and testing... and will only fix the most extreme of bugs. Remember SimCity 3000? It had a bug in it regarding water-deals rendering them useless. Remember SC3K Unlimited? It had the exact same bug. Seen the Sims 2? It has that nasty "jump" bug which keeps your Sims from ever talking to anyone when their memories get full. And then they have the gall on their site to blame it on the user: "you're probably either cheating or have been using the Elixir of Life too much". Yeah, really fine job there. (Apparently they're caving in to fix it because it really is debilitating and they hope to sell a few dozen expansion packs, so...)
  • by jlar (584848) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:53AM (#10788120)
    And I would add that the main point in the article is not the long hours but the fact that EA deceives their employees into believing that it is a temporary measure. If they had stated their expectations during the job interview then everything would have been fine.

    In my view they are taking advantage of an information asymmetry (which they create themselves) to pressure wages (compared to the amount of work). That is not optimal in a market economy - and leaves a lot of people with a suboptimal choice (they would have taken another job if they knew about it).

    I guess the market forces can be restored in several ways. 1) More articles like this, or 2) Legislation requiring employers to specify the working conditions in a contract prior to employment (that is the solution we have in Denmark - and it works fine).
  • Don't quit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dcfix (65207) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:54AM (#10788138)
    just make them fire you. Start working 50 hours weeks. They fire you for only working 10 unpaid overtime hours a week instead of 20 or 30...

    And who do you think a jury will rule in favor of?

  • Re:Game Quality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harrkev (623093) <kfmsdNO@SPAMharrelsonfamily.org> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:55AM (#10788155) Homepage
    Not really!

    As you work more hours, the mistakes rise. A company would be better off getting 40 or 50 great hours instead of 80 or 90 mediocre to poor hours.

    This also may burn out the people who have been there longer, so a lot of the team might be younger and more inexperienced.

    Also, if this keeps up long enough, I wonder if the peons might consider unionizing. I have seen the abuse of unions, and it is not pretty. When a union gets too powerful, bad thing happen. But, obviously, in a case like this, a disposable work force means that management makes bad things happen.

    But here are a couple of practical idea:

    1) Contact the Department of Labor. They have investigators who look into such things. I know -- I have a relative who does this for a living.

    2) Take a job coding a database, or become a sysadmin, or so anything else. Maybe a little less money, a little less glamor, but you actually get to know those people who live in your house. Then, you can code games in your spare time (spare time - what a concept), where you can enjoy it at your own pace.

    The reason that companies work people 80 hours a week is that they CAN. If everybody refused to work these hours, it would hurt. You might get fired. But if EA had such a huge turnover of staff that they could not finish ANY project, they might change their ways.

    Just my $0.02. From an engineer who works a fair amount of 40-hour-weeks.
  • by Ford Prefect (8777) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:56AM (#10788156) Homepage
    I've been working on map design for various computer games in my spare time for the last six years or so. I haven't actually released [doomworld.com] many [telefragged.com] maps [man.ac.uk] yet [hl-nightwatch.net], but with my skills in map design and texture art I could almost certainly get a job in the games industry. Several of my friends already have, and are working on games you've almost certainly heard of.

    Except I don't want to work there. From what I've heard, EA isn't alone, with many young, idealistic people working for long hours on lacklustre games because, well, it's what they always wanted to do. If they give up because of lack of pay, or quit because they simply can't continue to work like that, then there's always someone else to hire, someone else who hasn't learned how bad some of the employers can be.

    So, I keep modding as a hobby, mapping purely for enjoyment. It's much more fun being able to work on your own projects without some looming deadline, without a boss breathing down your back. The games market is already saturated with clones, sequels and utter trash, and the chances of working on something memorable are pretty slight. Instead of working on Barbie's Fashion Adventure 7, I can build my own Twelve Monkeys-inspired, ultra-dark adventure in Half-Life 2 (one of my upcoming projects!)

    However, I'm intrigued by Wideload Games' [wideload.com] new approach, contracting in work as and when required with just a core team working on a project full-time. It's not so dissimilar to the work I'm doing at the moment, as a freelance web programmer and designer, and I wonder if it'll catch on. No, I wouldn't be able to make a full-time living from it, but it could make for some interesting side work, assuming anyone would want me... :-)
  • by chill (34294) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:57AM (#10788180) Journal
    Genius boy, a labor union *IS* a market force. I'm a Libertaian and my first thought was "organize -- form a union and flex some muscle". Thought #2 was -- if there is so much overworked, unhappy talent there then form your own company. Followed by #3, quit.

    The only way I'd work 60+ hours a week was if I owned the company, or a good chunk of the percentage. For a Fortune 500? No way in hell.
  • by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:57AM (#10788186)
    I'm active in the mod community for Neverwinter Nights and achieved some measure of success (modules on gaming magazine CDs, module of the year, etc.). As a result, I had a number of job offers from various gaming companies.

    Fortunately I have a very well paying job as a web application developer working for the healthcare industry. It's stable, my customers love me, and I feel like I'm making a real difference in people's lives. So while it was flattering, I turned them all down.

    My father once told me that the secret to happiness was either trying to make money from your hobby or work a real job that lets you support your hobby. I've chosen the latter and I have no regrets.
  • by CrudPuppy (33870) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:58AM (#10788199) Homepage

    so I hope the spouse's question about the CEO's pay was rhetorical, since it must be disclosed by EA. He makes $1.45 million per year, but last year alone he made $22 million through stock option sales.

    The CEO and most everyone else seems to do nothing but sell his stock at every opportunity. They have more insider activity than most huge companies. Interesting.

    My advice: if you don't agree with EA practices, dont buy any of their products. Hit them where it hurts, and if they lay people off, you're doing those workers a favor anyhow.
  • by alphaseven (540122) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:59AM (#10788221)
    Long hours, low pay, no pats on the back. If you don't like it, there is hundreds willing to take your spot.

    Jeesh, no wonder so many games are buggy and late... shouldn't relying on inexperienced overworked programmers ultimatley be counterproductive?

  • by jallison (693397) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:02PM (#10788248) Journal
    I love how programmers deride "process" initiatives (like the CMM) but these are exactly the things that can help in situations like this.

    Very true. I don't know for sure, but I would bet that most of the developers at EA are fairly young. Not long out of school, smart, energetic, and absolutely positive that they know exactly what they are doing. No heavyweight process is going to get in their way! I know because I used to be this way myself.

    Having been in the industry for a while now (18 years), I've seen my share of projects crash and burn as a result of developer self-indulgence. A small dose of formalization applied along the way can really help get things done on time. Yes, it can be boring. It can be awkward. Sometimes you feel ridiculous sitting in a meeting talking these things over, but it beats the hell out of staring fuzzily at the debugger at 2:00 in the morning after 14 cups of coffee.

    No process is perfect, and there will be crunches from time to time. I think professionals in every field are OK with that.

    What I don't understand is why EA encourages this sort of behavior (this assumes that the blog post is accurate, of course). This has got to be more expensive than doing things the right way. You will have more defects in your software, and you will burn people out. Naturally your best and brightest people will have the easiest time finding another job, so those are the ones you lose. And you're stuck with the bottom feeders and the new guys. Wouldn't it be nice to hang on to good people for a few years so they can apply their expertise? I wonder how many people have survived these conditions at EA for any length of time. Jobs may be scarce, but what kind of life is working 12 hours a day seven days a week?

  • by GJSchaller (198865) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:02PM (#10788257) Homepage
    Quitting a job because it's overworking you is not that simple. I've been in bad jobs before, and I have quit them to go to better ones, but each time it was a scary step - almost a leap of faith that the new situation would be better than the current one.

    What happens if you don't have a new job lined up? I know people that have gone 4+ years in IT without jobs. If you can live in your mom's basement, fine, but if you have a spouse and kids, it's a lot harder. Car payments, Mortgage payments, etc. can wreck your credit rating if you leave too soon, and you can't just say "I quit my job, I can't pay for a while." (Thought - get the spouse on a job as coverage, and have the EA person spend time at home recovering and job hunting, to maintain income in the meantime.)

    Quitting a job can have other impacts. When you go to your next interview, "Why did you leave your last job?" "I didn't like the work hours" sounds bad, even if they are inhumane. You are giving the new employer the impression you'll quit if you don't like the conditions.

    Loss of Benefits: I don't know about this individual case, but I do know people that can't quit because if they do, they have medical coverage that will evaporate and leave them screwed. Again, if you have a spouse and / or kids, you're not just shooting yourself in the foot, you're unloading the clip in theirs as well.

    I wholeheartedly say "If the job sucks, find a new one you like." Note I don't say "Quit." There is a difference. The trick is to find one you can slide into with little disruption; the catch is having the energy to do it while in Crunch Mode. The hardest part of finding a new job is finding the time and energy to do it while surviving the current one, especially if it's as crunchy as EA sounds.
  • Re:Wow (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:04PM (#10788275)
    Jeez, I'm getting tired of the replies saying "They shouldn't complain. There are people out there worse off."

    I don't debate that, but there are always folks worse off. Just because your not a homeless invalid with AIDS doesn't mean you don't have a right to fair labor practices.

    And saying thery can just get a job elsewhere is also off-base. Sure, that works for the individual, but at the same time, the company is still taking advantage of everyone who is working there.
  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lawrenced1 (814315) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:05PM (#10788284)
    I have a job, and it's hard! QUIT! See how much you like the unemployment line. How many people here would kill for that job at EA? You make me want to puke. I know some Slashdotters lean toward socialism, but this post is ridiculous.

    Did you even read the post or just glean your idea from skimming it?

    What upsets is that someone complains about unfair labor practices and you cry out quit, stand in an unemployment line and label them a socialist. Just because there are a hundred other people that would take that job doesn't make the management's practices right. We work in an educated country and salary slavery is just as wrong as outright slavery.

    I've worked those kinds of hours and I can honestly tell you it sucks. I continued on because I enjoyed my work, but it soon extracted its toll on my health and my family life. When I saw what it was doing to me, I left for a better job for less money but I work normal hours and have a life.

    So before you start labeling people and puking in the unemployment line, think; there is a human side to a business and these types of work practices reflect bad managment and not a rise in socialism.

  • Re:Game Quality (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:06PM (#10788301) Journal
    I'd rather wait a couple more weeks (or months) for a game than to get it right now...

    In fairness to EA, though, the window for shipping annual sports games is a lot tighter than for a new FPS. People will buy Doom 3 or HL 2 in one year or the next, but you can't sell NHL 2003 in 2004. (OK, scratch that one -- you can't sell NBA Live 2003 in 2004.)

    On the other hand, the question of whether these workloads speed the development process anyway is a valid one.

  • Mod Parent Up! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Meoward (665631) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:06PM (#10788302)

    Really. I'm a veteran of the coding wars, and yes, death marches are nothing new. The tactic of the perennially slipping deadline ("whoops, heh heh, crunch mode just got extended 2 weeks, sorry") is the telltale sign of incompetent software management. (My SO had a similar experience in the telecomm industry before the big crash.) A German shepherd could figure out what's happening to this organization.

    The team involved has to revolt unanimously -- somewhere a manager needs to get seriously bitch-slapped with some slippage. I'm not talking about sabotage, mind you; let's stay professional, even though noone will ever die as a result of EA's bugs. But what about having an entire department or two calling in sick on the exact same day?

    It's the crudest form of organized labor, but it works. Just like the "blue flu" that hits US cities when the policemen's union protests conditions. And the larger and more critical the department involved, the better.

    Yes, there is the risk of an en masse firing. On the other hand, if this article is true, what is there for the engineers to lose? Paychecks are nice, but health and sanity are rather nifty too.

  • by djhertz (322457) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:06PM (#10788303)
    Fuck That Place.

    Seriously, it's a carrer choice.

    I liked working as a field tech. Got to drive around, working on different people's problems. I loved helping people and getting to feel like a hero. I did not like the pay, or the, "Stay on site until it's done, but be here at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow" attitude. I quit after 1 year.

    I liked working as a hosting admin. I dug servers, and working with the OS to do the developers bidding. I did NOT like getting paged constantly with servers issues that were beyond my control due to the crappy product. I quit after 2 years.

    Now I am a programmer, and I currently like where I am. The whole time I have had a family to support, but I know if I am not happy at work, nobody is going to be happy at home. I bet the guy shoveling shit at the horsetrack doesn't like his job either, he should quit too. That's the great thing about America, you can just go get a new job. Sure you may have to give things up, but a job is all about choice.

    You have to decide what is important to you. You will never be rich as a teacher, but be a teacher if it's what you love. You will never (I guess from this article) be rich as a game programmer, or have a life outside of work, but you get to do what you love. I play a lot of poker, and toyed with the idea of going pro, but after a very short try (kept my job, just played at the pro level for a few weeks), I really did not want to play poker.. at all! It became a job.. a job I wanted to quit.

    So, pick a job you like. Some people LIKE having a job that is their life, some people like having a hobby that turns into a job. The whole of the job is equal to the sum of all it's parts.
  • by mestreBimba (449437) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:09PM (#10788336) Homepage
    I have played computer games since I was 5 years old. I had an Atari 2600, 5200, inellivision, appleII, nintendo... etc. etc.

    My dream was always to work in the game industry. So I got a BS and an MS in computer Science with an emphasis in 3D rendering techniques. It was my dream and my passion.

    After working the industry, I don't think I would go back. Long hours are the norm not the exception. Every shop I know will deatmarch at some point. Some are worse than others. They beat the enthusiasm right out of me. Now I hardly play any games.

    In the industry there used to be a reason for crunch. In the old days you received royalties from sale one of the product. I worked with several old timers who had made quite a bit of money back in the 80s and 90s from royalties. The ends justified the work. Now all the companies do a return on investment bonus. Ie you only get extra money if the games sells through enough units to exceed a certain profit margin and then you may see some bonus. Of course clever accounting will always show a loss on development.... I talked to lots of veterans of the industry who had worked for various studis. None had ever seen an extra dime on a ROI based bonus system. One even caught the president of the copmpany in a lie on the numbers of units sold. He was stating one figure to employees on why they had not seen a bonus and another figure to the game mags boasting of the title popularity.

    I now work cyber security. Nice 40 hour work weeks, and a bigger pay check. My benefits are nt quite as good but the time with my family more than makes up for that.
  • Re:ea_spouse (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:09PM (#10788337)
    Really? I thought it was the Jews. You know, no working on the Sabbath?
  • by AAAWalrus (586930) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:09PM (#10788340)
    I seriously doubt that one can simply swap word for word this story with that of the coal miners. Coal miners 100 years ago risked their lives in extremely unsafe conditions. They were barely able to provide for their families earning the best of wages, and when they died in the mines, there was no compensation given to the families. Puh leez.
  • by LordZardoz (155141) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:11PM (#10788358)
    I am a game programmer. And this story does not really tell me anything new about EA. The larger game developers really are little more then human meat factories as far as labour practices go.

    From my standpoint, EA represents all that is bad about the game industry. They stamp out sequels with no originality. If EA puts out something new, its because they bought the company that made it. And they offer the worst possible hours. They probably pay very well, but your pretty much working 2 full time jobs for that cash.

    However, pretty much every game developer I have met, except the rankest newbies to the industry, are fully aware of how EA operates. And EA is hardly the only offender. I have some co-workers who worked for Acclaim, and the same kind of hours were expected.

    Death march hours suck. Employers who schedule a project expecting every one to work death march hours are retarded. I personally would never take a job from EA, or any company I view as a human meat factory, unless the alternative was unemployment.

    But EA and the rest are the status quo in the game industry. For all the companys faults, EA does know how to be profitiable. Small game studios will not be able to thrive until they can get their game to market without the help of one of the big publishers. That wont happen until services like valves 'Steam' are viable.

    Happily though, my job kicks ass. I probably could make more money at EA, but at my job, I dont have to work a Death march schedule. I suspect my company will do quite well for its self in the long run for it.

    END COMMUNICATION
  • by FortKnox (169099) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:11PM (#10788361) Homepage Journal
    Yet you still buy the games....

    Make no mistake. The executives at EA care about one thing... profits.
  • by kkrista (814366) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:11PM (#10788364) Homepage

    Sounds to me like the software industry is ripe for it's own version of Sinclair's The Jungle [wikipedia.org]. More and more, the software industry seems to be turning into a modern day version of the turn of the century meat-packing industry.

  • Re:Two solutions (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DarkSarin (651985) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:13PM (#10788388) Homepage Journal
    I am going to heavily disagree on this one::the folks COULD actually die from the kind of hours described in the blog. Heart Failure is a possibility, as are other problems. MOst of them will not be from people who are extremely healthy, but if you have a prior condition, this can kill you.

    And, as someone else points out, this is against certain labor laws. I am not generally in favor of unions--they tend to cause certain problems, but I think that in this case that is what is needed.

    The workers at EA (and some other places) need to get together quietly and talk to a labor lawyer. They should either then bring in a union OR file a class action suit. Documentation is their friend in this situation.

    Another solution (one that would benefit the workers the most) is the elimination of salaried positions for game programmers. Make it an hourly position. This will change the nature of the job dramatically, but will seriously reduce the temptation on the part of management to call for overtime. In fact, it will virtually eliminate overtime.

    As far as it goes, this is oppressive--there are fewer and fewer big game companies, and ANY employer involved in this type of action needs to have their VP of HR fired (I'll take the job--I am in the market) and replaced. HR folks should be the liasion between the company and its employees--going to bat for the employees as much as possible, while still representing the companies interests. HR should be the frontline for making sure that employees are treated well, are happy, and AREN'T LIKELY TO SUE!!!

    EVERY lawsuit, even frivolous ones, cost the company money. In some ways, the smart thing to do here would be for all the employees to fire separate lawsuits. EA would be forced to settle or fight EACH ONE, costing them a lot of money, both in court costs, lost productivity, and bad press. IF they were smart, they would change some things immediately.

    As far as quitting is concerned, it does fix the core problem (which is what I am concerned with). I personally think that humans should be concerned with this. I call for a strike(boycott)--DON'T BUY EA until this is FIXED!

    Thanks.
  • by FortKnox (169099) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:13PM (#10788389) Homepage Journal
    Contracts you sign always state that your job is can be terminated by your side or by their side. You can't stay for overtime? I'm sorry, we're going to have to let you go...
    You don't stay for overtime... you'll simply be replaced by someone who will. As I said originally... there are hundreds who will agree to it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:18PM (#10788447)
    Unions weren't just about fair pay, they are also about protecting the health and well being of the workers and their families.

    An injury to one is an injury to all. Dipshiat.
  • by Saint Aardvark (159009) * on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:20PM (#10788483) Homepage Journal
    Bingo! This sort of behaviour on the part of employers is exactly what kick-started the unionization movement in the US back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Let's see what we've got:

    1. Ridiculous working hours -- check
    2. No job security ("Like it or lump it") -- check
    3. Fear of reprisal ("they'll outsource it all to India") -- check
    Listen, people, how the hell do you think we came to expect a weekend in the first place? Or health insurance? Or overtime? And yet every time I've seen someone suggest unionization of IT people here, there's a chorus of "unions are corrupt, and anyway I'm too good to need it".

    Corrupt unions: yep, they happen; they're just bunches of people, after all, and we know what people are like. But what makes you think you can automatically and always trust the people you're working for? If you can, great -- I'm not saying it can't happen. But in the immortal words of Karl Marx^WRonald Reagan, "Trust but verify": have someone on your side. Neither unions nor management are automatically saints or devils.

    And as for too good to need it -- well, I trust what TFA said about the quality of the engineers at EA. They sound pretty damned good to me, and yet they're getting screwed over by their management for no reason except the profit of EA.

    I'm sure that a hundred years ago there was some coal miner in Virginia saying, "A union is only gonna prop up the slackers, and anyhow the management'll just come in and bust heads anyway." With the benefit of hindsight we can shake our heads and wonder how the hell he could've put up with what he did -- yet we can't see that something similar is going on right now.

  • Karl Marx (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:23PM (#10788512)
    As Karl very astutely pointed out "capitalism leads to the exploitation of the worker."

    I am not a communist, nor do I think communism is a good system, for this simple reason: people are lazy.

    However, in the case of capitalism, laziness is defeated by greed. That makes it work a million times better than communism in the short run.

    But every single business owner (or board of directors) is under perpetual pressure to decrease costs while increasing sales. This pressure never, ever abates. Eventually, little-by-little, policies involving longer hours and lower wages are the result.

    This is just the natural evolutionary cycle of a capitalist economy, for better or for worse.
  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Flamingcheeze (737589) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:24PM (#10788521) Homepage Journal
    I never said that I don't think that job would suck. I just said that the person doing the complaining can (tell their spouse to) quit.

    You did exactly what I would do, if I hated my job... you quit.

    Nothing is more ridiculous than complaining about something you can voluntarily change. Real slaves can't just quit. There is no such thing as a "salary slave." That person's spouse is a slave to thier own fear of leaving. Nobody forced them to take the job, and nobody is forcing them to stay at that job.

    Yeah, there's a human side to business, and if you think your company is evil, then quit. Just don't cry to me if you're too weak to do it.

    A company that treats its employees well will be rewarded with better quality work.

  • Re:Illegal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:25PM (#10788536)
    Strictly speaking this isn't illegal. People are undoubtedly 'voluntarily' working overtime. Just like you may 'voluntarily' empty your bank account if someone has your child at gunpoint. If you have a family, you have to put food on the table, and that's that. What they're doing is wrong, but not illegal.

    Maybe the time has come for the software industry to unionize. I hate unions and the mediocrity they produce, but then EA is happy with that. Let's face it, unions were created for a good reason. They may also be able to build the political muscle to stop outsourcing. It sounds like EA employees spend a lot of time together, and are already roughly making the same money. I suggest they spend a few evenings discussing a coup de tat. Even in this job market, no company can survive it's brains and brawn in a 90-100% walkout.

    Also consider that making a video game is probably better in your mind than in reality. In implementation it's the same as the job you already have: hard work, unforgiving, usually unrewarding and generally not fun. And just like your job now, when you get "it" working and near complete, it's a great feeling. And just like your current job, if you have a truly great idea, it's almost always better to keep a lid on it develop it on the side as long as you can, then take the risk of starting your own business. Ultimately that's the only way to break the cycle.

  • UNIONIZE! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jidai (74229) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:27PM (#10788564)
    Get all your co-workers together and join a union, scehdule collective bargaining and make some realistic demands.

    Making pleas on a personal level will get you no-bloody-where. (most) Companies and CEOs only understand force, and as a union you guys will have rights that you dont have as individual employees. Dont let these bastards get away with screwing you to line their pockets.

  • by mutterc (828335) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:28PM (#10788568)
    Morally wrong doesn't matter to corporations. They simply incant their mantra: they must do whatever's legal to increase shareholder profits. Turnover, bad quality, or any other long-term consequence doesn't matter to them either, with current executive compensation structures. (This is also a consequence of executives being disposable employees like you & me; in the Olden Days, execs expected to retire from their company & get a pension, so they wanted the company to be stable in the long term. Nowadays, they know they'll be somewhere else in 5 years anyway, so why not pump & dump?)

    Getting another job won't help you; practices that are evil/profitable enough simply become industry standard. (The same is true in consumer products; anyone wishing to refute this, point me to somewhere I can get a cellphone or credit card without a long list of consumer-unfriendly terms & conditions).

    Clueful management won't help you; market pressures force software companies to death-march everything (customers will just buy from the competitor that promises it unrealistically soon & cheap). This may mean that Doing Software Right is simply economically infeasible; nobody is willing to pay enough or wait long enough. This is why programmers tend to be more aware of the "race-to-the-bottom" nature of capitalism than others; it's blindingly obvious in our field.

    Also, the race to the bottom is killing the U.S. software industry, it's only a matter of time. (Even if U.S. companies didn't offshore a single software project, eventually low-wage countries would develop their own software companies and kill the U.S. ones on price). Death-marches may simply be a consequence of trying to hold onto jobs in a dying industry.

  • by jimicus (737525) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:29PM (#10788574)
    I'm in the EU. Most of this tale would be so blatantly illegal over here that an industrial tribunal would last all of about 3 minutes.

  • by msobkow (48369) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:30PM (#10788597) Homepage Journal

    I have to admit video games are a great hook for the industry. The vast majority of good programmers I've known over the years were into gaming, and many got into the computer industry with dreams of writing games themselves.

    One thing about learning to code those old systems is that you ran right on the metal with assembler or even machine code in some cases. Languages like C or C++ were just another way of expressing the same constructs a bit faster, allowing the experienced "metal coder" to turn out applications and tools that ran far better and faster than most people think reasonable.

    With the never-ending crunch to support more users and data on shrinking hardware budgets, the hardcore techie still has work while the average programmer may take a couple years to find another job.

    Of course the hardcore techie starts out being tough to manage, because what they really want to do often has little do do with the work that's actually to be done. But if you find a manager who can appease the hardcore techie while getting them to do the real work, you can end up with an extremely productive and cost-effective team -- especially if your "techies" have a knack for applying solutions from other problem spaces to the issues at hand.

  • by vrai (521708) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:32PM (#10788618)
    "Why should I team up with you? I can do this on my own."

    Which is, of course, nearly a succinct summarization of the underpinings of libertarian philosophy.

    Pardon? Supporting freedom of the individual over that of other entities (primarily the state) does not prevent people from working together towards a common goal. All it does it prevent people from being coerced in to cooperating. Whilst I don't doubt that there are some libertarians who are also sociopaths, it's not mandatory. In fact the premise of a workable libertarian state is based on the presumption that people will freely chose to work together - just as they have done since the beginning of human history.

    I think you're confusing the Slashdot ramblings of elitist programmers with the tenets of classical liberalism.

  • Re:Game Quality (Score:2, Insightful)

    by debian4life (701155) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:34PM (#10788634)
    You can't even sell NBA Live 2004 in 2004. You have to sell NBA Live 2005.
  • by SuperKendall (25149) * on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:43PM (#10788731)
    Not so much that only the lazy and stupid need unions - that's just insulting. Instead try to realize that unions just don't fit in with what software people do and the market they are doing it in. Also software people have a lot more freedom of choice in jobs than typical factory workers.

    If you're all so fired up about unions, try to start one - I dare you. See what kind of purchase you get. Or are you just spouting off how great unions are without doing a damn thing to improve conditions for even yourself?

    Some people seem to think that unions are a magic bullet which solve all worker ills. But really for software people the only people that can help are themselves. Gee, I guess that does sound Libertarian after all - but then most ideas based on common sense seem to end up coming off that way.
  • by shatteredsilicon (755134) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:50PM (#10788829)
    IMNSHO, the bunch of mugs who are willing to regularly work 80+ hour weeks for no overtime deserve everything they get. Others can only abuse you as much as you let them. If you are going to let them, then STFU.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:55PM (#10788900)
    After a little reading of other links in this topic since I first read it, I have another conclusion to offer, which is this:

    Not all studios within EA are created equal.

    At this point I'm thanking God that I'm at a studio that retains some independence and can't just be "rolled" into the mega-facility at Redwood Shores. Those guys at Criterion should be happy they're across the Atlantic, too.

    The livejournal of the guy at Maxis is a story that's literally unthinkable at my studio, but I certainly believe that things are very different elsewhere.
  • by peterpi (585134) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:56PM (#10788917)
    I completely agree. I worked in games for three years (almost to the day) before the hours killed me off. For all but the last 6 weeks I was absolutely happy with the situation. The secret is to get out as soon as you loose the sparkle.

    Anybody working in games who is complaining about the hours needs to realise that that's the way the industry works, and it ain't changing anytime soon. If you actually notice the hours you're working, then you've been at it too long. There's some fresh young recruit just dying to have your job, so move on and let them have it.

  • Re:WTF?!?! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fmaxwell (249001) * on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:58PM (#10788942) Homepage Journal
    Why should the government tell me how many hours I can work?

    1. So that 100 people can get 40 hour per week jobs rather than having 50 people work 80 hours per week.
    2. So that other people don't end up supporting you on long term disability after your 80 hour work weeks lead to you having a stroke.
    3. So that employers can't abuse people every time the job market is tight.
    4. To make it more difficult for employers to engage in fraudulent practices of hiring salaried employees with the intention of working them far more hours than would reasonably be expected.

    If you don't want to work those hours, then work for someone else!

    When jobs are plentiful and working for "someone else" is an option, companies don't tend to behave that way.

    I don't need some pointy-haired beuracrat telling me how to live my life.

    How do you know that you don't? John Hinckley doesn't think that he belongs in a mental hospital, but that he believes that doesn't make it true.
  • Re:ea_spouse (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chrax (782154) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:00PM (#10788954)
    You were wrong. It wasn't until the advent of Unions that the working class got a weekend. Actually, up until recently with the rise of neoconservatism, America has tended to be fairly good about keeping religion out of work and government, and the "creation" of the weekend was just an exercise in pragmatism, as workers with a couple days off tend to do better durring the other five. However, I expect it's intentional that it coincides with both the Jewish and Christian days of rest.
  • by rivendahl (220389) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:03PM (#10788995)
    Philosophical Debate:
    What is a human life worth?
    Some say it's priceless while others clearly demonstrate that it's worthless. This can be seen in all walks of life, culture, society, the world around. One man's trash is another's treasure can be applied to this dilema. The end result will always be the same. Until it affects you personally it's probably not an issue.

    Consider the parents who drink and occasionally drive after holiday parties, this is even seen in movies. But when their child dies either because of drinking or driving or someone else's drinking and driving they become immediate christian's in pursuit of the nearest MADD chapter to place that child on a poster and parade it around as the next reason not to drink and drive.

    I'm a firm believer is NO drinking and driving. No matter how little or how much. I vote for laws that increase these penalties and restrict the ability of people from doing so. I care about this BEFORE it hits near home.

    I do care about it because I care about life. Yes, I'm generally against abortion. I have three children of my own. However, I also see the merits that keeping aboriton legeal presents.

    While I prescribe certain ethical and moral boundaries to myself I do not feel that I can assert those same values on others unlike Emmanuel Kant who said "if you cannot universally agree that others should do as you did then it shouldn't be done", and his golden rule "do NOT to to others that which you do NOT want done to you."

    The reality of the human life debate is literally within the mind of the person who is taught that human life is precious or a waste. I hear people often claim assraunces on both sides of the debate. They "flip-flop" on the idea. On the one hand "Abortion is horrible murder and should be stopped", and on the other "Send our children off to war to maybe die because that mad man needs to be stopped!"

    Frivilous law suits are another one. The moment that you cap the awards limits is the moment the corporations win. They have tried like hell to get the average person to believe that some old lady burned herself with coffee and it's some how not their fault. The truth is that the coffee was a few degrees below BOILING. It caused third degree burns to her genitals. Her medial bills far exceed her ability to pay them. They had to perform skin grafts to her inner thighs. At first all she wanted was for them to pay the bill. I agree that she should NOT have used her lap as a "hot beverage securing device", but get real. This lady is scarred by hot liquid. Imagine if that was your child having to grow up with these scarrs. Unable to feel orgasm because the flesh was removed. Price tag that.

    So, now we get to my point. A single person with no life can easily accomplish similar demands to EA's work policies. However, a person who even tries to have a life needs to reconsider.

    A corporations pays you to do a job. On the flip side you lose that time forever. Never to be returned. Sure the kids are at school 6 to 8 hours a day. But you have to factor drive time, no paid lunch, frustration of working long hard hours regardless of the industry or job. I drive one and a half hours one way to my job. I love my job. I get paid well according to my standards, which are very low. However, they do not pay me nearly enough. I miss a LOT of my children's time. I'm on the road early, spend 9 hours at work and get home late. While I'm not working all that time I am gone all that time. Some of it willingly some of it because I don't have a choice. I can't get a job like this closer to home andI can't afford to move. I'm stuck.

    Therefore, for 8 paid hours a day I get just over 50K a year. Tack on the drive time and that's 11 hours. Tack on an unpaid lunch and that's 12 hours. Tack on any overtime and I'm screwed. I recently pulled a 15 hour day to finalize a project. I didn't mind. It does not happen often.

    But the bottom line is what's a human life worth? 5
  • Unions (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:12PM (#10789120)
    You obviously haven't lived in Canada, or specifically - in British Columbia. Every f*cking thing is unionized here (except maybe for brilliant EA developers, which incidently also reside here), unions can bend government sideways here and still get away with it.

    What does it give me as a citizen ? Freaking bus drivers that earn like mid-level Engineers, but with 4 weeks of vacation; cleaning stuff in hospitals that can only dusts things, but refuses to clean the spit, because it's "bio-hazardous material"; ridiculously overpaid doctors that few months after agreeing to n-year pay freeze decided that they still wanted a piece of federal funding targeted at supporting health care system (thank god this didn't go through), etc, etc

    Unions will never fly in software development, because they only work when every member is averagely-skilled replaceable worker. In CompSci every decent developer constantly grows professionally and things like being not allowed to work on certain project because older comrades are lined up - this won't work in software industry.

  • Re:Illegal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by An Onerous Coward (222037) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:13PM (#10789123) Homepage
    The expectation is that you're being paid to do a job. If you have to work 12-14 hours a day every day to reach whatever deadlines, you're not doing a job. You're doing two. Possibly three. I'm a little fuzzy on the math, but the point stands.

    I'm going into this field because I like to be creative and solve problems. If "insane hours" are standard for the industry, then what is a sane person--or at least someone who doesn't have that particular insanity--supposed to do?
  • Re:Repetition (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pthisis (27352) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:17PM (#10789189) Homepage Journal
    Companies use job outsourcing to strike fear into employees

    Alarmist, much? Job outsourcing isn't really realistic for most dev positions, and even if you're working a job where it's a possiblity you shouldn't we working for a company that tries to "strike fear" into you.

    You'll hear this a lot on this thread, but this is NOT just in the game industry. This is a problem with software jobs everywhere and it is only getting worse...A lot of people still think it is the booming place of the mid-late 90's when you did your 40-50 hours of work and came home a rich and happy man.

    This is exactly backwards in my experience. The boom era of the mid-late 90s was the era of long hours, "gotta make those options count"--even though for most people the options never amounted to anything. Nowadays companies are more realistic about their tech needs, and there is much less overtime and long hours. Pretty much every coder I know now has a 40-hour week, and a lot of us were doing the 65+ hour deal in 1999.

    A lot of this has to do with better focus and more management familiarity with programming staff and how to not kill them; during the boom, there was often a sense of "man this Web thing is important, we have to have 5 9's of uptime even though we don't know why, we need triple-admin coverage in the office 24x7". Deadlines were immovable even for features where a delivery date wasn't really important to the business.

    Now it's more business focused; there's less interest in whizzbang, be the PREMIER TECH LEADER! and more interest in doing dev work that has real revenue prospects and only worrying about uptime to the extent that's realistic. Deadlines for revenue-generating features are still held, but "gee wouldn't this be nice" stuff is prioritized more appropriately.
  • by martingunnarsson (590268) * <martin&snarl-up,com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:21PM (#10789224) Homepage
    ...and if they lay people off, you're doing those workers a favor anyhow

    Look, they're not slaves at that place, they can quit anytime they want. I don't think they'd be happy to loose their jobs.
  • by That's Unpossible! (722232) * on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:29PM (#10789311)
    The only people I've ever known that prefer unions are:

    - Those that are lazy, unproductive, or incompetent, and need unions to level the playing field for them.

    - Those brainwashed about unions by their family and friends, or who stumbled into a unionized field and have grown complacent.

    Unions are the enemy of talented and productive people that understand you don't need a union, just the freedom to do whatever you want.
  • Re:WTF?!?! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by djlowe (41723) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:34PM (#10789368)

    Our employers are also "free" to make that a requirement of employment.

    Actually, this isn't true. Each state has its own labor laws, and there are federal standards as well.

    I've posted on this subject before, and I'll say it again: People need to learn what their state's labor laws say with regards to overtime in addition to federal law. Salary does NOT automatically mean exempt from overtime pay or other forms of compensation, and those companies that act as though it does are generally in violation of both state and federal law.

    Now, as a practical matter, you might not be prepared to lose your job over insisting that your employer obey the law as it applies to your job. Should that be the case, the best advice I can offer is: KEEP TRACK OF THE TIME THAT YOU WORK! Keep a log at home, note the dates and hours that you work, every day. Also include breaks and note whether or not you worked through them.

    Don't mention to anyone at your office that you're doing so - the mere act of noting that your employer is potentially breaking the law will certainly make them question the desirability of your continued employment there should they discover it.

    If you are non-exempt, and the amount of unpaid overtime becomes extreme (and YOU have to define what "extreme" means for your particular circumstance, I'm afraid), then you have a decision to make:

    1) You can continue to suffer, in the hope that someday you'll be rewarded.
    2) You can attempt to have a reasonable discussion with your manager(s) about the problem.
    3) You can quit, or some variation thereof (e.g. look for another job as time permits and then put in notice once you get a job offer).

    Cynically, I doubt that that any of the above except for 3) will work. Given the ever-escalating drive for profit at all costs, most management won't think twice about firing you. After all, there are probably dozens of people that would take your job in a heartbeat... and then burn themselves out too, to be replaced later.

    If you ARE exempt, you have no recourse at all, and I hope that your employer is paying you VERY well!

    Since labor is THE single largest expense for most companies, unpaid overtime (legal or not) is a GREAT way for management to keep costs down, BTW. If you're non-exempt, and working overtime for no additional pay (that is to say, they pay you a flat rate regardless of how many hours you work), then every hour that you work over 40 in a week reduces the amount that you make that week correspondingly (actually, this is true whether you're exempt or not: It's just that exempt employees tend to be paid MUCH more per year when they are truly exempt under the law, so it doesn't sting as much. The average CEO of a large corporation is exempt, but he or she is paid considerably more for their services per year than those in the trenches).

    Do the math: Suppose you're being paid an effective rate of $20/hour, salaried, non-exempt.

    If you work 80 hours per week, and are treated as an exempt employee, then your effective hourly rate becomes $10/hour. If you do that every week, and don't burn out, your effective salary drops from $83,200/year to $41,600/year.

    If you only skip lunch every day for a year (assuming a half-hour lunch break), then you're giving your employer 2.5 hours/week of your time for free (assuming a 5 day standard work week). That may not sound like a lot, but: Do that every week, and don't take a vacation... then assuming 52 work weeks in a year, you gave your employer 130 hours of work for free. Hearkening back to a standard 40 hour work week - that's over *3* of them for which you didn't get paid.

    Now, assuming you're willing to lose your job, and further assuming that the labor laws are on your side, you DO have recourse: Ask your employer for the overtime pay to which you are entitled. If they refuse to pay, take a trip to your state's local department of labor office, records in hand.

    But as

  • Re:Screw that (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Idarubicin (579475) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (teiuqslla)> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:51PM (#10789550) Journal
    While it is kind of them to do so (i've had a number of managers do that), really why does that make any sense for them to sit and twiddle thumbs while you work on something? Furthermore sometimes they can just be in the way, or micromanaging - and nothing is more annoying that someone constantly checking over your shoulder in a crunch at 2am.

    There's always something they can be doing. If they've decided that a particular piece of a project is important enough that the employees should be there until 2am, then there is probably real work that the manager can be doing.

    If there's nothing that's directly applicable to the project at hand, then the manager can be the guy that runs for takeout food and makes coffee.

    When the Apollo capsule was being built by North American, there was only space inside for (at most) two guys to work. Climbing in and out through the hatch was time consuming and awkward. Further, the capsule was a very complicated piece of equipment and most of the assembly had to take place from the inside. Consequently, North American had a policy--if the guys in the capsule asked for anything, the nearest person was to run and get it for them. Doesn't matter if it's a company VP doing a tour on the shop floor. The assembly of the capsule was essential to the Apollo program and the success of the company, and if the guys working on the critical tasks said "jump"--no matter where they were on the org chart--anybody listening would say "how high?" Similarly, if something is important enough and time-critical enough for a software company to keep its coders at work for ninety hour weeks, management needs to be available to provide support at all hours for any purpose. If managers are unwilling to do so, then perhaps the project isn't quite the priority they say it is.

    To be fair, if the employees want the manager to leave, then he should respect that. Also, if they're fixing something that's their own damn fault, then the manager probably isn't obligated to hang around for it. Otherwise, no excuses!

  • So...leave? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zorander (85178) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:00PM (#10789681) Homepage Journal
    Seriously. If EA has violated a contract then take them to court, else what you're putting up with is what you agreed to.

    Note that EA doesn't have trouble finding programmers willing to do this. Yeah, it's tough. Perhaps not a good choice for someone with a family, but it's not EA's responsibility to be a good company for the "family man". Their responsibility is to make money or go belly-up. The owners of the company who rake in the big bucks likely took huge risks at the outset and are reaping the benefits of them. Without taking such risks into account, you can't compare a hired, salaried employee to a higher-up. CEO's are often hired after the fact (though not always), and are in enough demand to warrant such a salary. It's important to the company to attract talent, and it's pretty clear that management talent is expensive.

    Bottom line is that you dont have to take on a high-stress job if you don't want to. There are plenty of jobs that you can live moderately comfortably on that are not ridiculous out there. No you won't make as much as an EA programmer, but you won't have trouble eating.

    The entire tone of the article presumes one entitlement after the other. Bottom line is that the CEO of EA has no obligation to his employees beyond the contract they'ce agreed to. Since there is no mention of a contract in this appeal, I'll assume that it's simply someone whining about them/their spouse's decisions.

  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mrlpz (605212) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:04PM (#10789727)
    In this economy it's not so easy to quit. Do you have a family ? Do you have kids ? It sounds as though you don't. But if you do, and you're self-employed, then shut the FSCK up, because your talking apples and oranges.

    Maybe someday when you grow up, and have someone call you "Dad", it might just dawn on you what the reality of it is. Hopefully for the rest of us within Darwin's view of human development, that won't come to pass....SNIP...SNIP, another branch off the tree.
  • by PongStroid (178315) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:09PM (#10789788)
    Anybody working in the
    shoe industry who is complaining about the hours needs to realise that that's the way the industry works, and it ain't changing anytime soon. If you actually notice the hours you're working, then you've been at it too long. There's some fresh young recruit just dying to have your job, so move on and let them have it.

    Um - really - what's the difference? Worker abuse is worker abuse no matter the industry or location.

    I sincerely hope you never move into a management position.

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

    by PriceIke (751512) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:11PM (#10789808)

    "The inherent vice of capitalism is the uneven division of blessings, while the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal division of misery."

    and

    "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried."

    -Winston Churchill

  • by jnik (1733) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:13PM (#10789826)
    Look, they're not slaves at that place, they can quit anytime they want. I don't think they'd be happy to loose their jobs.

    Sure. You can quit anytime you want. Except, when you're working an eighty hour week, how do you line up another job? And you can't collect unemployment if you quit.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:23PM (#10789989)
    Very few managers I've worked with actually code much. And frankly that is often for the better.
  • by MiceHead (723398) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:53PM (#10790334) Homepage
    I think the big question is, how can we get small game studios back? Is it really not possible for a small team to make commercial games?

    I believe that the problem smaller studios face can be overcome with some lateral thinking. The problem is two-fold: production costs and marketing costs are too high to allow indies to compete on equal footing with the big boys. The solution, then, is to not compete on equal footing.

    Don't: Try to copy a game that took 60 people 3 years to create.
    Do: Draw from an existing genre, but come up with a unique twist -- something meaty that doesn't exist elsewhere.

    Don't: Compete with larger productions on the same style of graphics.
    Do: Come up with a unique look; it's easier to wow people with a fresh style. (Though Monolith is not a small studio, Tron 2.0 was the opposite of the hyper-realism trend, and set itself apart on appearance, among other things.)

    Don't: Try to out-advertise Activision, Microsoft, or Infogr- er- Atari. A small studio's meager advertising budget should be used towards development.
    Do: Make as much use of word-of-mouth marketing as is humanly possible. It's easier to connect with your individual players because... well... there are fewer of them.

    Don't: Re-invent the wheel. id Software must create its own 3D engine from scratch; you don't (necessarily) have to.
    Do: Make as much use of middleware as possible. You don't need to be an artist to create skycubes [pandromeda.com]. You don't need to know DirectX or OpenGL intimately to create [conitec.net] an [ogre3d.org] engine [garagegames.com]. You don't need to write your audio [fmod.org] engine [un4seen.com] from scratch.

    And I deeply believe better games would be coming out of a smaller and more laid back studio...

    I like the cut of your jib [rose-hulman.edu]. I hope you're right.

    ________________________
    Inago Rage [dejobaan.com] - A first-person shooter where you fight in arenas of your own creation.
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:54PM (#10790341) Journal
    A large part of the public wants video games that are more like movies. They now expect polished cutscenes that are as high a quality as Finding Nemo, they expect all kinds of graphic variety, all kinds of shit.

    I'd call Bungie a smaller studio, without MS's backing they'd be gone by now. But look at how all you slashbots hack up Halo. Not enough graphic variety, boring cutscenes, etc.. Halo is an example of a smaller houses success, but it isn't as polished as Epic's Unreal Tournament, so its just crap. Of course, those opinions are based more on anti-microsoft venom than anything else, but the point stands.

    It's possible for a small group to pull it off now and then, but it's kind of like a cheap indy film becoming a huge Blockbuster. It happens, but the Blair Witches, Clerks, and Big fat Greeks are the exception, where the big budget Hollywood stuff - LOTR, Star Wars Prequels, Spidermans are the rule.
  • Practical advise (Score:5, Insightful)

    by microbox (704317) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:57PM (#10790391)
    My advice: if you don't agree with EA practices, dont buy any of their products. Hit them where it hurts, and if they lay people off, you're doing those workers a favor anyhow.

    That's practical advise, in a sense, because if their "brand" turns sour (like Gator), then EA shareholders are in trouble.

    The impracticallity is that most of the market are too young to care or be informed about labour practices.

    If EA is really breaking the law, then a lawyer should approach any EA employees for the purporses of a class action suit. That would get their attention, and maybe there'd be some real change.
  • Re:Game Quality (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Media_Scumbag (217725) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:15PM (#10790565)
    Agreed - to elaborate...

    The gaming industry is more akin to the entertainment industry than it is to the software industry:

    Unions in the entertainment industry are hardly a new idea: Walt Disney himself was a "union-buster" in the early days of his studios, when young artists were looking to get better treatment and benefits in opposition to long hours and mediocre pay. As in live action, there is a union scale for everything from "Digital Ink and Paint," to "Director." Workers have extended benefits, and can petition in numbers to deal with grievences.

    Unfortunately, while union penetration is high in the bigger studios, the strength of the industry and the union is undermined by those that moonlight non-union jobs on the side.... As a sysadmin, I've never been eligible for a Union postion, and I worked ~80 hr weeks for months at a time. And, I've worked in union-eligble positions in non-union shops for 1/3rd scale. And, even though Cali has tough labor laws, the competition is fierce and entertainment lawyers and accountants can make the notion of a decent job an uphill battle. Try working 80hr/wk in a non-union state...

    Like movies, music, and TV, gaming is selling an experience, not so much a tangible product (CDs and printing are often done offshore) and potentially taking large risks with development to
    secure a sizeable profit. Other software is much more akin to a physical tool: Photoshop is to artist as saw is to carpenter, etc. For those that "make tools," there are unions, of course, like UAW, and one does wonder why the software industry in general isn't moving that direction.

    Unions in gaming is inevitable, as the profits are becoming to real to ignore. At some point, the workers will demand better protections from exploitation - especially since many artists working in unionized entertainment cross over to gaming and vice-versa.

    In the end, American companies will have to choose how much they value American workers. I have to believe that the horror stories and flagrant abuse of employment law will continue until there is a serious outcry.
  • by SharpNose (132636) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:24PM (#10790653) Journal
    Something is seriously wrong here.

    I am not meaning to cast aspersions on people who play these games, but I have to ask if the total manhours with the associated damaged health etc. is an appropriate price to pay for a product that will a) sell some number of copies and will then become unavailable except for the used market b) will only run on a device that will itself no longer be sold in stores c) serves no real purpose other than consumers' temporary entertainment. Do the same number of people work as hard for as long to produce a movie? To write the software that can automatically land an Airbus in a rainstorm? To develop a chemo drug that's the first to target a particular kind of cancer?

    How badly do we want these games, and at how low a price?
  • by abb3w (696381) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:24PM (#10790656) Journal
    Hi. I prefer unions, despite none of my family (including myself) ever having been in one in my lifetime. (Mom was in the teacher's union during her eight years as an English teacher, Before Kids.) I have substantial respect for the function Unions serve. You may blame this on too much time spent with professors specializing in the history of science and engineering. I understand the reasons for Unions. I understand their drawbacks. Overly strong, Unions grow lazy, corrupt, and stupid. On the other hand, without unions (or the rarest of charismatic absolute rules at the top of management determined to prevent it) management will work employees hard enough to be detrimental to society at large.

    Unions are the enemy of talented and productive people that understand you don't need a union, just the freedom to do whatever you want.

    ...and command of sufficient financial and capital assets to do it. I have a freind who has the potential to be a damn fine architect. However, he's not quite visionary enough to be the next Frank Lloyd Wright. So, he's stuck in a deeply crappy job doing grunt work to pay the bills. How crappy? Crappy enought that he's looking for jobs in computer gaming at EA, despite full awareness of stories like these. Quoth he, "it's still an improvement."

    As for myself, due to their corporate union attitudes, I don't buy anything made by EA, and I only buy things from Wal-Mart after checking if ANYONE else in town carries it at any price. (Last thing I bought was a 3.5 inch glue-top memo cube filler two years ago.)

  • by CaptainPinko (753849) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:46PM (#10790929)
    I know I'm probably too late to creat any intelligent debate from this post but I feel the neede to post this!

    1. I agree that there is a need for unionizing software engineers
    2. I also acknowledge that companies will move before allowing unions to form and replace their employees with cheap slaves^H^H^H^H^H workers in other countries.

    Well the question becomes how do we create a union without moving the companies? Well what about removing the economic incentives for the companies to move overseas.

    If a country subsidises an industry then when that thing is imported to another country there are tarriffs placed on that product to even ujp the playing field.

    Now -here is the crucial link: by allowing lax labour laws the governments of third world countries are subsidising the companies by removing the cost of providing benefits for their employees.

    Next we need to determine what an employee morally deserves to earn and what is mandated by law. So, for example, lets say an employee has the right to get paid overtime for over 50 hours/week, make a living wage, have 2 weeks paid vacation, get basic health benefits, and work in decent working conditions (air conditioning/heating to healthy working temperatures).

    Take this list of requirements and see how much it would cost to implement in offshore-country X. Now all that cost is being saved by the company by the country allowing them to exploit the workers: a subsidy!

    Now, whenever the ABC company tries to sell a product in this country the government slaps a "offshore worker exploitation surcharge" raked in by the government and it can go to help workers displaced by offshoring and for the costs of peace-keeping in these often third-world countries.

    Now, since the cost of the product is going to be roughly the same as if the company gave those benefits they might as well give employees this benefits. This improves working conditions for foreign works while raising their cost with theircounterparts. Now, workers can compete on a fairer playing field and we still get economic progress (ie. improved effeciency, innovation, etc.)based on the traditional laws of economics!

    We must be prepared to pay more for our goods, but we must except this as we are no longer living in opulence off the backs of the poor.

    If we can get most of the industrialised nations on board (USA, Canada, and the EU) then companies will be forced to give in to improving their workers conditions since the market is way too large to ignore.

    I'll be really interested in hearing feedback about this idea. It all hinges on the concept of treating exploitation is a subsidy.This would seem to work for the whole sweatshop scenario and allow countriesd to increase worker benefits without suffering from less generous countries.

  • by ChaosDiscord (4913) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:52PM (#10791009) Homepage Journal
    There's a simple rule that I like: if you (as a manager) call overtime, you will work the same hours.

    Damn, that's good. Obvious, but I hadn't considered it. Perhaps it should logically chain up the entire structure; if a manager is working overtime for more than (say) a week, than his boss has to start working overtime. Chain it up the chain of command. This would catch managers who already do constantly work overtime; their boss would have incentive (and time) to investigate why this is the case and see how it could be fixed. Some managers consider 60+ hour weeks year round to be reasonable; there needs to be a check on them as well.

    Obviously these can't be hard and fast rules; part of the deal with salary is that you'll sometimes put in slightly longer weeks. It's when the overtime becomes mandatory or long term that something is broken and must be fixed.

  • by dstone (191334) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:52PM (#10791015) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I worked at EA for a few years as a programmer on sports titles. It was extremely consuming work.

    I wonder if the claims of "abuse" aren't more than simply "expectations not met". The former is serious problem, and there may be laws or employment contracts to help you. The latter simply means you're working at the wrong job for you.

    I see more than a few suggestions here to "just unionize" and I strongly disagree. We're talking about professionals. People who, by definition, are well educated, literate, capable of understanding and negotiating on their own. Engineers have their own professional society as support, as do many other professions. Programmers can join professional organizations such as IEEE or EFF for resources they may find helpful. Professional organizations are a far cry from unions, and thankfully, they don't generally promote union-style blocking of communication and empathy between management and workers.

    Also, please consider that as more unionized programming shops and union-only projects are created in your country, more and more programming opportunities will be lost to nations where programmers are content to negotiate their own terms and work without unionized representation.

    For me, personally, EA Sports was a really really exhausting place to work. The demands were very very high. The hours were all-consuming. No personal life during finalling. The salary was okay. I loved it for years and then moved on before burnout arrived. If you don't want that life, seek work elsewhere because I assure you that what you consider abusive, hundreds or thousands of other people consider a dream job. Nobody is being whipped, starved, or prevented from quitting. They're just working really really damn hard.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:54PM (#10791045)
    In a controlled market (like the one America has now) you don't have the freedom to do whatever you want.

    In theory you have this freedom, but in practice you don't.

    Just as there is *no* vendor that will sell me a non-encrypted, non-region encoded DVD, similarly there is *no* employer that will give me a job with sane hours and a few weeks of paid vacation to boot.

    Of course, right now, there are a few employers who will offer that, but they are a dying breed.

    Of course one could always jump to a different industry....because...you know....this trend is clearly and obviously restricted to just the software industry (sarcasm).
  • by TiggertheMad (556308) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:55PM (#10791053) Homepage Journal
    What I would do, if I were working there, would be to start a union. Either they fire me for it, and I get to collect unemployment and file a lawsuit against them, or I get a union going and make management deal with the consequences of their actions.

    IT workers have been getting fucked over for quite awhile. Sooner or later, being bright and educated individuals, they will realize that they don't have to put up with abusive practices such as these.
  • Re:Illegal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Featureless (599963) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @04:07PM (#10791232) Journal
    OK, let's discuss why the civil legal system is a joke about poor people, by rich people.
    1. You have just been fired, so no income. Oh, you haven't been fired yet? Wait till they find out you're suing them.
    2. You are an EA employee, so, young, bright, probably some student loans and not exactly a lot of securities in your portfolio.
    3. Decent attorneys cost $250 and hour and up.
    4. A big, savvy opponent can rack you up a five-figure legal bill before your head even has a chacne to finish spinning. I bet 90% of EA employees couldn't afford to finish a discovery.
    5. Did I mention they probably all signed an employment contract so onerous they will end up owing EA money by the time the lawsuit is over?
    6. You're now an employee with a track record of suing his employers over labor conditions. Good luck ever getting a job in this business again.
    So, in response to your theoretically very astute point, I can only say this, if you are still giving out green cards, I want to immigrate to your imaginary country.

    Now if there's a government agency that will bestir itself to investigate a major taxpayer over this issue, that's another story. It's been known to happen from time to time, especially if the campaign donation checks don't arrive on time.

    I know what those poor bastards are going through. I went through that wringer for 5 years before I got out. At the end of the day, as long as the potential labor pool is so big, it will never change. Not in this country, anyway.
  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @04:50PM (#10791705)
    Well quitting is the weak willed person's solution. It's way harder to stay there and work for better conditions for yourself and others. Push the managers and bosses, form a union if you're into that, take them to court if need be.

    We gotta stop being selfish dickheads and thinking of "ME! ME! ME!" and have a little thought about everyone else. What sort of world/workplaces/society do we want? If we subscribe to that boring old bullshit of "Out to get what I can and I won't care about anyone else" then

    1) We're screwed
    2) That's just what the corporations do (In this case EA) so shut up and get to work!

    It's so funny that so many people subscribe to the "survival of the fitttest" mantra it never works in the long term and when you're on the receiving end, your views start to change.

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

    by eno2001 (527078) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @05:42PM (#10792302) Homepage Journal
    There are any number of things that make that hard, but considering the unemployment in this country I would say #1 is the financial impact it would have. Many people can't just up and walk out on a job that sucks if they have bills to pay. EA is abusing it's employees plain and simple. And they have the employee right where they want them because they know that person needs to pay the bills.

    Another factor is that when you work twelve hours a day, seven days a week, it becomes nearly impossible to do a job search, update your resume, or do interviews. Without that ability, leaving one job for another one that treats you better and pays just as well is unattainable. If you want to work twelve hours days every day of the week and get paid the very minimum that EA is willing to offer for that kind of back breaking sacrifice you're more than welcome to pick up and move and apply for a job. Until you do that, you can shut the hell up motherfucker. Said with the best of intentions of course. ;P
  • It is for real.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DelawareBoy (757170) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @06:01PM (#10792520)
    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.

    yes, and Mr. Patterson is still the CEO..
    http://www.cerner.com/aboutcerner/default.a sp
  • by HuguesT (84078) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @07:05PM (#10793231)
    First of all these hours are insane, voluntary or not. This practice ensures the end product is going to be utter crap, that everyone will leave if they can and that precious experience will go down the drain, ensuring that future products will be crap too. Now EA is also getting bad press.

    This is terrible management practice.

    Second of all I'm a bit sad of the "stop whingeing" reactions and general lack of empathy in this forum. There are reasons why there are labor laws and why they should be applied. In this instance EA is exposing itself to consumer backlash and possible lawsuits, hardly something smart. This reeks of 19th century mining company practices.

    People shouldn't be forced to work long hours for extended periods of time, period. Some people might choose to do it if they are able and have the motivation in return for appreciable benefits, but to *force* people to work in this fashion for nothing invites very real negative effects such as poor health, divorces, possible violence, accidents in and out of the office, etc, all of which have costs for the entire society associated with them.

    We know corporations have no morals and don't care about the above. This is precisely why labor laws exist and must be enforced.
  • by Branch_Dravidian (701057) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @07:28PM (#10793480)
    A player from my old MMOG guild actually got a job as a dev for that same game... and proceeded to drop off the face of the earth.

    He showed up just long enough to post this gem on the guild boards (in reply to a thread about a game bug)...

    "I'm coding the UI, jackass.

    I don't really need to understand the exact details of what the live team has been doing lately with gameplay balance in order to work on that.

    I played the goddamn game for 4 years and ruined a pretty damn good relationship because of it. Then I got a job at [MMOG Company] and worked 100 hours a week for a YEAR. I slept at the office 4 or 5 nights a week. For the year and a half after that, I only worked 70 or 80 hours a week. I carpalled out my wrists and now I can't play PC games anymore.

    I'm sorry that I'm not dedicated enough to [MMOG Company]'s products for you."

    Sounds like a real pleasure cruise...

    It's no wonder that the relationship between MMOG customers and devs is so toxic.
    At least when you buy a copy of GTA:San Andreas or Madden 2005... you don't have to worry about some burnt out, mindfucked basketcase acting as your "Dungeonmaster."
  • by lee7guy (659916) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:44PM (#10794871)
    Some people are capable of working longer hours and, gasp, actually ENJOY that.

    You are gasping because you can't believe what you are saying? Me neither. Seriously though, several people I know thought the same when they started their careers. Some got burnt out, some got sick and some quit in time. The human body/mind has its limits, the limits may vary, but 10 to 12 hours a day, five to six days a week is more than most can take for extended periods of time. You might be the exception, but then another problem will arise. Management will start using your long hours as an example for everyone to follow, which will hurt your coworkers not capable of the same.

    The government has no right to tell anyone how long they may work.

    So you say. I do not agree, and most goverments won't either. Using ideology for fact doesn't make it fact.

    You want to work less? Fine, you do that.

    I already do. I work 30 to 40 hours a week at times I see fit and make a decent living.

    But let others who wish to work longer do so.

    I am not in power to let people do this or do that, but I can argue against practices that I think is disadvantegous for society at large.

    If working longer hours is hurting a company, then the free market will fix things by making that company less productive.

    So you say. My guess is if working long hours is hurting a company, the company will solve it by letting the people hurt by the policy go when they can't cope with the workload any more. Replacing with new personel as they see fit. If they are working in a "glamorous" field like computer games, there is no shortage of willing fools. Again, it's a matter of ideology. I don't think "the free market" is a magic silver bullet.
  • by CrankyBuffalo (711847) on Friday November 12, 2004 @12:00AM (#10795274) Homepage
    By now, we've all read that cathartic LiveJournal entry (or the reposting here on slashdot) by an angry EA widow who has had her husband, her family life, and her own career co-opted by the hellish product development environment that has become the norm at Electronic Arts. Most of us in the business know, right down deep in our ulcers and migraines, exactly what she's talking about. Too many of us have been caught in "normal" development cycles that require overtime as a matter of course; and have been at the mercy of abusive managers who ratcheted us up to several months of 13-hour-a-day/7-day work weeks. Perversely, these managers always claim that this is what's required to make the schedule - and (the mendacity of this part is always breathtaking) to prevent our work hours from expanding even more in the future.

    These stories are nothing new to me. I spent my 20s living them - and my 30s figuring out how to avoid ever doing that again.

    Let me begin by establishing my bona fides. I've been building software for more than 20 years. Fifteen of those years were in the games business; half of those years were spent at EA's Bay Area offices as an external developer and an employee. I've held just about every technical position from tool programmer to director of engineering. As a programmer I've worked by myself and on teams of almost a hundred engineers. As a manager at a Fortune 100 company (Adobe) and elsewhere, I ran teams of up to 25 people, working on up to five projects at once. I've managed multi-million dollar art-intensive games, single developers, and core technology teams responsible to as many as eight clients (all with different requirements and all on different shipping schedules). Over the course of my career, I've been "in charge" (i.e. the senior engineering or project manager) on more than a half-dozen published titles, and held up the technical direction or project management end on over two dozen more.

    In all that time, for all those titles, no project I was in charge of has ever missed its ship date or overshot its budget.

    Yet I absolutely refuse to work the kind of death march hours ea_spouse describes. And I have never, ever asked or allowed my employees to do so.


    Her story - and others that have been shared in the industry-wide conversation that her post provoked - make it clear that EA's management believes, as a matter of institutional principle, that only way to make money at games software is to create tight schedules, and the only way to make a tight schedule is to work your employees harder.

    Decades of software engineering research and best practices - and my own experience - prove conclusively that this belief is complete bullshit.

    Read the rest at: http://enginesofmischief.com/blogs/ramblings/archi ves/2004/11/11/643#more-643 [enginesofmischief.com]
  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by duffbeer703 (177751) * on Friday November 12, 2004 @11:55AM (#10798156)
    What a jackass you are. The moronic opinions held by IT people, programmers and people like you about extreme overwork are proof that there's a difference between "training" and education.

    That company is taking advantage of its employees fears and loyalties to destroy lives out of spite. Working people 80+ hours a week probably results in less work getting done than working 40 hour weeks anyway... these practices are about control & intimidation, not business.

    The people running that company are living in a culture of fear and intimidation, where destroying marriages and turning 24 year olds into old men is a normal cost of business. That should not be acceptable in a civilized society.

    Those people are empowered by idiots like you, who are too ignorant to see the forest for the trees or to give a shit about a fellow citizen and human being.

    I'd venture to guess that you think that rape victims are assaulted because "they asked for it" too. Disgusting.
  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by abe ferlman (205607) <bgtrio@ y a hoo.com> on Friday November 12, 2004 @12:17PM (#10798425) Homepage Journal
    "Yeah, there's a human side to business, and if you think your company is evil, then quit."

    If you see Hitler coming to power and it scares you, don't lobby for a better government- move to Poland! Fucking whiner.

  • by Xyrus (755017) on Friday November 12, 2004 @12:56PM (#10798926) Journal
    I was a game programmer. I did a lot of titles. But just over a couple years ago I realized that if I wanted any semblance of a life, I would have to leave it.

    Don't get me wrong, I love game developing. But it's not a job. It's not a career. It is a life. Because that is all you think about. It is all you do. And don't expect any compensation for sacrificing endless hours, family, and friends in the process.

    The turning point for me was when I sat down and figured out how much I was actually making, based on a 8 hour day. My wife was actually making more than I was an hour.

    We also wanted to start a family. However when you work at a job where you may not get to spend you're vacation time, it just doesn't make sense.

    THe games industry is just like any other entertainment industry, except the real workers have no power (unlike movies with the screen actors guild). Even in the porn industry they have some fairly good representation.

    However, it is far more profitable for a company to get fresh faces cheap, burn them out, and then get another batch. Disgusting, but done in the name of the dollar.

    Is a "Game Maker's Union" the answer? I'm not so sure about that. There are too many young and naive kids out there who would do anything to get a game industry job (poor souls). And unions have there own set of problems.

    I have a friend who worked in the business side of software. One day, we were chatting about work. He rarely worked more than 40 hours a week, had better benefits, got comp time when he did work overtime, and could actually take vacations. And he was making more than I was.

    The game industry started to lose its luster.

    When you're a single gung ho, wanna make the next best-seller, type a guy, the game industry looks like an awesome place. But after you work yourself to exhaustion only to realize that the only people making money is the top brass, the thrill of seeing your title in the top 10 or on store shelves becomes more muted.

    Eventually, real-life sets in.

    After the last title I worked on went gold, I walked into my boss's office and said I was quitting. My love for game programming was no longer enough to keep me going the long hours away from my real life.

    I took a job with my friend, and have yet to regret it.

    Are these stories rare? Sadly no. Those in the industry know that it is far more common for publishers and developers to act like EA. Anyone who doesn't quickly gets crushed out of existence. It reminds of a line in Pirates of The Carribean: "Take all you can. Give nothing back." That's the game industry.

    My advice is if you're a really talented and intelligent programmer, go work for google or *gasp* microsoft. Those guys really know how to treat there employees, or so I've heard.

    ~X~
    "Is the game done? Oh yeah, you were on vacation."
  • Re:WHAAAAAA! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by duffbeer703 (177751) * on Friday November 12, 2004 @02:26PM (#10800282)
    As the management of Enron, Global Crossing and Worldcom have aptly demonstrated, the interests of corporate management do not always sync with the interests of the shareholders.

    Nobody is shackled to their desk, but workers are mentally held down by fear, uncertainty and doubt.

    These firms create an environment that makes the employee feel somewhat responsible for the situation that they are in. That's why $7/hr workers at Wal-Mart find themselves working inside of a locked store at 1AM for no pay.

    I and maybe you possess skills that allow us to be mercenaries and move from job to job with little problem. The vast majority of people do not have that luxury and should not be subjected to coersive and manipulative treatment to feed their families.
  • Re:ea_spouse (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RedBear (207369) <redbear@@@redbearnet...com> on Friday November 12, 2004 @08:18PM (#10803731) Homepage
    eight hours six days a week

    twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm

    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.

    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.


    Why would any human being in their right mind put up with any of those things for more than a week? Are their families starving to death? Are there no other jobs within a 5,000 mile radius of where they live? Are they all hooked on a drug that can only be obtained from the company they work for? Are they all insane? Brainwashed?

    It boggles my mind that people have allowed this to even become an issue. No overtime? No comp time? No gaurantee of any time off after a deadline is met? This is total bullshit. In a way, the people that are putting up with this treatment deserve it. How about shutting up and standing up for your humanity in the first place. We aren't in a depression and we aren't in the Middle Ages. Yeah, the law should do something about the exploitation, but the workforce has a responsibility to stand up for itself. If they did so we wouldn't need a class action lawsuit. I simply cannot believe what I have read here today, that even one single person is willing to put up with being treated like slaves or work animals. Fuck, most people treat their work animals better than that!

    WHY ARE YOU PUTTING UP WITH IT?! WHY?!?

  • Re:ea_spouse (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iamhassi (659463) on Sunday November 14, 2004 @12:00AM (#10810742) Journal
    instead of just being a "disgruntled spouse" I suggest you become a "supportive spouse" and spend a little of your free-time finding your EA spouse a different job. There's no reason you can't e-mail or fax his (or her?) resumes instead of your spouse doing because, obviously, they don't have the time. That way instead of just complaining about the situation you're actually trying to fix it, and I'm sure there's plenty of companies that'd love to have a former EA programmer come work for them.

Whatever is not nailed down is mine. Whatever I can pry up is not nailed down. -- Collis P. Huntingdon, railroad tycoon

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