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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 celerityfm (181760) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:28AM (#10787802) Journal
    Instead of working on Duke Nu^H^H^H^H-- Good Ol' George B chimed in the yesterday [shacknews.com] regarding this article and said "There's a lot of truth in there, especially when talking about large scale, corporate game development, which is most of it these days."

    Interesting :(
  • Not surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Blackwulf (34848) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:32AM (#10787848) Homepage
    Being as someone who is currently in the software industry but not in the game industry, I've heard many things about the "crunch time" policies of game makers, especially that of EA. Every time I'm in an interview, the first question I ask is the "crunch time" policy.

    At the last interview I did for a game studio (which I, unfortunately, did not get the job for) they asked "Oh so you've heard the EA horror stories, haven't you"...Granted they were a much smaller developer for cell phone games and their crunch time wasn't nearly as long as the whole project, but apparently what EA is doing is more of the norm instead of the exception.

    Which sometimes makes me rethink the whole notion I had when I was in elementary school saying "I wanna write video games when I grow up!" I enjoy living, and there's a point where you have to choose either to "live to work" or "work to live" - I prefer the latter.
  • by scribblej (195445) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:33AM (#10787859)
    I've come to accept perpetual crunch time, unpaid overtime, and no comp days as "industry standard."

    I guess that makes me part of the problem. Reading this article woke me up a little... maybe I should be getting those things. I wonder how many programmers are in the situation of having little to no 'crunch time' and paid overtime and comp days? Especially paid overtime -- who gets that? Anyone?

  • by Rocketboy (32971) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:34AM (#10787881)
    A. Incompetant management. No new story here, and we've all suffered under it.
    B. Outsource the whiners to a country where, at least if they do whine, no one here will hear them. Also something many of us have lived through.

    No, they aren't going to outsource management but thanks for the suggestion. In my experience, that's like throwing gasoline on a fire. You think the bastards in *this* country are greedy incompetants, wait till you see some of the lads and lasses Over There.

    Simple solution? Don't do it. At one point in my career I was good enough at fomenting revolts that even the Indian and Russian contractors joined in. The key is to pick the part of the deathmarch where hanging management actually sounds like a reasonable solution. A few weeks of 12-hour days, seven days a week makes any way out welcome. :)

    Rb
  • by smutt (35184) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:37AM (#10787914)
    Call me lazy but working 80 hours of week while only getting paid for 40 is just stupid exploitation in my book.

    Now I live in the EU where it's mostly against the law to make me work more than 40 hours a week without paying me for it. Of course I still work probably 50-60 hour weeks. Atleast it's my choise now and if I want to slow down I can.

    --Smutt
  • by YetAnotherName (168064) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:40AM (#10787951) Homepage
    Cause every programmer at one point or another wants to make video games.

    That's what got me. Classic Atari system, and then games on personal computers. I just had to get me some of that.

    That lead into a computer science degree and then software jobs. But not a single one has been writing video games. There's been business systems, graphics, video, weather visualization, databases, knowledge management, embedded real-time, and a bunch of stuff in between. Enough experience to work on a game, but not one game, ever.

    And after reading that article, I don't think I mind!
  • Find another job (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Natchswing (588534) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:41AM (#10787968)
    I really can't have too much sympathy for the spouse if the husband keeps working at a place like this. If you're good at your job there will always be better jobs out there.

    Working more than 40 hours regularly without overtime is simply unacceptable.

    This isn't indentured servitude, he willingly works for this company.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:48AM (#10788052) Journal
    The first straw came with Need For Speed III. I liked that game, but when I upgraded to Windows 2000 I found it didn't work. Several updates to the Windows 98 compatibility layer later, it still didn't work. I don't know if EA ever fixed this, but two years after the release of Windows 2000, I gave up trying. The last straw came with one of the Command and Conquer series (Either RA2 or TS, I don't remember which), which didn't work in multiplayer in Windows 2000. Apparently there had been some changes to the IPX stack (who uses IPX anymore anyway? The game supported TCP/IP, but only for Internet play - on a LAN you needed to use IPX. No idea why). I think this was fixed eventually, but I gave up caring.

    Contrast this with a couple of other games I've bought:

    1. Quake. Worked in DOS. A free download let it work in Windows. Another free download let it make use of my Voodoo 2. I moved to FreeBSD, and a quick download and compile let me keep on playing. I moved to OS X, another free download later and I was playing the game again.
    2. Diablo II. Ran in Windows. Moved to the Mac, and the same game disk worked there too. Additionally, they released an installer recently (a couple of years after I bought the game) allowing me to install it in OS X without needing the classic environment. *NIX support would be nice, but I didn't buy it with the expectation of being able to run it anywhere outside Windows, so even Mac support was a nice bonus.
    Both Id and Blizzard will have my custom again. In the case of both of them, I have been able to change operating systems and keep playing their games. EA didn't even support my migration to a newer version of Windows, so I have no guarantee that any game I buy from them will be playable in a year or two's time.
  • Re:WTF?!?! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:48AM (#10788059) Homepage Journal
    Nurses, at least in California, are hourly workers and most hospitals these days frown on even back-to-back 12 hour shifts for fear of litigation. Most hospitals have also cut down on the brutla hours that residents are required to put in for the same reason. In the resident's case, they do get a place to crash when (assuming) things slow down for a while (and they usually do, even in ERs that are major trauma centers in major cities)
  • by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:52AM (#10788103) Journal
    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.
    It's not just the gaming industry. And you should worry about yourself as well as your family... I've worked those kinds of hours sometimes, and even for short periods of time it will really take it out on you, physically and mentally.

    There's a simple rule that I like: if you (as a manager) call overtime, you will work the same hours. I worked on a project with a manager who did exactly that... not to bother us, but to be there just in case, to make us take a break from time to time, and to bring us breakfast after pulling an all-nighter. You can be sure this manager only called overtime if it was really necessary!
  • by cbiffle (211614) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:54AM (#10788131)
    As someone who's tried, it's not that at all.

    It's that many programmers are so goddamn individualist. (Speaking as a programmer, I see some truth in this.) The reaction is typically something like "Why should I team up with you? I can do this on my own." And then, of course, they don't.

    It's sort of a sociopolitical not-invented-here syndrome; I see it as directly connected to the number of started-but-unfinished projects on Sourceforge that do exactly the same thing.
  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:54AM (#10788137) Homepage Journal
    So let me get this straight. You left the states, where it is illegal to work an employee excessive hours without compensation but is done anyway, for a country where it is illegal to work an employee excessive hours without compensation but it is done anyway. Am I missing something here?
  • by gfecyk (117430) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @10:56AM (#10788162) Homepage Journal
    As opposed to "designing for whatever the current version of Windows is with total disregard for best current practices."

    As in, testing with fast user switching (even if it's just exiting after finding it's running already as another user), testing with Limited User access (XP and 2K!), testing with families in mind whose parents don't want their kids destroying the family computer, testing whatever lame and innefective copy protection schemes to make sure they work with all of the above.

    It's the end of 2004, guys! Why does The Sims 2 not work with limited user access? Just because of your ineffective copy protection scheme? You should challenge Safedisc or whoever you use to fix their broken system, to work on XP for limited users.
  • by Harald74 (40901) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:00AM (#10788228) Homepage Journal
    As a non USAnian I just have to ask: What does "unpaid overtime" mean in the US anyway? Is it

    a) You get paid by the hour, no matter if that hour is between 8-9 AM or 3-4 AM or,
    b) You get paid X amount of money each week, no matter if you put in 40 hours or 60 hours.
  • by CortoMaltese (828267) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:01AM (#10788242)
    What kind of contracts have these people signed? I'm not going to do overtime without pay - nor with pay, if I don't have the time. Just say no. That's no reason to get fired.

    I'm working my 9 to 5, doing my best, and if that's not enough, it's not *my* fault the project is not on schedule. Some pointy haired guy screwed it up, nothing I can do.

    Besides, doing overtime over long periods of time is not going to solve anything. The quality of your code goes down so fast you'll spend more time debugging than you gained. And adding people to a project already late is just going to make it later.

  • by gmack (197796) <gmackNO@SPAMinnerfire.net> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:07AM (#10788309) Homepage Journal
    Actually I know a lot of managers think that way but it's very bad for buisness to have a programmer quit. The buisness loses weeks as they are out 1 programmer for the time required to find a new one. Once you do get a new one that programmer won't get much done for the time it takes to get familiar with the code (weeks.. or months depending on the complexity). To top it off the productivity of whoever has to show the new programmer the ropes goes down as well. Programmers are *not* an expendable resource.
  • by nullvector (694435) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:07AM (#10788312)
    When I interviewed with EA on a position for Software Engineer on Madden, I saw this first-hand. The people in my interview looked ghastly tired, and after the email tests, phone interviews, programming tests, etc, I was seeing the light, this is a sweat shop. About halfway through my interview-lunch, I realized that this isn't the place for me. I half-assed my way through the programming test, knowing I didn't want to work here. Above all, the HR people were unprofessional and borderline-rude. The first question I was asked in the interview..do you mind working weekends? long hours?.."oh by the way, we even bring in food for you when you stay late!". What an incentive...work 90hrs, they provide $5 pizza. Woohoo.
  • by scribblej (195445) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:10AM (#10788346)
    In my case, it means I get paid X dollars per week, whether I work 20 hours or 80.

    I expect it's the same for most USAians who are 'salaried' but reading this article makes me realize I don't have a clear concept of other people's compensation for their jobs. The female writing it apparently thinks paid overtime should be a given. If you'd asked me, I'd have said no one gets paid overtime, I've never heard of that.

    I mean, outside of hourly jobs like working the grill at McDonalds or selling pants at the Gap. Sure, you get overtime for those kinds of jobs. But not office work... right?

  • by Ford Prefect (8777) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:19AM (#10788459) Homepage
    Enough experience to work on a game, but not one game, ever.
    If you want to mess around with games programming, have a go at modding. You get an entire game and its content pre-built, and you can change it about as much or as little as you like.

    Someone I know has done some seriously cool OpenGL hacks* to Half-Life, getting it to use modern per-pixel shaders and suchlike, for instance. You can write a whole new renderer if you're so inclined, and still have some working netcode and so on to fall back on. Program AI with bots, or mess about enhancing existing coding, there's all sorts of stuff you can do. With Quakes 1 and 2, there's the entire engine source code available under the GPL - and it doesn't matter if you don't like FPS games, as I've seen driving, flight-sim and RTS games in Half-Life, for a start. :-)

    No, you don't get paid, but as a hobby it's brilliant fun. Plus if you do want to move into the games industry proper, even after reading the article, you can have a decent portfolio of work to demonstrate...

    (* 'Hacks' in the old sense, not the pathetic see-through-walls multiplayer cheats variety...)
  • Nothing new here (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Old Man Kensey (5209) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:20AM (#10788478) Homepage
    Fatbabies and the old Lum the Mad covered EA's management incompetence in excruciating detail, with the occasional referenced to Fuckedcompany when juicy memos would land in employees' inboxes.

    I worked for a game developer (Kesmai) that was bought by EA in early 2000 (the buy was announced in late 1999).

    A couple of links from around then will tell the tale:

    EA From the Inside I/II [theaceofspades.net] (LtM - I is a couple of entries below II. Sadly the links to the actual scanned memo are no longer extant, it was a stunner.)

    EA harassment lawsuit [fatbabies.com] (Fatbabies)

    EA has been about maximizing profit and minimizing expenses first, and customer satisfaction second, and the health and well-being of its employees almost dead last, for a long time now.

  • by macrom (537566) <macrom75@hotmail.com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:31AM (#10788601) Homepage
    Which blows my mind because if you look at job postings for a lot of companies, they all say that they are looking for extreme hardcore gamers that always play tons of games, etc. How in the world are you going to be a hardcore gamer if the company that hired you partly BECAUSE you are a hardcore gamer works you to the point that you can no longer game.

    This spouse talked about Madden, which made me think her husband works for Tiburon in Orlando, FL. The headquarter references imply California, but who knows. Does it maybe depend on what type of product you're working on? Madden HAS to be on an annual schedule by nature of the game. You'll massively loose out if you don't ship a football game until the week before the Super Bowl. The NBA, FIFA, AFL, Rugby, Cricket and other sports series probably suffer from the same fate. Maybe the crunch would be different if working on a game that didn't have to coincide with a real-world component.
  • Re:Illegal (Score:1, Interesting)

    by macaulay805 (823467) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:33AM (#10788627) Homepage Journal
    Although I can not speak from the EA's peoples point of view, I can speak from my own personal THQ experience.

    Their (official) answer (to me) was:

    "Well, you don't have to work overtime. Then again, you don't have to have a job either."

    Thus, to *THIS* day, I will *NOT* buy one single THQ game.
  • by Zip In The Wire (701259) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:37AM (#10788667)
    This company wasn't EA but EA is the biggest stockholder and what she describes was the same at that company.

    I might have been able to deal with the crunch mode for 2 months had it not been for the fact that the REASON for crunch mode was that the code base on this product was so crappy. The price of permanent crunch mode is that your developers have no time to learn anything new. These guys were stuck in 1980's coding philosphies and making a single change to the code would result in massive side effects. If they lost any critical programmers who had been there for a long time the product would be effectively dead.I might be ok working crunch mode on code that I'd written, but certainly not trying to fix someone else's pile of junk that should have been aborted at birth.

    The management also treated the people abusively (yelling at them, calling their work useless, etc) . It's a ripe place for petty tyrants to get jobs in management. Dinner was provided when staying late which is nice but really just an "everyone wins" deal. Management keeps you there and you get a nice meal.

    But maybe this is just a symptom of game programming. Games go out of style rapidly. There isn't any motivation to create a flexible, reuseable code base or team because of the rapidly changing styles in games.A lot of the guys I was working with were very good debuggers but very limited in other ways. They were trapped working for this company because their skill sets were very old and they seemed to have no motivation to learn new things. DirectX was like the last new thing they learned and that's it.

    I personally don't have extra motivation to work on games. I thought it would be an interesting industry to try. My experience is vast and flexible. As it turned out, I was way overqualified because they don't want skill, they want mostly effort, mostly. Actually, the one skill you should be very good at is using a debugger because that's what you'll be doing most of the time with the archaic practices that run rampant.

    I'd say if you are young (19-25) and don't have a life, working games might be the thing for you.The salary was way up there 90k+ so its worth it if you are willing to sacrifice in other areas.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:44AM (#10788745)
    You don't have to live in the US...

    Here in france, where the law lean strongly in favor of workers, you have the exact same crap in the video game industry.

    It's completly illegal here to have people do overtime without being paid for it, yet in french video game development studios, everyone do overtime, about all of the time, and rarely get paid for it.

    The reason is simple: you screw them, they screw you. And they can screw you big time.

    For instance, I worked for a development studio (that since then bankrupted and then was reborn from its ashes) that wanted to get rid of some personel... But they didn't want to fire them, as under french law, they have to pay some big indemnities unless they can prove the guys have done a professional fault.

    So, instead, they make your life hell, to encourage you to leave on your own. And your life is usually already hellish enough with the overtime, the often ppor organisation and management, etc.

    Start stirring shit with overtime, and you're in trouble. And they will also try to culpabilise you, saying that you are putting the project, and thus the company in danger (which is, by the way, true, given how short on cash most development studios always are, so they can't afford to screw projects up)...

    And there is also the untold, but real threat that if you screw your company up, you won't be able to find a new job (at least in the same area), as there's only a few companies and people in the industry, and most of them know each other...

    That's why everyone put up with the shit. I know of a couple instance of people sueing their former companies over these kind of things, but mostly people either want to continue working in the industry, or they just leave to do something else and they don't care anymore.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:56AM (#10788907)
    background: i'm a hardware geek. i've worked for four companies in seven years in the valley. they all have had unspoken policies (that are always at least slightly mentioned during the interview process) regarding the fact that you'd better be OK with working arbitrarily long hours.

    nvidia was the worst offender by far. total sweatshop. our VP (not our manager, mind you) would sometimes sit over your shoulder and TELL YOU WHAT TO TYPE. he even singled out a few pets in the group whom he would really make life difficult for. one guy had the VP show up at his apartment door on a sunday night, asking him "cmon, let's go over to the office and fix these problems". he then sat with him and directed him and watched him as he worked into the wee hours. he even cancelled my cube move on the day of the move without telling me or my manager, just so (apparently) he could keep an eye on me. i was moving cubes to get away from the jerk! so much for that plan.

    a constant litany of messages both verbal and via email would rain down, using language like "you are letting down your team by not being here when they are" and "so-and-so person didn't get so-and-so task done on schedule. you MUST make up. this is unacceptable". this sort of beratement would take place on the project-wide email alias. wow is that good for morale.

    the VP also made my group come to work on the day of the company christmas party. the rest of the company was given the day off (it was a weekday). he sequestered us in a conference room all day to discuss the project "big picture". he even wanted us to skip lunch and work straight through, until my boss convinced him that gee, it might be a good idea to take us all out for lunch... the natives were getting very restless.

    that may seem like a very minor story in hindsight to people that weren't there, but man i can tell you that the venom seething in my coworkers that day was palpable.

    then there was the boss at sgi who was convinced that our multiple-year-long asic project was 3 months from tapeout. after believing in this delusion and driving us all at redline for 18 months, she was finally replaced by a software manager who worked on the driver for said asic, who got things done in a very straightforward, no-nonsense, and highly effective manner. and she didn't even know (hardly) anything about asic development! just goes to show you how a good manager really can be effective AND multi-/cross-disciplinary.

    every startup that i've been at has had the engineers working late into the night, later than management, and later than most execs (except for some founders are truly dedicated to the cause, and work longer hours than anyone). plus, said management doesn't see the work that goes on from home via broadband when your seat at work gets cold. that doesn't help.

    bonuses are gone in this industry. options are almost completely worthless, save for the lucky few. comp time is nonexistent. you are simply expected to give up your life for The Cause. and then the same company espouses family values via their HR departments and very infrequent out-of-office activities. i'd gladly give up the crappy christmas party and i'd pay more for health insurance in exchange for a few less whipmarks on my back and a few less nights laying awake in bed, unable to fall asleep at 1am after getting home directly from work and being unable to get the waveforms out of my head.

    and i can definitely attest to the toll that working 7 days a week takes on you. you get sick. and then the boss still wants you in the office. that drives me crazy too- let's get everyone sick! that will be productive.

    williteverend@sunnyvale
  • by Doc Hopper (59070) <slashdot@barnson.org> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:57AM (#10788929) Homepage Journal
    Strangely enough I get more respect working shorter hours than I did with the longer.
    This isn't strange at all, actually. The usual trend is that younger workers work longer hours in an attempt "to prove themselves" (I did it!). They'll work sixty-hour work weeks without complaint.

    The key thing IMHO is that they need to work those longer hours in order to equal the productivity of a more experienced person. Pit a thirty-five-year-old seasoned programmer against most twenty-two-year-old fresh-out-of-college programmers, and that guy with thirteen years more experience will probably produce cleaner code, fewer bugs, and more features in less time than the younger programmer.

    There are, obviously, brilliant exceptions to the rule on both sides :) However, in the main, working more hours does not mean more productivity. I have more respect for the guy that puts in his honest days' work and gets the job done, then goes home to his family, then for the person that works seventy-hour weeks to bring the project in due to their lack of competence.

    That doesn't mean I don't value the crazy-hour-worker. It just means I value the seasoned veteran who knows how to get the job done quickly more because he's better at the job.

  • by Tet (2721) * <slashdot AT astradyne DOT co DOT uk> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:05PM (#10789022) Homepage Journal
    Bad management, unrealistic schedules, artificial deadlines

    A friend of mine writes games for a living. He was recently told by his management that they needed him to work overtime[1] -- the project plan had allocated 150% of their available developer man hours to hit their (artificial) deadlines. Unfortunately, this is far from uncommon.

    [1] The stupid thing is, the coders voluntarily worked overtime a lot of the time before the crunch because they enjoyed what they were doing. But when it came down to management insisting they did it every day, it just drained morale. They're all burned out, and none of them are putting any effort into the product any more. Everyone loses, yet they still do it, just as they did with their last failed project. And as they will do with their next one when this one fails.

  • by topham (32406) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:15PM (#10789165) Homepage
    One begins to wonder whether the department, or (in MANY cases) subsidiary company is getting money based on the hours worked, billing the parent company, or another department, therefor padding their budget.

    It's like the movie industry, movies don't make money, all the subsidiary companies make money.
  • by badboy_tw2002 (524611) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:21PM (#10789222)
    Not true at all. There are plenty of back doors, and for all its derision EA provides a lot of them. A small 15-20 person company can't take on the risk of hiring someone without game experience. I was pretty lucky getting into one after a year of working at a dotbomb out of college. To get in, I moved halfway across the country, took a 25% paycut and worked as a contractor for 6 months with an option to be hired full time if I worked out. It did, and here I am, making more than I would with similar experience in a non-gaming company. Why? Because having gaming experience is what game companies want. Why?

    Because we do the same thing 100 times over. If game companies built a car, it would have four really cool looking wheels that went around in four different directions. :) What large scale project do you know that throws out most of its code every two years? As a programmer with gaming experience, they can tell me to "write a UI system" and I can whip one out because I've done it already. Or "develop an AI engine that can script with python" and I have lots of lessons learned from previous projects on what and what NOT to do. Unless you've gone through production, gone through crunch, worked with artists, worked with designers, dealt with producers, publsihers, and QA, you really don't have a good grasp on how it works. Yes, its that different. Should it be? Probably not.

    The games industry would benefit a lot from an injection of real software engineers, and a lot of us press for it where we can, but there's a long way to go. And unfortunately, the type of people willing to work the hours and deal with the crap for their "art" aren't 20 year veteran old codgers with families and houses. They're guys with something to prove, and willing to give it up to "break in to the industry"
  • by martingunnarsson (590268) * <martin&snarl-up,com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:33PM (#10789358) 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'm sure a lot of game developers (programmers, artists etc.) would work for a lower salary at a nicer place. And I deeply believe better games would be coming out of a smaller and more laid back studio, though perhaps not as often.
    Yes, I can see where this fails, the money. But surely there must be a way to change the current development? The game market seems bigger than ever, do people really only care for the huuge games made by EA & co?
  • by superpulpsicle (533373) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:33PM (#10789363)
    I have been screaming to tell people to boycott EA sports games for years. There is no reason why a company that charges 2x more than the ESPN/Sega's $19.99 for sports game should have the same size development staff. They should be twice the size, and the games clearly be twice as good. It's NOT.

    Madden is the only game that is supposedly comparable to a Sega sports game. And the win margin is smaller every year. My personal opinion tells me this year's ESPN NFL2k5 finally topped Madden. ESPN already have a better basketball, hockey and baseball game. Yes, I rent enough AND play thru enough franchises to make this kind of judgement. Perhaps the only reason why people haven't changed, is they have gotten used to the control schemes or they are EA loyalists for life. In that case keep paying twice as much.

  • EA == Dilbert + Bush (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Fwoggus (783001) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:43PM (#10789469)
    I worked at EA corporate headquarters/studio for four years, though it felt like ten. EA is a dilbertian corporate hell. There was such an entrenched culture of lying, blame and spin that it was really difficult to get people to trust enough to work together effectively as a team. At one point they spent about a million dollars for an outside consultancy to come in and tell the upper management that they were too hard on people. Well Duh. Then for about a year the upper management rhetoric was "EA will be the number 1 people company". Rhetoric changed but nothing else. Pretty much every studio they buy up they have destroyed by imposing the "EA" way. Just a bunch of greedy Republican fucktards, welcome to 21st century America folks!
  • by adisakp (705706) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:53PM (#10789580) Journal
    I've worked in the Video Games industry for just under 20 years (first game published in 1985). The last company I worked for expected 50-60 hour work weeks -- several people were fired from there for not working the mandatory extra 10-20 hours a week as "slackers". They scheduled me on one project where I had to convert 400,000 lines of assembler in 4 months. That's about 3,000 lines of code a day, converted and debugged. I managed to do it by working 100 hour weeks with 16-20 hour days for four months. My health was so bad at the end of the project I nearly had a liver failure from an infection that a healthy immune system would have easily fought off.

    The company I currently work at had us working nights and weekends to finish projects and during crunch (the last project had an 8 month crunch!) many team members were working around 70-80 hours a week. Unfortunately, successes under crunches like these tell upper management that it's a good thing to work employees under heavy hours and a high workload situations.

    Due to lobbied labor laws that prevent salaried software engineers from receiving overtime pay, the industry has taken this as a "pay a set fee, work'em as hard as you can" attitude. If they double the hours worked, they halve their perceived cost per man hour.

    Not surprisingly, burn out rate and job-hopping are really high in the games industry. Too bad it's pretty much the same at nearly all video game companies that I know. Mandatory nights and weekends leave little personal time for any software developers -- especially commuters or employees with families.

    Oh well, at least the team I'm on has a big enough title that when the royalties come in, we'll make a decent wage per hour, but if you're on a smaller title or working without royalties, you might make less per hour than a Walmart manager if you go into video games programming.
  • by puppetman (131489) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:20PM (#10789939) Homepage
    I have a friend who works for EA here in Vancouver. He was in "crunch mode" for about two weeks, then they hit alpha, and he went back to his regular schedule.

    This is in Canada, tho, and there are specific rules for high-tech industry [gov.bc.ca] and it does not exclude overtime.
  • by mad.frog (525085) <steven@nosPam.crinklink.com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:37PM (#10790157)
    ...it's all true.

    I worked at EA Pacific (now part of EA LA) for 1.5 years as a lead programmer on Command & Conquer: Generals.

    Those were, by far, the worst years of my professional life, and seriously damaged my mental health -- no joke. A year and a half later, I am still bitter.

    EA expects outrageous working hours, on the order of 80-100 hour weeks, for months on end. If you desire to have absolutely, positively, no life whatsoever outside of work, and are willing to completely sacrifice your mental and physical health to be able to write games -- then by all means, go for it. (This is only partly a facetious comment, as I know people who are willing to make that sacrifice.)

    Let's add to that the complete moral bankruptcy of the production staff. I was recruited there by a former friend (emphasis on former) to help revive the C&C franchise.... former versions had been fun, tongue-in-cheek wargames, but outrageous in many ways and clearly divorced from reality. The new version kind of stumbled around for a while... until shortly after Sept 11 2001, when suddenly the game shifted to be all about middle-eastern terrorism. The game was later promoted with the tagline, "Leaders in the modern world need to have a command of words... words like "Scud Missile", "Carpet Bombing", etc." (I asked m management who hired the sociopaths for our ad campaign, but somehow they didn't listen to me.) Oh, and then there was the mission in the game where your objective was to play the terrorist side, and use their anthrax-spewing tanks to kill 200 civilians (!). (This mission had to be cut at the last minute after the European offices rejected it as being certain to get a "Mature" rating. Yes, I had tried pointing out the... unsavory... nature of the mission months earlier.)

    As soon as the product shipped, I quit, as did most of the development team. (That is, the ones who weren't fired for refusing to work 80-hour weeks, or for insisting on taking Christmas off. No, I am not making this up.) In hindsight, I should have quit much earlier; I only stayed on because I wanted my name in the credits, in case I wanted to work on other games in the future (thinking it would be good on my resume). The joke is on me, as there's really no way I ever want to work in that industy again.

    While I was there, Fortune magazine listed EA as one of their top companies to work for. This was a particularly bad joke to everyone in our office, except that it wasn't very funny. When the CEO of EA sent an email to everyone in the company stating how proud he was of this, I forwarded it to my wife, who responded directly to him, stating that he should be ashamed, as she had hardly seen me for months, and the working conditions were abysmal. He (or more likely, one of his minions) responded that "sacrifices were necessary" to make great games. Sheez.

    Shortly after I left EA, I happened to meet someone who has just started at EA-Maxis. I tried to diplomatically warn him that things could get unpleasant, but he reassured me that he knew what he was doing. One year later, he contacted me asking if my current employer was looking for help, as he had to quit -- similar conditions had destroyed his life (and cost him a girlfriend, as well).

    Take this for what you will, but I cannot emphasize strongly enough: EA is, perhaps, an acceptable place for crazed workaholics in upper management... but for any other position in the company, no, no, no, no no.....
  • Re:Play games at hom (Score:2, Interesting)

    by meabolex (788745) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:38PM (#10790171)
    You do realize that probably 90% of the people here (especially those who slave to write code) would say that playing games for a living is not a real job. BTW, do you testers ever just say, "sorry, this sucks" or is that not allowed? A lot of games out now need that kind of feedback.
  • by Anaphiel (712680) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:42PM (#10790223)
    I think it's possible for a small developer to make a good game; unfortumately I don't think a small developer can easily find a development budget, or a publisher willing to gamble on them, or money to market and distribute their title, or space on the shelves of big retailers.

    It doesn't matter if you have a great idea for a fun, original game title if you can't get it made. And if you make a fun, original game, it doesn't matter if you can't tell people about it and get a sufficient number of people to buy it to fund another one.

    I think we'll be looking increasingly at a two-tier system: truly independent developers making small games for a small audience and corporate developers developing "franchises" into "hits". You'll see the occasional small developer have a hit big enough for them to get acquired by one of the corporates, and I guess it's still possible for another id, Blizzard, etc. to build enough of a warchest and reputation to remain independent, but it's gonna be rare.

    The paradigms seem to be: Popcap, Looking Glass, Bungie, EA. Build small games with small overhead, profit. Build great games and go bankrupt. Build great games and hang on long enough to get acquired (and hope to be acquired by a fairly enlightened purchaser). Buy a lot of talent and have them create "safe bets" that sell big.

    Never thought I'd see the day when being acquired by MS looks like the best possible likely outcome. Man, am I cynical.

  • Quelle d'ommage (Score:3, Interesting)

    by {tele}machus_*1 (117577) * on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:52PM (#10790326) Journal
    I regularly work 10-12 hour days. I make it a point of being in the office for a few hours every weekend. I am a professional, and in order to maintain professional standards, I must dedicate a large part of my life to working.

    On the other hand, I don't work in a restrictive corporate environment. I get an annual bonus. No one tells me to be here from x a.m. until y p.m. I can take a 2 hour lunch on occasion. If I need to leave early, I can and do. If I need time off, I don't need to get approval, I just need to give ample notice. These are the unwritten percs of being a professional.

    While I don't feel much sympathy for the amount of hours these people work (or for the stress it causes them and their families--everyone is in the same boat on this score), I do think they are being treated little better than mules. Even though these EA programmers might not be entitled to comp time, if comp time is the customary reward in the industry for dedicated work for long hours to meet project deadlines, then EA is screwing these people. If I didn't get a bonus, or the kind of freedom I've described (which is customary for employees with my experience in my industry), I'd feel ill-used and under-appreciated. And I'd probably find someplace that would treat me better. Sounds like that avenue might not be open to these programmers, though.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:54PM (#10790346)

    The difference is, a miner is pretty much a miner: their output won't vary very much... whereas the output of different programmers can easily differ by a factor of ten. Why would a really productive programmer want a union which represents them and someone who does a 1/10 as much productive work? They'll only lose out to the benefit of the slackers.

    I've give you two examples of industries that have unions that meet your criteria: Professional Baseball and Screen actors. Both have members ("stars") who are 10 times as productive (in a money making sense, at least) as other members, yet they successfully negotiated working rules with their employers.

    The stars are FAR from lazy. They work their asses off. By successfully unionizing, they have been able to negotiate fair salaries (my definition of fair is to get a reasonable proportion of the money they make for their company). Prior to baseball unions, players made a pittance and the team owners just raked it in. Having a union does not mean that everybody has to get the same salary.

  • by DelawareBoy (757170) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:15PM (#10790575)
    This is (albeit dated) from the head of Cerner, a software company which makes hospital software.

    Link:
    http://finance.messages.yahoo.com/bbs?.mm =FN&actio n=m&board=4686968&tid=cern&sid=4686968&mid=142 26

    -----Original Message-----
    From: Patterson,Neal
    To: DL_ALL_MANAGERS;
    Subject: MANAGEMENT DIRECTIVE: Week #10_01: Fix it or changes will be made
    Importance: High

    To the KC_based managers:

    I have gone over the top. I have been making this point for over one year.

    We are getting less than 40 hours of work from a large number of our KC-based EMPLOYEES.
    The parking lot is sparsely used at 8AM; likewise at 5PM. As managers -- you either do
    not know what your EMPLOYEES are doing; or YOU do not CARE. You have created
    expectations on the work effort which allowed this to happen inside Cerner, creating a
    very unhealthy environment. In either case, you have a problem and you will fix it or
    I will replace you.

    NEVER in my career have I allowed a team which worked for me to think they had a 40 hour
    job. I have allowed YOU to create a culture which is permitting this. NO LONGER.

    At the end of next week, I am plan to implement the following:
    1. Closing of Associate Center to EMPLOYEES from 7:30AM to 6:30PM.
    2. Implementing a hiring freeze for all KC based positions. It will require Cabinet
    approval to hire someone into a KC based team. I chair our Cabinet.
    3. Implementing a time clock system, requiring EMPLOYEES to 'punch in' and 'punch out'
    to work. Any unapproved absences will be charged to the EMPLOYEES vacation.
    4. We passed a Stock Purchase Program, allowing for the EMPLOYEE to purchase Cerner
    stock at a 15% discount, at Friday's BOD meeting. Hell will freeze over before this
    CEO implements ANOTHER EMPLOYEE benefit in this Culture.
    5. Implement a 5% reduction of staff in KC.
    6. I am tabling the promotions until I am convinced that the ones being promoted are
    the solution, not the problem. If you are the problem, pack you bags.

    I think this parental type action SUCKS. However, what you are doing, as managers,
    with this company makes me SICK. It makes sick to have to write this directive.

    I know I am painting with a broad brush and the majority of the KC based associates are
    hard working, committed to Cerner success and committed to transforming health care. I
    know the parking lot is not a great measurement for 'effort'. I know that 'results' is
    what counts, not 'effort'. But I am through with the debate.

    We have a big vision. It will require a big effort. Too many in KC are not making the
    effort.

    I want to hear from you. If you think I am wrong with any of this, please state your
    case. If you have some ideas on how to fix this problem, let me hear those. I am very
    curious how you think we got here. If you know team members who are the problem, let me
    know. Please include (copy) Kynda in all of your replies.

    I STRONGLY suggest that you call some 7AM, 6PM and Saturday AM team meetings with the
    EMPLOYEES who work directly for you. Discuss this serious issue with your team. I
    suggest that you call your first meeting -- tonight. Something is going to change.

    I am giving you two weeks to fix this. My measurement will be the parking lot: it
    should be substantially full at 7:30 AM and 6:30 PM. The pizza man should show up at
    7:30 PM to feed the starving teams working late. The lot should be half full on
    Saturday mornings. We have a lot of work to do. If you do not have enough to keep your
    teams busy, let me know immediately.

    Folks this is a management problem, not an EMPLOYEE problem. Congratulations, you are
    management. You have the responsibility for our EMPLOYEES. I will hold you
    accountable. You have allowed this to get to this state. You have two weeks. Tick,
    tock.

    Neal .....
    Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
    Cerner Corporation www.cerner.com
    2800 Rockcreek Parkway; Kansas City, Missouri 64117
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:16PM (#10790584)
    Quoteth mad.frog: "Shortly after I left EA, I happened to meet someone who has just started at EA-Maxis. I tried to diplomatically warn him that things could get unpleasant, but he reassured me that he knew what he was doing. One year later, he contacted me asking if my current employer was looking for help, as he had to quit -- similar conditions had destroyed his life (and cost him a girlfriend, as well)."

    I'm that friend, and yes he warned me. The games industry has always been this way, and I worked at other games and film companies (you know, the one that did Toy Story). I thought I knew what to expect going in, but EA is by far the worst digital entertainment company in terms of how they treat their people. Its really ironic that their HR tag line is "The Number One People Company". They mean: Number one people burn out company. There are many stories here, but the one that really stands out was that my manager had to quit the games industry FOREVER under doctor's orders. He had uncontrollable back spasms due to work stress. Years of this sort of mandated hell will do that to a person.

    Add to this irony that I worked on a game that gave people "a life". My goodness, my own life was taken away so that I could make a video game that essentially took the players lives away since you had to sit in front of a TV for hours to get this fantasy life.

    I've seen the posts that say "Just Quit". Well I did, but its very hard to do on the spot since it is your means of income at the time. You also get very close to your team members since you band together to try and get your product out the door. Heck you're also all depressed, stressed, and sick at the same time, so there are many levels to bonding going on. :-)

    I've never been a fan of unions, but in this case the employees at EA need to think about it. The hours are insane, and so are the expectations. It comes with the territory though.

    As mad.frog said to me, "You've been warned". I'm saying the same to everyone else.
  • by yroJJory (559141) <me@@@jory...org> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:27PM (#10790689) Homepage
    Having worked in the games industry for 6 years, I see a bigger issue being presented. Yes, some people read the EA Spouse open letter as a series of complaints, but having been in the industry myself, she is totally valid and 100% correct.

    The attrocity of the situation is not that people have to work hard, but that the companies make no regrets and little compensation for scheduling them to work ridiculously long hours.

    During my time at LucasArts, it was painfully obvious that the company created schedules that were totally impossible and would require the employees to work more than a reasonable work week.

    On top of that, little, if any, comp time was ever provided, and the tools we worked with were so painfully antiquated that even upgrading them to current technologies would have brought the work week into more reasonable lengths.

    The real issue is that LucasArts and EA are not the only ones who treat their employees and perma-temps this way. And it is downright disgraceful, evil, and illegal.

    Saying that people should simply quit and go elsewhere is not dealing the problem of employee abuses.

    Myself, I left LEC and have built my own business, but the past 4 years of that have been extremely difficult, given the economic situation.
  • Whats the big deal? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cirrius (304487) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:31PM (#10790734)
    This is the norm in game development. I doubt any developer out there even blinks an eye at this article, with the exception of George Broussard (at least it puts to rest why Duke is taking so long).

    Seriously, I have always worked these hours in the game industry, and every person at every company I know, both independent and publisher owned, work them as well. There is nothing "eye opening" about this article. It's the way it is if you are a game developer. And yeah, all our spouses feel that way, but it's not like you can quit and go elsewhere unless you are willing to change the field you work in.
  • Necessary evil (Score:3, Interesting)

    by heroine (1220) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:33PM (#10790750) Homepage
    If it was any other job description you might think the husband was cheeting on the wife and the long hours were a lie, but obviously he's not president of the United States so we can trust him.

    The best thing to do for programmers is just not work the required hours and let them get rid of you if they like it. A lot of programmers get in this mode where they think they're on a ship at sea or they can't stand the ego bruising associated with a death march. The fact is you don't have to obey crazy hours if you don't want to and a termination is a small material consequence compared to losing your standard of living or suffering brain damage.

    The single solitary justification for crazy hours is maybe if you're trying for a management job somewhere else. Long hours in high risk startups are a requirement for anyone looking for eventual management jobs. Unless you consider EA a high risk startup you're probably wasting your time.

  • Try this analogy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ath (643782) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:26PM (#10791472)
    Substitute "EA" with "US Steel". Substitute "programmer" with "factory worker". Substitute "no overtime" with "no overtime". Illegal is illegal. Even the wife who wrote the blog admits they know it is illegal. The question is, who is going to make a federal case out of it.

    One parallel I see to the videogame industry is the entertainment industry (meaning film and television). Workers get abused because there are 1000 people in line waiting to take existing jobs, so if you have a job you accept abuse. The difference is that there are strong unions protecting actors and behind the scenes workers. Videogame companies are not yet under that pressure of collective bargaining.

    Take note, the days are numbered about when videogame company employees will get their due. EA is a California company. California has two things that are constant: a lot of lawyers and strong labor laws. An employee at EA who clearly documents all of this bogus stuff, gets an attorney to take it on contingency, and then obtains class action status for all EA employees is going to make Mr. Probst's $22 million in stock options look like pittance.

    Think that is ridiculous? Ask Microsoft about their attempts to screw over "contractors" in the 80s and 90s. You can label someone whatever you want, but there are definitions for words and there are only so many changes you can make before people stop accepting those changes. In Microsoft's case, they lost their battle to call someone a contractor when the person was treated like an employee. Those people won their stock options.

    Me? My wine glass is empty so I need to go now...but you've got to be impressed that a drunk person worked "pittance" into their slashdot post.

  • by enjo13 (444114) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:32PM (#10791541) Homepage
    I've recently made the jump into management.. I'm a really great situation where i'm in charge of the development staff, while my boss is now in charge of all of product development.

    I've worked really hard to institute a few policies that have been really great for the company. Among them is equal compensation for overtime.. if I see one of my developers working overtime, I have the leeway to make sure that they are given some kind of compensation for it (yes compensation, not a 'reward'). This is GENERALLY in the form of a few extra hours off but we've gotten creative with it.. For example one of our developers was having to work well into the evening on a friday night so I called his wife and had her meet me at the office, I had a nice meal delivered and made sure he got to spend some time with his wife (I watched their kid).. It's the least I could do. After all.. his work was making ME look good, and benefiting the company as a whole.

    The biggest change has been how we schedule. We now have a 'bottom up' commitment process where a set of requirements and a delivery date for each requirement must be agreed to by the implementing developer. This results in a negotiation process (this is what we can deliver vs. what the business needs us to deliver) that results in very sane schedules for all involved. The goal is for us to never HAVE to work overtime.. quite a change for a company that has been on more than one 80 hour a week death crunch before.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @07:24PM (#10793956)
    I'm a lead programmer in a european independent games studio (about 100 employees), and while I'm very familiar with the extreme overwork stories, especially from the other side of the pond, my own experience is rather different. I have two children (aged 6 an 9) who I care for on an equal basis with my wife. We both have 36 hour contracts (each having an afternoon for the children).

    Though in practice I work closer to 45-50 hours a week, I rarely spend more than the 36 hours at the office, the rest is done in the evenings at home. We shipped two games this year, both on schedule. The game I worked on even met every single milestone the publisher set, and has turned out to be a fair commercial succes. During the peak "crunch" time, I worked late (11pm) one day a week, all other days I would work 10am-6pm, plus a couple of hours in the evening when the kids were in bed. I also came in on about 5 saturdays, but that was it. Even this amount of very mild crunch time (by industry standards) put quite a bit of strain on my family life and mental well-being, but nothing that couldn't be fixed (meeting al our milestones also meant we were getting all of our milestone bonusses, which helped).

    Things went a bit less smoothly on the other game, but even there the real crunch (working most saturdays and some sundays) was limited to the last 4 month of development. In my opinion, most of the difference can be attributed to better planning and management on the game I worked on. In my opinion, most of that overtime could still have been avoided, and was mainly caused by lack of focus and lack of experience of the team leads. We have since recognised this, and with improved planning and more people actually taking them seriously, I'm pretty confident we will be able to conclude our next projects with minimal crunch time.

    Most importantly, none of this overwork was actually enforced by management. The _second_ anybody mentions mandatory saturdays, I'm back to a more cosy, if somewhat more boring, job in telecoms. And I'm not the only one; it would simply be inconceivable for management to request 80 hour weeks for any extended period of time. Now, this is still the games industry (I did take a pay cut when I got this job), and it still is very intense (I've had to put basically all my hobbies on hold for the past few years), but sofar I'm very happy with it. This goes for most of the people I work with, all of them love their work, and are more than willing to put in a bit of overwork to make the product better; just as long as the motivation and drive remains a positive one.

    And finally, I am convinced that this really works; it simply doesn't make sense for a programmer to work more than 50 hours a week. Beyond that, his (yes, we hardly have any girls working in production) productivity just doesn't increase anymore. It comes down to a choice between two models:
    1 - The simple one: make an unrealistic schedule (or none at all) and force/yell/scare everybody to work incredible hours for the duration of the project to try to meet the deadline, with little attention being paid to morale or sensible "proffesional" practices.
    2 - The harder one: have competent management in place that takes scheduling seriously, pays lots of attention to the supporting professional aspects of software development (we have never thrown away our code-base at the end of a project, and although we aren't anywhere near what I would call "professional" software development, from what I've seen at other games companies we are still pretty far ahead), and try to use the inherent enthousiasm of the employees to maximum effect without wearing them down.

    In pure economic terms, the two approaches might well work out the same, and if that's the case, I can see why a company as big as EA goes for the first approach, as it certainly is easier and more risk free, as long as you can keep your employees under enough pressure. But that doesn't mean it always has to be this way. It is still possible to have a pretty decent job i
  • by graffix_jones (444726) on Friday November 12, 2004 @02:41AM (#10796076)
    Wow! Ronald Reagan's back from the dead!

    I really hope you don't believe that your narrow worldview is the be-all and end-all when it comes to unions.

    As is shown in the example, it doesn't matter how friggin brilliant you are, YOU ARE EXPENDABLE.

    As a student of Economics, labor is simply a factor of production, and that is EXACTLY how management sees employees. There's very few companies that truly care about their employees and see to it that they're kept happy on the job (until you hit the management level anyway... but even then you're only a boardroom meeting away from a rolling head).

    Labor's only defense against market fluctuations is to unionize... I realize that you can cite chapter and verse of how bad unions are, but you do realize working conditions were abysmal until unions started forming in the early 1900s, and companies spent the better part of 20 years trying to stamp out the union movement. And these were honest, hard-working people... I challenge you to tell me that you work harder than your grandfather had to.

    Unions are not a threat... and the fact that you think they are leads me to believe either you're in management, or you work in a job where you have some 'perceived' security.

    If you were in a market where you were easily exploited as a source of labor I doubt you'd be as arrogant.

    For example, I live in a 1 hospital town, and the nurses there are treated so badly they've decided to unionize just so they can stop pulling 48 hour shifts, 100 hour weeks, no vacation and being on-call for their remaining time off... simply because the management is too cheap to hire more nurses.

    I bet you can guess that these people are salaried...

    Let's see you call them 'lazy, unproductive or incompetent'... simply because they're tired of being treated like shit.

    /me braces for the karma hit...
  • by silentbozo (542534) on Friday November 12, 2004 @01:19PM (#10800195) Journal
    It's not just the developers who are being worked ridiculous hours. It's also animators as well. Many of the union protections obtained back when animators did work for 2D union signatories are largely unapplicable to 3D work, since it's a different job classification. Games work is completely out of union purview.

    I recall listening to one person from my department relating having to work unpaid overtime (anything over 8 hours a day, or 40 hours a week in California is considered overtime - or at least, it USED to be), and still having to come in during the weekend, by herself to finish up scripting and animating 10 character cut-scenes. Now that's INSANE.

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