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Former EA Chicago Employee Speaks Out 48

Posted by Zonk
from the still-working-out-the-bugs dept.
The closing of EA Chicago came as a bit of a surprise to everyone, including EA Chicago employees. Still dealing with the layoff, an anonymous EA Chicago employee laid out what it was like in the last days to 1up. He touched on the cold reaction to the closure from online readers, and the reality of EA expectations: "In Gibeau's memo, he cited the low chance of short term profitability as an overarching reason for shutting down EA Chicago. Our source claims the company simply had impractical expectations. 'I believe we were never given a fair shake. Fight Night was a huge success,' he said, but 'Def Jam was another story. The estimates for Def Jam's sales were extremely unrealistic for the game. Even if it had done well it would have never hit the unrealistic goals and projections that the marketing department made.'" Update: 11/12 21:31 GMT by Z : Corrected link. Additionally, the folks at Infinity Ward have now offered ex-EA Chicagoans the chance to work with them.
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Former EA Chicago Employee Speaks Out

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  • by tulmad (25666)
    Is there a story link that should have been in the summary? I see one link to an older Slashdot article and nothing else.
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by Sosarian (39969)
      Via Google. And beat the editor that allowed this to get to the front page for me.

      http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3164291 [1up.com]
    • by uofitorn (804157)
      No kidding. I did a double take when I saw that it was Zonk and not kdawson that posted this story.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        No, kdawson would have links to the wikipedia entries for EA, Chicago and 1up before not linking to the interview.
    • Re:Story? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eln (21727) on Monday November 12, 2007 @05:06PM (#21328003) Homepage
      Not a whole lot of additional meat in the article, anyway. Basically the guy feels lousy because he got laid off (been there, done that), and says they were never given a chance, and expectations were unrealistic, etc.

      One thing that got me is that he seems to solely blame the marketing department for Def Jam's failure, even though all the reviews of it seem to suggest that the game just plain sucked. Sure, marketing may have overhyped it, but that doesn't make them responsible for the technical issues that likely contributed heavily to poor sales.

      It sucks that these people lost their jobs, and I sympathize with the fact that they're being lambasted for sucking all over the Internet, but on the other hand they made crappy games that sold poorly. On top of that, they worked for a company viewed as evil by most people who care about these things. So now, instead of being mocked for working for a lousy company on lousy games, they can now be mocked for formerly working for a lousy company and formerly working on lousy games.

      My advice to this guy would be to step away from the Internet until the chatter dies down. If hearing that EA sucks and EA Chicago deserved to go down because they sucked is going to get him depressed, he should avoid the kinds of sites that are likely to say those things. This whole story will die down as soon as people like him stop contacting game sites to complain about it.
      • Re:Story? (Score:4, Informative)

        by bethorphil (241623) on Tuesday November 13, 2007 @12:37AM (#21332471) Homepage

        One thing that got me is that he seems to solely blame the marketing department for Def Jam's failure, even though all the reviews of it seem to suggest that the game just plain sucked. Sure, marketing may have overhyped it, but that doesn't make them responsible for the technical issues that likely contributed heavily to poor sales.


        I've worked at EA. Marketing doesn't just sell the game, they pick the damn features. They set the release date. Sometimes, they even dictate the technology you will use, if it means a back-of-the-box bulletpoint.

        People seem to be stuck on the idea that EA is a game company. Wrong! Electronic Arts Inc. is a titanic marketing company, which has somehow rolled up some talented coders and artists, Katamari-style. The dev team can be super-skilled and still get bulldozed along with the rest of the crap-wad. If Def Jam sucks, I wouldn't be suprised if it's because the marketing department was desperate to shove it out the door in time for the MTV Music Awards, or Dr. Dre's new album.
        • I can buy your argument, but the developers have to accept some level of responsibility, if only that they weren't smart enough. Maybe Marketing/Management was daft to think they could get someone talented enough to pull it off for what they pay, but that doesn't remove the fact that they made a crappy game.

          That's the way I like to think, anyway. It at least leaves the door open for self-improvement.

  • Other links (Score:5, Informative)

    by mikael (484) on Monday November 12, 2007 @04:28PM (#21327517)
    Here's a link to a Former EA Staff member speaking out [1up.com]
  • You know, a link to what the article is supposedly talking about. They tend to help.

    http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3164291 [1up.com]

    Thought I would help.
  • you gotta hang those guys in every company. then all will be ok. im almost serious.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by techpawn (969834)
      I try to keep the marketing/sales guys as far away from the development staff as possible. I tell them WHAT to sell not the other way around. When you have marketing/sales driving development you get a lot of pretty widgets that don't really do anything until the first "bug fix" or unrealistic short sighted applications that go over budget and undersold.
    • by DarthTeufel (751532) on Monday November 12, 2007 @05:23PM (#21328263)
      I agree with your sentiment. I once had to lay off 20% of our production plant because marketing/sales couldn't meet the goals they laid out justifying the capex. Most depressing day of my life hands down.

      Since then, I've made it my personal crusade to call bullshit on Sales and Marketing. I got an accounting degree, but most of the people not smart enough to get a real business degree got a marketing degree.

      While a necessary part of the business, I absolutely hate them.
      • by unity100 (970058)
        when i was in university, they made it obligatory for industrial designers to take courses in manufacturing. because, they were designing so utterly stupid products that, they were impossible to produce with most modern of techniques.

        all BA people need to be required to have taken courses in any related field they are going to work in to. for example, a sales and marketing person to work in a software company need to be required to have taken software design courses, at least one, or prove that s/he unde
    • Got to wonder whose idea was it for a studio that was losing money to move to Downtown Chicago...When you're talking $15-$30 per sqft on an annual lease you're talking a LOT of money (god forbid they actually bought floors or one of the actual buildings). Besides giving the employees a defacto $1000+ pay cut due to parking and/or mass transportation cuts, you've done nothing to make you're buisness more financially stable.

  • That would be... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    because Def Jam Icon sucked. Seriously, it had to be the worst fighting game ever. Laggy controls, awful music, and that god awful "remix music while fighting" mechanic that wrecked it for me. I wish they could have made Def Jam: Fight for New York for the 360...the "old" one isnt compatible yet...but that was a good game. Good controls, good fighting techniques, and fun levels (the subway matches were awesome) mixed together with good characters and music. I hope they can pull it together and make a G
  • People have a decent defense against the RTFA for once.....
  • Sweet Vengeance (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blueZhift (652272) on Monday November 12, 2007 @04:59PM (#21327925) Homepage Journal
    It sounds like EA Chicago kinda got the shaft. It'd be sweet vengeance if they formed their own company and beat their old employer with something fresh and new. It seems that developers everywhere need to be ready to take fate into their own hands because the corporations will boot you out the door without hesitation to meet some short term goal. Innovation doesn't generally blossom in the short term. Heck, given a chance, what they were trying to do in Def Jam might have evolved into something great. I mean people probably laughed at those quirky Japanese rhythm games when the ideas were first floated. Now I, and many others can hardly wait to spend $100USD to whoop it up with fake guitars and other instruments.
    • I used to be one of those laughing at guitar hero, but now I'm sad and my guitar gently weeps. It weeps for all of those that play on a crappy plastic thing incapable of its virtuosity. It weeps as men sell their souls for a lifetime of pretending to cover other peoples songs. Ask not for whom it weeps, for it weeps for thee.
    • by Aladrin (926209)
      But how much is -really- management's fault (unrealistic goals, according to the summary) and how much is the employees'?

      If they were capable of putting in the amount of work necessary for a startup, do you think EA Chicago would still have died? It's a -hell- of a lot more work than EA, no matter how bad EA is. EA only takes 80 hours a week, a startup takes every last second that's available... And if you don't have enough available, you won't make it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bobartig (61456)
        Right. Only 80 hours. Apparently your management isn't familiar with the principle of diminishing returns. Startups aren't even run that way any more, at least not in silicon valley where I work. Smart startups and VCs these days are much more interested in sustainable, stable companies than the boom/bust nonsense of the .bomb era.

        Working crunch at EA may "only" take 80 hours of your week, but trust me, there's nothing left after that because the work is challenging. If you're pushing much over 80, your job
        • by Aladrin (926209)
          I don't work for a game company. I was refering to the (I thought) well known fact that EA requires massive overtime from all their game development staff. They're pretty much the industry leader in beating the shit out of an employee and getting thanked for it.

          My point was that as bad as EA is, starting your own business it harder! Even if they wanted to take all the same people and just start a project, they'd have to PAY all those people from something... You suggest Venture Capital, but that isn't m
    • Re:Sweet Vengeance (Score:4, Interesting)

      by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Monday November 12, 2007 @05:46PM (#21328571)
      The reality is probably that nobody got "the shaft", but also that it wasn't the employees' faults either.

      I think there is a tendency among a lot of people to take this kind of thing personally. There's nothing personal about it. EA doesn't see this as laying off a certain number of employees; they see it as jettisoning an unprofitable part of the company. Nor should they see it any other way; we don't live in a socialist economic system, the whole point is to be profitable. It's not up to EA's board of directors or CEO to get to know every single employee and pledge to take care of their families forever, regardless of anything.

      Employees, likewise, know there's always a risk of a layoff when they're hired. That's part of the bargain. In return, an employee is allowed to quit whenever he wants, with a reasonable expectation of finding another job in fairly short order. That's a freedom that people in many countries don't have.

      I think this unnamed former employee is taking all of this a little too personally. Yeah, it sucks to get laid off - I've been through it too. But there was nothing personal in the firings and there is honestly probably nothing personal in the "cold" comments he's reading on the net either. All anybody on the outside knows is the games that this division put out, and that they're a part of a giant conglomerate that everybody hates as a matter of course. Those are what we have to judge this studio by. So how can he blame anyone for being harsh? People are just making a judgment based on the information they have. It's got nothing to do with him personally.

      He feels bad now, but he'll get another job and forget all about this eventually. My being laid off sucked, and the job I got laid off from was probably the best I ever had, but it ended up advancing my career. I'm sure that I wouldn't be making the money I'm making now if I was still stuck at that job, and I likely wouldn't have a house or a wife. You never know how things are going to play out, and what's going to end up being the catalyst you need to take the next step in your life.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Just wanted to mention that I used to work for EA, and while they do seem like a monopolistic 800 lb gorilla, they still, at the end of the day, try to take care of their own. The fact of the matter is that EA studios are run against each other (just like any other set of competing game companies). If your company cannot sustain dollar amount X, well, you have to go. It's just the economics of EA, and everybody working for them knows that. This being said, whenever there is a studio closure (and there have
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mikael (484)
          I would have hoped that EA had the common sense not to have two studions working on titles in identical genre's. That happened to other multi-studio game developers. The theory was a nice idea; let every team work on whatever interested them. This certainly attracted staff and the company grew massively, but in the end, they end up with multiple numbers of teams around the place competing against each other for the Christmas/Summer holiday slots.

    • I'm not here to defend the actions of EA, but will say that I don't know why people always see layoffs of talented companies as attacks on inovation. Fans would want to believe that EA Chicago got shafted and to some extent that may be true - They worked 50+hours per week, they developed quality games, they did what they were asked. But the other truth is that they still lost money, and were expected to continue those losse possibly into 2011 based on reports from related media.

      May posters on this articl
  • by bflynn (992777) on Monday November 12, 2007 @05:03PM (#21327965)
    Shame, shame, shame.

    Innovation might be EA's mantra, but their actions are fighting against it. When you're working in the fields of innovation, for every spectacular success, there will be at least one spectacular failure. And probably many more than one. If you're not willing to accept those failures as the cost of innovation, then you have no business calling yourself an innovative company. EA just told every one of their developers "don't take a risk. Do it the safe way."

    If you want to blame anyone, blame the management. With proper technique, they should have known well before final production which games would make it and which would flop. EA is obviously a company on the decline.

    Brian
    • EA isn't about innovation. EA is about selling you the same sports games every year with updated player rosters. EA is about spamming you with pop-up ads every time you start up the N-th incarnation of the Battlefield game. EA is about selling ad space on in-game billboards. EA is about making low-risk, low-cost investments and monetizing the shit out of them. There is no innovation at Electronic Arts.
      • by Bobartig (61456) on Monday November 12, 2007 @06:18PM (#21328987) Homepage
        Spore, Dead Space, Army of Two, Crysis, Boogie etc. etc. EA is as innovative as any of the next top 5 major publishers (which is not very). It's not like you're singling out EA in any way with your comment. You're just describing the current state of the gaming industry.

        Look at Activision, 2K, Ubisoft, THQ and how many sequels and franchise spin offs they publish. THQ spits out endless terrible movie franchise titles, which are uniformly bad.

        EA cranks out a million sports titles, but that's just their exclusive licenses. Every company has their franchises, and any company that could get their hands on EA's sports franchises would do exactly what EA is doing with them.
        • by JimboFBX (1097277)
          Other publishers dont abandon their software 3 months after getting it working as advertised, which is 8 months after it was released.
        • For the most part a lot of these gaming companies haven't put out something really original in the past 5-8 years. It seems like most of the new games are just sequels to past games. (GTA IV, Halo 3, various sports titles for each year, Empire Earth III etc.) I'm clinging to find something original, hopefully Mass Effect will fill the void for awhile.
    • If you're saying that a studio should be expected to churn out 50% stinkers as the price of being "innovative," I'd have to disagree. Look at Nintendo - their worst first-party games are still better that 90% of the stuff EA puts out, and they're probably the most innovative game-makers out there.

      If that sounds like fanboyism, look at some more "conservative" studios (which I think you could argue have innovated more than this EA department ever did): Bioware (pre-EA), Blizzard, Valve.

      What do all these comp
      • by LKM (227954)
        I agree. Innovation must not automatically mean that some games are going to suck. It will probably mean that some games are not going to sell well, but really: You just know whether your game sucks or not before you publish it. There's no guessing involved. And if you're really not sure, do playtests. Hell, send out a few prerelease review copies. You'll quickly find out whether your game sucks.
      • by AgentSmith (69695)
        All true. Some CEOs, marketing and accounting professionals who work at game companies
        have no concept of game playability. You need to turn that concept into something quantifiable
        for them. Odd? Testing and surveying seems to help with that. Are there marketing departments
        out there in gameland doing this? I dunno. But anyway.

        Innovation takes time! Valve produces Half-Life. A game that has lasted by
        it sheer playability. Sure, there were other FPS games out there at the time, but
        this was an improvement by lea
  • by ScotchForBreakfast (1060672) on Monday November 12, 2007 @05:23PM (#21328271)
    I like games, and to a certain extent I feel some kinship with the folks who make them. So it is a bummer when I see those places closed down.

    At the same time when I hear these stories of development locations or developers being closed down and the subsequently whining by a few of them I can't help but think "welcome to the world of work". Seriously, gaming is a business like any other and regardless of realistic or unrealistic expectations, or just random unfairness stuff like this happens.
    • by wdolez00 (1163607)
      I'm still glad that I didn't accept the position with EA Chicago back in March.
    • Yeah, I've been on a sinking ship before. It sucks. Very few workers at any business have any real say in the long term plans of the company. So they may do wonderful work on their projects, but if the company makes horrible strategic decisions, they go down with the ship. My advice to anyone is to find a job where you can have as much of an impact on the long term success of the business and do your best. That might mean working for less money in the short or near term, or for a smaller company, but Its wo
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Psychochild (64124)
      Day late, dollar short, all that. That's what I get for not reading Slashdot daily. ;P

      The problem is that game development is a creative endeavor. Part of what makes a team work well is team chemistry, and it's not easy to go to a new place and instantly feel that chemistry. That's one of the problems with modern game development, because otherwise promising teams are axed merely by looking at the bottom line and ignoring the other factors that can't be put in terms of dollars and cents on the balance sh
  • First off, the 1UP headline Infinity Ward Offers Ex-EA Chicago Devs Jobs is just plain wrong. They weren't offered jobs - They were offered to interview for open positions at Infinity Ward, which just so happen to be available to the rest of the public also.

    Secondly, people need to remember that Infinity Ward is on the other side of the country. These people have families, their children go to neighborhood schools, they have homes. Some may be able to just pick up and leave, but for others, that may not
    • by MarkAyen (726688)

      First off, the 1UP headline Infinity Ward Offers Ex-EA Chicago Devs Jobs is just plain wrong. They weren't offered jobs - They were offered to interview for open positions at Infinity Ward, which just so happen to be available to the rest of the public also.

      Given that Def Jam: Icon was subpar by any measure, Infinity Ward is wise to hedge its bets. Clearly, some out-of-work EA Chiacgo staffers were better at what they did than others.

      Getting laid off sucks, no doubt. (Been there, got the unemployment

  • As a gamer, I found them quite annoying. Their games were generally sub-par, and from what I've seen from the studio itself, at least some of the people clearly were full of it. [gametrailers.com]

    I think EA is trying to move towards more innovation, new franchises and smaller games, and EA Chicago simply didn't fit. They made mediocre sequels, so EA cut them and bought a few "real" development studios instead.

    I'm sorry for the people who worked there, but I think for EA, it's the right thing to do.

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