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The Almighty Buck Entertainment Games

EA Games: The Human Story 1143

An anonymous reader writes "An Electronic Arts employee spouse speaks out against company crunch time practices. From the post: "EA's bright and shiny new corporate trademark is "Challenge Everything." Where this applies is not exactly clear. Churning out one licensed football game after another doesn't sound like challenging much of anything to me; it sounds like a money farm. To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?"
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EA Games: The Human Story

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  • ea_spouse (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:27AM (#10787797)
    My significant other works for Electronic Arts, and I'm what you might call a disgruntled spouse.

    EA's bright and shiny new corporate trademark is "Challenge Everything." Where this applies is not exactly clear. Churning out one licensed football game after another doesn't sound like challenging much of anything to me; it sounds like a money farm. To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?

    I am retaining some anonymity here because I have no illusions about what the consequences would be for my family if I was explicit. However, I also feel no impetus to shy away from sharing our story, because I know that it is too common to stick out among those of the thousands of engineers, artists, and designers that EA employs.

    Our adventures with Electronic Arts began less than a year ago. The small game studio that my partner worked for collapsed as a result of foul play on the part of a big publisher -- another common story. Electronic Arts offered a job, the salary was right and the benefits were good, so my SO took it. I remember that they asked him in one of the interviews: "how do you feel about working long hours?" It's just a part of the game industry -- few studios can avoid a crunch as deadlines loom, so we thought nothing of it. When asked for specifics about what "working long hours" meant, the interviewers coughed and glossed on to the next question; now we know why.

    Within weeks production had accelerated into a 'mild' crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad. Months remained until any real crunch would start, and the team was told that this "pre-crunch" was to prevent a big crunch toward the end; at this point any other need for a crunch seemed unlikely, as the project was dead on schedule. I don't know how many of the developers bought EA's explanation for the extended hours; we were new and naive so we did. The producers even set a deadline; they gave a specific date for the end of the crunch, which was still months away from the title's shipping date, so it seemed safe. That date came and went. And went, and went. When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm.

    Weeks passed. Again the producers had given a termination date on this crunch that again they failed. Throughout this period the project remained on schedule. The long hours started to take its toll on the team; people grew irritable and some started to get ill. People dropped out in droves for a couple of days at a time, but then the team seemed to reach equilibrium again and they plowed ahead. The managers stopped even talking about a day when the hours would go back to normal.

    Now, it seems, is the "real" crunch, the one that the producers of this title so wisely prepared their team for by running them into the ground ahead of time. The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm -- seven days a week -- with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week. Complaints that these once more extended hours combined with the team's existing fatigue would result in a greater number of mistakes made and an even greater amount of wasted energy were ignored.

    The stress is taking its toll. After a certain number of hours spent working the eyes start to lose focus; after a certain number of weeks with only one day off fatigue starts to accrue and accumulate exponentially. There is a reason why there are two days in a weekend -- bad things happen to one's physical, emotional, and mental health if these days are cut short. The team is rapidly beginning to introduce as many flaws as they are removing.

    And the kicker: for the honor of this treatment EA salaried employees receive a) no overtime; b) no compensation time! ('comp' time is the equalization of time off for overtime -- any hours spent during a crunch accrue into days off a

    • Re:ea_spouse (Score:4, Informative)

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

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

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

      Might also consider filing complaints with the local OHSA board. For they too have rules covering how hard employers can drive their slaves.
    • Re:ea_spouse (Score:5, Informative)

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

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

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


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

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

      General Communications with EA's Board of Directors

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

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

      Attn: Stockholder Communications

      Enjoy your civil right to be pissed and do something. All it takes is a phone and an email address.
      As an example - I have already taken these steps. We need only 100 more, and the board will hear us.
    • 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]
      • 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.

        "Is the game done? Oh yeah, you were on vacation."
    • Re:ea_spouse (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RedBear ( 207369 ) <`moc.tenraebder' `ta' `raebder'> 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!


  • by celerityfm ( 181760 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:28AM (#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 :(
    • 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 superpulpsicle ( 533373 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:33PM (#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.

      • 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.
    • by martingunnarsson ( 590268 ) * <martin&snarl-up,com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:33PM (#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 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 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.
    • by YetAnotherName ( 168064 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:40AM (#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!
      • 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.
        • by badboy_tw2002 ( 524611 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:21PM (#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 Ford Prefect ( 8777 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:19PM (#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...)
      • 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 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 Tet ( 2721 ) * <slashdot@astradyn[ ]o.uk ['e.c' in gap]> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:05PM (#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 adisakp ( 705706 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @01:53PM (#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 JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:52AM (#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 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 DelawareBoy ( 757170 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:15PM (#10790575)
        This is (albeit dated) from the head of Cerner, a software company which makes hospital software.

        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

        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,

        Neal .....
        Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
        Cerner Corporation www.cerner.com
        2800 Rockcreek Parkway; Kansas City, Missouri 64117
    • 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 gmack ( 197796 ) <.ten.erifrenni. .ta. .kcamg.> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:07PM (#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.
  • 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.

    • 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.

  • Not surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Blackwulf ( 34848 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:32AM (#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 @11:33AM (#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 Harald74 ( 40901 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:00PM (#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.
      • It means B in most cases (IE, salaried people). Sometimes its A (hourly wage, required to clock out then keep working) but thats highly illegal.
      • by scribblej ( 195445 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:10PM (#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 Rocketboy ( 32971 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:34AM (#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. :)

    • 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 Killjoy_NL ( 719667 ) <slashdot@remco.palli . n l> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:34AM (#10787885)
    Isn't there some sort of government body in the US that regulates stuff like this??

    Is this even legal to let people work for 12 hours every day ??

    If my company here tried that, they would have a big fat lawsuit slapped on 'm before they could twist their nipples
  • by DragonPup ( 302885 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:35AM (#10787891)
    ...would probably be something like this [despair.com]

  • good lord (Score:3, Funny)

    by Sophrosyne ( 630428 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:36AM (#10787901) Homepage
    yet another reason not to get married.
  • 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.
    • 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:Illegal (Score:3, Informative)

      by TopShelf ( 92521 )
      If you're exempt from overtime pay (as many white-collar workers are) they don't have to pay you for such work. And they can always fire you without specifying a given reason.

      I agree, though, unless there are extraneous reasons for staying (absolutely can't miss a paycheck, etc.) I'd say these guys need to make some decisions about what's really important to them.
    • I can't say I've heard of that before. This guy is apparently salary the salary was right, I'm a developer who's salary and it's never been a question of do you want to work extra to meet this deadline, it's a matter of you will work as long as it takes. Which in all honesty is fine with me, I don't think you can stumble in to the development business with out knowing your going to be working insane hours more often than not. I knew this back in high school. If I wanted a normal 9 to 5 paid hourly job I wou
    • Re:Illegal (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cyph ( 240321 )
      Funny you should mention that. Here's one of EA employee entries posted as a comment to the ea_spouse entry.

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

      Essentially, that person got fired for doing pretty much what you just mentioned.
  • by smutt ( 35184 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:37AM (#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.

    • 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?
  • Probst Salary (Score:3, Informative)

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

  • Been there. (Score:5, Informative)

    by LightningBolt! ( 664763 ) <lightningboltlig ... AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:43AM (#10787991) Homepage
    I've worked at 3 different game companies, including EA. EA is the absolute worst for crunch time. I, along with most of my team, worked every single day for 4 months straight, 80+ hours a week, and were told by management that we had it easy (other teams had had mandatory Saturdays for a whole year). After crunch time was done, I mentioned my concerns about the overtime to management. This led to my being placed on a probationary "get your act together" period, one step away from being fired. Knowing that life could be so much better, I quit.
  • 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 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 TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:48AM (#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.
  • by forgotten_my_nick ( 802929 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:49AM (#10788070)
    Well it happens but you can't do it. There is a limit to the number of hours you can work before you have to take forced comp time or the company gets in trouble.

    I forget what the hours are.

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

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

    Assert your rights, you'll be surprised just how many you have.
  • 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 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...)
  • CEO Salary (Score:5, Informative)

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

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

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

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

  • 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?

  • 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 gfecyk ( 117430 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @11:56AM (#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 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.
  • 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.

  • 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 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 ZoneGray ( 168419 ) on Thursday November 11, 2004 @12:49PM (#10788819) Homepage
    Let me see if I understand this right. This anonymous woman is complaining that her husband is "working late at the office" too much?

    I mean, just becasue she believes him doesn't mean we have to.
  • by mad.frog ( 525085 ) <steven@c[ ]klink.com ['rin' in gap]> on Thursday November 11, 2004 @02:37PM (#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.....
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2004 @03:16PM (#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 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.

"I don't believe in sweeping social change being manifested by one person, unless he has an atomic weapon." -- Howard Chaykin