It’s not just the game industry that does this, but the game industry in particular is rife with under-30 “managers” and “producers” who just can’t understand why employees don’t do what they are told or who can’t keep to a hopelessly optimistic schedule, not having a clue that working near 80 hour weeks for months on end is counterproductive. Don’t get me wrong, the software industry is still learning how to schedule, but there’s enough evidence and experience out there to know better. I still run into so-called software project managers who haven’t read Fred Brook’s insightful book “The Mythical Man-Month“, (or worse, who don’t believe it applies to them) even though this book is nearly 30 years old! If you work or are thinking of working is the software/game industry you should read this book. It’ll come as a shock to realize that more than half the software shops still don’t meet the minimum in Fred’s book.
It turns out that Electronic Arts, the largest game producer in the world, has come under scrutiny. In a posting on LiveJournal.com, a certain “ea_spouse” poured out her frustration that her fiancée’s long hours What irritated ea_spouse most, she said, was that Electronic Arts appeared to exploit her fiancée’s love of video games. Like many working in the industry, he grew up as part of the first generation to start playing video games at a young age. “It’s so difficult, because we love the game industry,” ea_spouse said “Games have been a part of our lives for so long.” But, she said, “he hasn’t been home for dinner to stay for months. It’s a constant stress. I can’t see him suffer without suffering myself. I noticed a change in him. All his interests have gone away. He’s constantly on the verge of getting sick. He’s pale and unresponsive.”
Both she and her fiancé understood long hours came with the job. It came as a rude shock when EA set “mandatory” hours from 9am to 10pm, six days a week. And then later set it to seven days a week. “They were just so pompous about it.” she said. This has caused a storm of controversy about working environments in the game industry and the “sweatshop work conditions” at EA in particular.
On July 29, 2004, Jamie Kirschenbaum filed suit against EA in San Mateo Superior Court. Kirschenbaum is an image production artist at EA. After the ea_spouse posting San Francisco law firm Schubert & Reed has initiated legal proceedings to start a class action lawsuit on behalf of a group of EA employees. “We are seeking unpaid overtime for a good number of (EA) employees who weren’t (properly) paid,” Schubert said. “EA contends they were exempt. We contend otherwise.”. EA says that non-managers don’t have to get paid overtime. It’s my opinion that EA should bite the bullet, pay everyone for overtime, and fire all the managers who went along with this crap. If the managers didn’t understand that they employees were the valuable resources they are, then they can’t be trusted not to watch out for them. There’s a difference between managing and dictating, the EA managers obviously did the easy thing and screwed their underlings rather than push back on obviously hopelessly optimistic schedules. Think I’m being harsh? A few days after ea_spouse posted her story, a software engineer fired from EA posted his own story under his real name. Among his accusations: His manager had hung a sign in the office that read “Open 7 days”. “So I’m posting under my real name — you have to stand up to this type of thing or it will continue. And every company will become EA so that can compete… Remember, you can’t spell ExploitAtion without EA.” Kudos Joe!
Additional feedback has been the posting of the hiring letters for EA’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources Rusty Rueff and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial & Administration Officer Warren Jenson. Not a good think to know that the jerk forcing you to work 80 hours/week not only makes a large six-figure salary, but also gets a bonus if you meet his deadline.
The good thing is this has started a “quality of life” issue in the whole game industry. The IGDA, gamasutra.com and Game Developer magazine have all taken note. If anyone wants any quotable, true, jaw-dropping stories about bad management during crunch-mode, I’ve got a bunch.
- ea_spouse post Slave Driving EA Games.
- Salon.com: Santa’s Sweatshop
- NPR Morning Edition story: Stressed-Out Game Designers Sue Software Maker
- NPR Morning Edition update: Read the Amended Complaint Against Electronic Arts
- LA Times story: Working Too Hard in an Industry of Fun and Games