December 3, 2004 12:36 PM PST

Electronic Arts promises workplace change

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November 12, 2004
Electronic Arts, the computer game giant accused of punishing work hours, sent a memo to employees this week admitting a problem and promising workplace reforms.

"As much as I don't like what's been said about our company and our industry, I recognize that at the heart of the matter is a core truth: The work is getting harder, the tasks are more complex, and the hours needed to accomplish them have become a burden," Rusty Rueff, the company's executive vice president of human resources, told employees in a memo Tuesday. "We haven't yet cracked the code on how to fully minimize the crunches in the development and production process. Net, there are things we just need to fix."


Rusty Rueff
EVP of human resources,
Electronic Arts

A copy of the memo was seen by CNET News.com. EA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among the changes discussed in the memo is one that indirectly addresses a lawsuit claiming that EA has failed to pay proper overtime wages to some workers. Rueff said the company is looking at reclassifying some jobs to be eligible for overtime pay.

"We have resisted this in the past--not because we don't want to pay overtime but because we believe that the wage and hour laws have not kept pace with the kind of work done at technology companies, the kind of employees those companies attract and the kind of compensation packages their employees prefer," the memo stated.

EA has been blasted in recent weeks by accusations that it subjects some of its workers to grueling hours--such as 80-hour weeks for months on end. Exhausting work demands are part of the game industry in general and have long been associated with software development overall. But in the wake of an anonymous Web log posting by an EA employee's fiancee, game developers have been speaking out, effectively saying companies are pushing workers too far.

In July, an EA employee filed a lawsuit claiming that the company improperly classified image production employees as exempt from California overtime laws.

Among other things, the suit asserts that image production employees "do not customarily and regularly exercise discretion and independent judgment," part of the state's test for determining a "professional" exemption.

EA has declined to comment on the suit. But Rueff's memo appeared to respond to it, somewhat. "We consider our artists to be 'creative' people and our engineers to be 'skilled' professionals who relish flexibility, but others use the outdated wage and hour laws to argue in favor of a work force that is paid hourly, like more traditional industries, and conforming to set schedules," he wrote. "But we can't wait for the legislative process to catch up, so we're forced to look at making some changes to exempt and nonexempt classifications beginning in April."

Rueff's memo laid out other steps addressing work conditions. For example, EA has started a project to improve the development process. It aims, among other things, to "lessen the number of late-in-the-process changes, fire drills and crunches."

Rueff also noted that EA stands out as a giant in the field, with more than 5,000 employees. "We're doing something that no one has ever done before: No entertainment software company has ever scaled to this size," he wrote.

One EA software developer doubted that real change would come of the memo. He also took issue with the way Rueff discussed overtime laws. "It didn't make sense," said the employee, who is looking to leave the company. "It made it seem like they were trying to say they weren't breaking the law."

Another EA employee said he hoped conditions will improve but suggested that the company and its game developers are at fundamental odds.

The memo "shows exactly where the executives' priorities are. Their overriding focus is to build the largest entertainment company in the world, whereas most of the developers working for them (at least the ones I work with) simply want to make great games," the employee wrote in an e-mail. "Until the execs change their focus to making great games (unlikely) or the developers change their focus to expanding the organization (really unlikely), there's always going to be some significant personnel issues within EA."

13 comments

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Don't back off
Hopefully its employees will keep the pressure on EA, and keep things public. If they don't EA will revert to its old ways the second they are out of the spotlight.

After all, people who don't have a problem working a person for 80+ hours a week consistantly, and not properly compensating them, are not the most trustworthy folks around. As everyone knows, this announcment is pure PR, and nothing substantial will change without serious pressure. The only thing EA management regrets is having this travesty made public.

"We have resisted this in the past--not because we don't want to pay overtime but because we believe that the wage and hour laws have not kept pace with the kind of work done at technology companies, the kind of employees those companies attract and the kind of compensation packages their employees prefer," the memo stated."

Yes indeed, blame the labor laws for your unethical practices. Who do they think they are kidding?
Posted by (40 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't back off
Hopefully its employees will keep the pressure on EA, and keep things public. If they don't EA will revert to its old ways the second they are out of the spotlight.

After all, people who don't have a problem working a person for 80+ hours a week consistantly, and not properly compensating them, are not the most trustworthy folks around. As everyone knows, this announcment is pure PR, and nothing substantial will change without serious pressure. The only thing EA management regrets is having this travesty made public.

"We have resisted this in the past--not because we don't want to pay overtime but because we believe that the wage and hour laws have not kept pace with the kind of work done at technology companies, the kind of employees those companies attract and the kind of compensation packages their employees prefer," the memo stated."

Yes indeed, blame the labor laws for your unethical practices. Who do they think they are kidding?
Posted by (40 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What a load of BS
This Rusty Rueff claims to speak some sense of logic, however a
current employee sees it just the way I do; what Rusty said
makes no sense!

Rusty says that artists are the 'creative' and coders are the
'technical' - what kind of crap is that? He tries to draw a hard
line between the two, when in fact, these games couldn't exist
without either! Have you ever seen a coder try to draw?
Horrible! And, they usually sneer at the artists claiming that an
artist's work is so much 'easier' than theirs. There is a huge
blurring of the lines of what individual talent made the game
possible. What about the story/character developers. It's those
people that make movies like "Finding Nemo" so engaging. It is
known in the movie industry that gaming companies are trying
to take talent from that section in an attempt to add a more
cinematographic-like experience to the cut scenes and overall
game atmosphere. What about those creative persons?

Drawing a hard line between who matters and who doesn't is
clearly irresponsible and smacks of utter greed. Rusty is just
trying to make it sound like EA actually cares. If they 'actually
cared,' this wouldn't be news. This is exactly what the entire
creative industry has been suffering from Disney to game-
making to TV. No one wants to pay for the 'meat' of the
product. When will the mass realize how important the creative
portion to the end product is? How come artists constantly get
$#!@ on?

As an artist, I had a lifelong passion for all artistic, just like
some 'nerd' had with computers. I paid just as much for my
diploma at the local university as 'Joe Coder' did. You know, if
anything, an artist has to be *more* adaptable because he/she
has to learn how to use an increasingly complex 'paintbrush'
called the computer. Nerds/dorks/geeks seldom try to express
their creative side by paint or charcoal, but rather in how a
particular problem can elegantly be solved and expressed in
bytes and clever algorithms. The creativity and the talent lie
within each respective 'type' of person; artistic or analytic. There
lies a basic logic in art as much as math. Da Vinci expressed art
to most, however there were numerous geometric patterns in his
work, like "Madonna of the Rocks." Have you ever tried to draw
someone's face and get recognizable results? It's tough! Even
to some artists.

Equity among disciplines is what is needed first and foremost.
Then, EA and the like need to hire double the people. Thus, 80-
hour weeks become a sane forty.

This is why I would never work for a company like EA.
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What a load of BS
This Rusty Rueff claims to speak some sense of logic, however a
current employee sees it just the way I do; what Rusty said
makes no sense!

Rusty says that artists are the 'creative' and coders are the
'technical' - what kind of crap is that? He tries to draw a hard
line between the two, when in fact, these games couldn't exist
without either! Have you ever seen a coder try to draw?
Horrible! And, they usually sneer at the artists claiming that an
artist's work is so much 'easier' than theirs. There is a huge
blurring of the lines of what individual talent made the game
possible. What about the story/character developers. It's those
people that make movies like "Finding Nemo" so engaging. It is
known in the movie industry that gaming companies are trying
to take talent from that section in an attempt to add a more
cinematographic-like experience to the cut scenes and overall
game atmosphere. What about those creative persons?

Drawing a hard line between who matters and who doesn't is
clearly irresponsible and smacks of utter greed. Rusty is just
trying to make it sound like EA actually cares. If they 'actually
cared,' this wouldn't be news. This is exactly what the entire
creative industry has been suffering from Disney to game-
making to TV. No one wants to pay for the 'meat' of the
product. When will the mass realize how important the creative
portion to the end product is? How come artists constantly get
$#!@ on?

As an artist, I had a lifelong passion for all artistic, just like
some 'nerd' had with computers. I paid just as much for my
diploma at the local university as 'Joe Coder' did. You know, if
anything, an artist has to be *more* adaptable because he/she
has to learn how to use an increasingly complex 'paintbrush'
called the computer. Nerds/dorks/geeks seldom try to express
their creative side by paint or charcoal, but rather in how a
particular problem can elegantly be solved and expressed in
bytes and clever algorithms. The creativity and the talent lie
within each respective 'type' of person; artistic or analytic. There
lies a basic logic in art as much as math. Da Vinci expressed art
to most, however there were numerous geometric patterns in his
work, like "Madonna of the Rocks." Have you ever tried to draw
someone's face and get recognizable results? It's tough! Even
to some artists.

Equity among disciplines is what is needed first and foremost.
Then, EA and the like need to hire double the people. Thus, 80-
hour weeks become a sane forty.

This is why I would never work for a company like EA.
Posted by (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Strike
If you don't make the product, they can't sell it for a profit.....
Posted by sofaking (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
make the product
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/nakamichi/nakamichi_680zx_service_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/nakamichi/nakamichi_680zx_service_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ubber geek (325 comments )
Link Flag
Strike
If you don't make the product, they can't sell it for a profit.....
Posted by sofaking (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
make the product
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/nakamichi/nakamichi_680zx_service_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/nakamichi/nakamichi_680zx_service_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ubber geek (325 comments )
Link Flag
Fight the good fight, EA employees!
I'm not going to drag this out, so I'm just going to say what is on my mind. The actions of EA are not only unjust and illegal, but are just absolutely disgusting. My support goes out to ALL EA employees who are currently being abused like this. I wish all of them the best of luck in winning this extremely justified fight, and because it is obvious that EA will not change it's cruelty on it's own, I hope that all employees will keep the pressure on, and force EA to do the legal and right thing, since they are obviously incapable of making humane decisions on their own.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fight the good fight, EA employees!
I'm not going to drag this out, so I'm just going to say what is on my mind. The actions of EA are not only unjust and illegal, but are just absolutely disgusting. My support goes out to ALL EA employees who are currently being abused like this. I wish all of them the best of luck in winning this extremely justified fight, and because it is obvious that EA will not change it's cruelty on it's own, I hope that all employees will keep the pressure on, and force EA to do the legal and right thing, since they are obviously incapable of making humane decisions on their own.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Shades of Henry Ford...
Since when has American management truly been prioritizing the welfare and status of employees? As near as I remember, our economy is still ruled by the arbitrary 'law' of supply &#38; demand, and the investors principle of 'greed'. At least Henry was wise (shrewd) enough to compromise by giving us weekends...although the sole (purported) purpose was to give people a reason to buy his cars (no one needed to drive with a 7 day workweek). Perhaps we should move to tie profit margins (by law) to employee satisfaction or product reliability, or both...
Posted by gutthans (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Shades of Henry Ford...
Since when has American management truly been prioritizing the welfare and status of employees? As near as I remember, our economy is still ruled by the arbitrary 'law' of supply &#38; demand, and the investors principle of 'greed'. At least Henry was wise (shrewd) enough to compromise by giving us weekends...although the sole (purported) purpose was to give people a reason to buy his cars (no one needed to drive with a 7 day workweek). Perhaps we should move to tie profit margins (by law) to employee satisfaction or product reliability, or both...
Posted by gutthans (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
EA management and employees are not that far apart of setting their goals closer together, eventhough the big burden and blame lies on the management itself.
One the one hand, the management wants to build the largest entertainment company in the world, and most of the developers want to make great games. So, what is the difference in this!!! Simple, management should adopt the developers view which eventually would lead to being the largest entertainment company in the whole world.
On the other hand, the issue of overtime should also be to the advantage of the employees. They are working 80+ hours per week, which means work is good, which also means more profit is generated, which also lead to being larger and larger. So, why not paying overtime and sharing this huge profit with the employees considering them as partners!!! Here also I stress the fact of the laws. Laws of overtime or any other government rules ang regulations are to be followed, anybody can express his personal feeling and opinion about them, but inspite that they again should be followed.
Good Luck to all.
Posted by bdahabra (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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