November 18, 2004 4:00 AM PST

For developers, it's not all fun and games

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Electronic Arts faces overtime lawsuit

November 12, 2004
To Joe Straitiff, it was clear that video game giant Electronic Arts expected its employees to more or less live at the office.

His manager hung a neon sign that said "Open 7 days" and "constantly sent out e-mails to his whole team, saying that he'd see them over the weekend," said Straitiff, who worked as a software developer at EA for about a year and a half until being fired a few weeks ago. Straitiff says his termination owed partly to his refusal to put in 80-hour weeks for months on end.

"You can't work that many hours and remain sane," Straitiff said. "It's just too harsh."

Brutally long hours are nothing new in the software business, where programmers are used to demanding schedules. Job-induced fatigue comes with the territory. Shipping a new release--whether in the game industry, the commercial software business or corporate IT--often means relentless hours of programming with little or no time off.

But employees at EA and other game publishers are speaking out. They're saying, in essence, that the game industry is crossing the line when it comes to reasonable work hours and are challenging it to change its ways.

A number of former EA employees charge that the company--one of the largest game publishers in the world, with $3 billion in revenue for the year ended March 31--regularly pushes its employees to work 80 hours or more per week. The company is being sued for allegedly failing to pay overtime wages.

EA declined to comment on the lawsuit and did not immediately comment on specific charges made by current and former employees.

"As the industry leader, EA generates a lot of attention on issues common to all game developers," the company said in a statement sent to CNET News.com. "Everyone who works in a game studio knows that the hard work that comes with 'finalizing' games isn't unique to EA. EA remains committed to our customers and our employees, and will continue to do all we can to ensure EA is a great place to work."

Criticism about EA's work practices comes in the wake of a Web log posting last week that made similar accusations about the company and sparked a flood of complaints about EA and the game industry in general. The comments depict an industry that expects employees to put in many work weeks of 60 hours or more, with little attention to helping employees balance work and family needs.

EA isn't the only game company accused of having grueling work demands. A developer who works for a studio owned by Atari, for instance, said in an e-mail that the game developer expects its employees to work 50 or more hours per week for months at a time. "Once it starts, it doesn't let up until the game ships, which can be up to two years away," wrote the developer, who asked to remain anonymous. "It starts with 50 hours, then 60, 70, 80...they don't want people to have lives or families."

An Atari representative declined to comment on these claims.

Jason Della Rocca, a program director at advocacy group the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), said that despite the industry's focus on creating fun games, it has a not-so-fun underside of exhausted and stressed-out workers.

Regarding EA, Della Rocca said some of the company's units have less-than-excessive work hours. But he said that pockets of the company demand overly long hours and that work conditions in the industry overall seem to have worsened as game projects have become more complex. "The games industry is a ticking time bomb for labor relations disputes and related problems."

Not everyone sympathizes with game industry employees, who sometimes pull down six-figure salaries.

13 comments

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Can they do that?
I mean forcing hours to these employees, instead of hiring more staff?
Posted by audiophilecc (65 comments )
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Or these people are just whining
I mean firing the staff who can't make a deadline seems reasonable to me. So maybe these people are just whining because they are scared that they can't make the deadline for the next game. i mean committing to a deadlline is important.
Posted by audiophilecc (65 comments )
Reply Link Flag
yeah right
A job is a means to an end, not the end itself. It is not your life, or it should not be, but something to pay for your life. Too many software companies see their employees as nothing but cattle. That is immoral.

More often then not, deadlines are imposed by bean counters who don't have the first clue about software.
Posted by (242 comments )
Link Flag
ok. i'll give you a deadline
i want you to finish climbing mt. everest by the end of thanksgiving holiday. i'll give you two crew members but no tents. i want you to climb every day for 12 hours. you can't stop for a break. or eat. now take that, and finish that by the end of thanksgiving.

of course you can expect some whining.
Posted by sunnymix (25 comments )
Link Flag
People married too early
I think the problem is that people are getting married too early. If they know their workload is that much and cannot commit to both the relationship as a father, a husband and an employee, then they shouldn't have got married so soon. They should always consider everything before deciding on marriage.
Posted by audiophilecc (65 comments )
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Yeah, sterilize them all!
Take the time to read a small handful of the comments on the links in the story, there are many examples of people with 15 to 20 years in the industry still getting this abuse. If these people got their job right out of college (~21 years old), that would mean that even at 35 to 40 they would still not meet your requirement to get married and have children as they are still working the 12+ hours a day, 7 day a week shifts.

Also, one point that CNN's story failed to elaborate on is that most of these people are earning relatively little ($30,000/yr). Hardly a good wage as they are putting in twice the amount of time in jobs that require skill, talent, and determiniation, yet are earning marginally more than the janitor that cleans their cubes. On top of that, they have the cost of living expenses of those costal areas such as LA and San Fransisco.

With that factored in, there really isn't an end and would never be a point in their career to do those useless things like living a life outside of work, having a family, enjoying a holiday, or taking a vacation.
Posted by (8 comments )
Link Flag
Wow, the point just flew right past you, didn't it?
Sheesh. 80 to 110 hours weeks, burnt-out employees and buggy software. Ya think the problem is relationships? Try again.

I can't even comprehend the logic of a company that expects high-quality work from an employee putting in sixteen hours a day.

Companies that operate this way are so short-sighted it isn't funny. I flat would not own stock in a company that operated in such a manner. Long-term, a disaster waiting to happen.
Posted by (52 comments )
Link Flag
What a bunch of whiners!
Anyone who's ever worked in the videogame, software industry or internet startups knows this is the way things are done. When crunch time comes, you have to get your work done.

You get paid lots of money, good benefits, and sometimes perks like company stock and free food/drinks. If you don't like it, go work in an environment that has lower pay and more flex time. You can't have the high pay and benefits and want to work only 40 a week. Especially when we know there's a lot of surfing the web at work and playing videogames after hours to "de-stress".

The only thing I think the companies should do is institute bonuses. If a game sells really well, then the people on that team should get bonuses. Investment bankers work 80-100+ hours a week, but they get bonuses when the firm reaps profits; it should be the same here...
Posted by chojinjia (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
wake up
whiners? because we expect to be treated decently for our (actually pretty average) salaries? yeah, we "expect" a bit of crunch from a project, but really, 100+ hour weeks? no days off? for 3 months? thats not an expected crunch period, thats slave labour. alot of the things we now take for granted as violating out human rights in the workplace used to be "expected" as normal. off the top of my head, i seem to remember that sending little boys up chimneys, and rubbing salt into their wounds to toughen up their skin so they could climb better, was accepted behaviour not so long ago. it was expected of little boys. does that make it right?

i've worked overtime, i've stayed til 1 in the morning to get my work done, i've made sure the milestone got produced on time... but i only had to do this for maybe a couple of weeks total per project, and i never had to work weekends. the projects were relatively well managed, it didnt require working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.

its a sign of the immaturity of the industry that this kind of exploitation is considered normal, and it doesnt help when people dismiss those with valid complaints as "whiners".
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
hey tough guy
Talk about macho.

Guys like this is one reason why I never tried to get into the video game biz. (The main reason is that I stopped playing video games.)

If you were the kind of guy who worked on cars for a living, you'd be the dude bragging about how many toxic chemicals he's inhaled, and explosions he's witnessed.
Posted by wg2k1 (2 comments )
Link Flag
wah wah wah
I agree, if ya want the big bucks, don't cry about the work.
Posted by tammyd57 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Stone Age Myth
It is an often told myth, that programmers who work longer achieve more. This is simply not true: There are lots of studies, that show that the productivity decreases dramatically, when programmers work for endless hours without a break. So, working overtime will help you in absolutely no way to reach your deadline. The funny thing about this, is the fact, that this "over-clocking" of workers only happens in immature industries like the gaming-industry: Without any sensible, proven metrics to measure the productivity of a worker, the only way an under-competent manager has to show his boss that he did everything to reach the deadline, is make his employees stay longer.

This situation is not likely to change, if management continues to ignore proven facts and the methods for developing software and measuring productivity remain on the poor level they are today.
Posted by mugwump64 (1 comment )
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