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November 11, 2004 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Disgruntled spouse 'outs' Electronic Arts' harsh employment practices, and by implication disses the whole American 'work 'em 'till they drop' ethos. Is this the start of a quiet revolution or is the American Way too entrenched to be stopped?
posted by Duug (65 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
see also here
posted by andrew cooke at 10:06 AM on November 11, 2004


I know someone that worked on ps2 video games and they worked him like a mule. It was always "oh my god we have to finish this insane level of work just this once and then everything will be back to normal" and sure enough the moment he'd complete a project, another just like it started.
posted by mathowie at 10:08 AM on November 11, 2004 [1 favorite]


Whatever happened to protest by walking out?

Perhaps EA employees need to unionize.
posted by linux at 10:11 AM on November 11, 2004


I don't doubt that EA is taking advantage of their employees, but the whole "disgruntled spouse" thing comes off like just that. S/He's disgruntled about not getting enough time with his/her spouse.

I hate to sound like Joe Capitalist, but if someone is being abused at their job, they should quit (or as linux suggest, unionize). And this isn't someone working for minimum wage, who faces homelessness if they quit or get fired. They likely make a very good salary, and are putting up with the insane hours to maintain their lifestyle, not necessarily to put food in their starving kids' stomachs. I have a hard time getting riled up over something like this.
posted by jpoulos at 10:17 AM on November 11, 2004


Please - there will always ALWAYS be a horde of talented kids willing to work 100+ hours a week to code video games. A lot of them wouldn't even care if they were getting paid or not. As a creative in advertising, I know I'm the exception rather than the rule in "only" working 50 or 60 hours a week (thankfully, a good chunk of the hours past 40 I do at home).

And you know what? I'd rather be worked like a dog using Photoshop and Illustrator all day in our converted industrial loft-type space with crazy, fun people than sit in some cube from 9 to 4:30.

But that's just me. Obviously not everyone thinks like that, but the ones that are in the field do, and there's a long line to take our place when we move on.
posted by jalexei at 10:19 AM on November 11, 2004


Unpaid overtime makes me mad in the same way that paid undertime would make an employer mad.

Whatever happened to a contract?

If I sign the dotted line for an amount of money that we both agree is worth forty hours a week, that's what they should get. I understand that mistakes I make on the job might extend that every once in a while, but that implies that my forty hours per week weren't spent properly and I have to spend more time at work to hold up my end of the contract.

If this employee started working thirty hours a week, he'd be fired. Unfortunately, the only way to fire your employer is to quit.

This man/woman is wasting his/her life, and he/she will never get it back.
posted by jon_kill at 10:22 AM on November 11, 2004 [1 favorite]


-- but the whole "disgruntled spouse" thing comes off like just that. S/He's disgruntled about not getting enough time with his/her spouse.

My initial response was unpostable... the idea that they are posting this simply because they are offended by the lack of quality time they get at home is rubbish.

Maybe it actually is, as they describe in the post, that they are concerned for their partner and offended at the grotesque business practices of a company that makes millions upon millions of dollars every year.

-- They likely make a very good salary, and are putting up with the insane hours to maintain their lifestyle

Lifestyle? If you're working seven days a week you don't have a lifestyle.

-- I hate to sound like Joe Capitalist

Then don't. Its pretty simple actually. Start actually trying to emphasize with people instead of spouting off these sort of uncaring and unsympathetic comments.

Do you really think that someone is working those hours because they feel they have discernable options that they can exercise?
posted by pixelgeek at 10:25 AM on November 11, 2004


-- Obviously not everyone thinks like that, but the ones that are in the field do, and there's a long line to take our place when we move on.

You really need to stop believing what your bosses want you to.
posted by pixelgeek at 10:27 AM on November 11, 2004


Except that my salary is not an agreement on what we think it is worth for me to do 40 hours of work. It is an agreement on what we think it is worth to do a set of tasks.

If I agree to do it and it takes 100 hours I do it without problem. If it takes 30, I go home early.

I don't trade time for money, I trade projects for money. If I wanted to do the former I'd go work at Burger King.
posted by obfusciatrist at 10:28 AM on November 11, 2004


jon, you obviously didn't read the rest of the posts up above.

There's always people who are willing to work insanely hard for a particular job that's their dream job. For some people, that's programming video games. For me, it's owning my own business. I generally work seven days a week right now, at least 8 hours a day. Am I getting compensated for it? Not right now ... but I think I will be. Do I regret it? No, I mean, hell, what would I be doing if I wasn't working? sitting at home playing video games? That'd be a waste of my life. I may not be going out and having wonderful deep discussions in hip bars while paying far too much for a pint of beer, but I'm having a hell of a lot of fun, learning a lot, and growing as a person.

It's just that people who don't like working look at what I'm doing and go, 'Wow, that doesn't look like fun. You work too hard.' On top of that, what's so bad about quitting a job?

(Oh, and on preview: what obfuscationist said ... that's what salary means. If you don't like being salaried and having to do whatever it takes to complete a task, either quit or switch to non-exempt.)
posted by SpecialK at 10:30 AM on November 11, 2004


I obviously did, specialK. I just disagreed with them.

And if I hadn't that's not important. This is my opinion on the article. I don't have to agree with everyone up above.

Are you always such a dick?
posted by jon_kill at 10:33 AM on November 11, 2004


Mandatory long hours sounds like a really dumb way to manage a software project -- almost as bad as judging developers by counting the number of lines of code they can produce per day.

It probably costs EA twice as much time and money to correct the bugs and poor decisions made by tired, overworked coders, than it would to just let them go home at the end of the day and pick up in the morning when they can think straight.
posted by ook at 10:35 AM on November 11, 2004


I don't doubt that EA is taking advantage of their employees, but the whole "disgruntled spouse" thing comes off like just that. S/He's disgruntled about not getting enough time with his/her spouse.

I disagree. While it sounds like this person really should quit, it is worth pointing out that this is normal for the video game industry in the same way this was normal for Microsoft throughout the 90s (people seem happier there now), and it's worth thinking about whether this is a good thing. I believe the long hours don't help the product get any better and ruin everyone's personal life. EA should change the way they work their employees because there are still insane amounts of bugs in any game and most people just aren't productive after 8 or 9 hours at a desk.

I used to work 14 hours a day when I was younger and I loved every minute of it, it's how I became good at what I do, but at this point in my life, my family is more important than work and I hate to spend my weekends doing work for my employer (even though I do it fairly often). I still have fun on my personal projects so most of my weekend time is spent on that, but I do enjoy time with my partner much more than work.
posted by mathowie at 10:36 AM on November 11, 2004


even if the sacrifices (ridiculous working hours) outweigh the benefits (salary), it's hard for people to see outside of the work-save-invest-retire mentality.

for those who say he should just quit, how many companies are willing to hire a developer who quit his last job because they made him work too hard?

i agree with linux. the only chance they have is to organize, but even that's pretty risky in today's corporate clime.

on preview: switch to non-exempt. heh. good one.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:38 AM on November 11, 2004


"Are you always such a dick?"

Of course he is, that's why he's working for himself.

Rule 1: People who aren't dicks never get to be boss.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:44 AM on November 11, 2004


this situation could be remedied by a lil good old-fashioned American half-assedness on the part of the EA employee.
posted by plexiwatt at 10:47 AM on November 11, 2004


well this goes a long way in explaining why the sims2 is so full of bugs it's become unplayable for a huge portion of the folks who bought it. now they're working on a patch... maybe they should have given their employees enough down time so they could have released a game that was actually ready for release.
posted by t r a c y at 10:48 AM on November 11, 2004


And you know what? I'd rather be worked like a dog using Photoshop and Illustrator all day in our converted industrial loft-type space with crazy, fun people than sit in some cube from 9 to 4:30.

Can we all repeat together: FALSE DICHOTOMY.

We have a choice about whether we want to live like this, guys. There's not a moral imperative that says we have to put up with it.

But it's also not practical to just walk out or just refuse to take the money. Elsewhere I said we have a moral duty to oppose this kind of wage-serfdom, and I still believe we do; but as a practical matter, if you want to have a chance at a career in certain industries (software, advertising, and graphic design are great examples), you will be donating 30-60% of your life to the company for several years. If you're lucky and don't burn yourself out, you'll have a career at the end of that time. Or maybe you'll just burn out and have nothing. (One my favorite cliches is people leaving advertising for emergency medicine, because they can't take the stress.)

On prev: Yeh, mrgrimm, that "switch to nonexempt" comment was kinda funny, once I got past the fact that it infuriated me.

I work in the "contingent labor" industry. I see what companies are trying to do to get more "value" from their workforce. Mostly that means being able to pay the same rate as before, but lose the requirement to cover benefits, and gain the ability to discharge with impunity and no cost for unemployment. It's spun as being a positive thing for the workers, since they get to "choose" when to work or not work; many of them are sucker enough to buy the line. Here's the thing: If you work for a company where, say, Kelly (not my employer, BTW) manages contingent labor acquisition, you get or don't get the chance to be considered for jobs at that company based on whether Kelly makes more or less money off you. Very simple. Very bottom-line -- not your bottom line, that is, but Kelly's and their customer's bottom line. You are just meat in a seat, to them.

I'm not real interested in "quality of staff" arguments, either. It's been my experience that quality doesn't correlate to salary nearly as well as people traditionally say that it does. Salary is determined by your ability to make your perceived value seem greater; that typically doesn't have a strong correlation to quality of output in most organizations.
posted by lodurr at 10:50 AM on November 11, 2004


I do enjoy time with my partner much more than work.

now that's what so frustrating. virtually everyone would agree with that statement (if not partner, then hobby, group, team, etc.). yet somehow our society doesn't value leisure time at all. any efforts to restrict overtime or deter abuse of it are going to be as successful as organizing a union at a software shop.

if Matt's statement above is so obvious to anyone with a pulse, why do we make it so hard for people to be happy?

an excellent recent read is "Quitting the Paint Factory" by Mark Slouka in the October Harper's. i don't think it's online yet.

on preview: this situation could be remedied by a lil good old-fashioned American half-assedness on the part of the EA employee.

excellent point. that's been my general style. accomplish enough so that you can't be fired; slack enough so that they're not getting unfair value. well, it's impossible to slack that much, but i can come close.

on 2nd preview: Salary is determined by your ability to make your perceived value seem greater; that typically doesn't have a strong correlation to quality of output in most organizations.

quadruple amen.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:52 AM on November 11, 2004


Is this the start of a quiet revolution or is the American Way too entrenched to be stopped?

Yes.

Yes.

Method: Fill up the trenches.
posted by wah at 11:00 AM on November 11, 2004


Another ex-EA type related his experience after reading this.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:11 AM on November 11, 2004


now that's what so frustrating. virtually everyone would agree with that statement (if not partner, then hobby, group, team, etc.).

I don't agree. I value my work time and my time with my partner. When the balance gets too out of whack then I change it. And that balance is different for different people.
posted by obfusciatrist at 11:12 AM on November 11, 2004


why the sims2 is so full of bugs

Doesn't sacrificing your entire social life to work on a virtual simulation of a social life seem like one of those cruel ironic punishments of Hell? You know, like that Simpsons episode where Homer was forced to eat all the doughnuts ever made.
posted by Stan Chin at 11:13 AM on November 11, 2004


How did I miss that episode?
posted by lodurr at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2004


Another point worth mentioning that others are touching on: if you consider your job "work" then you're probably not in your perfect job.

For me personally, I'm incredibly blessed and lucky to be doing almost exactly what I would be doing for free if I could. I love building dumb websites like this one, and I do that for a living, and spend many hours after work doing the same thing. The things I do while at work are almost exactly like the things I do while at play, so work is a good environment to be in.

I'm older now and aware of my own productivity limits. I know that unless I'm totally focused, I can't work insane hours day after day and do good work. But when projects demand it, I do it, and I do it happily.

And I don't doubt that SpecialK loves what he does and doesn't mind the long hours. That doesn't make him a dick, that just means he found something he really likes doing.
posted by mathowie at 11:21 AM on November 11, 2004


SpecialK you have to realize that by being your own boss you have a *chance* to improve your situation. By working all that time you're making *your* business better. It just so happens you don't have the labor force to cajole into that role...yet.

The key here is that there is no mobility in this type of labor. You work really hard, pushing that rock up the hill (or an elephant up the stairs if you're an R.E.M. fan), just to wake up the next morning with it at the bottom again. At places that take advantages of their employees like this, you *do not* advance, you *do not* pass Go, you sure as hell don't get a six-figure "bonus" at the end of the year.

And yes, I've worked 48 hour days (okay, more like 40 after the nap i took on the floor of my bosses office), yes I've worked hellish crunch time hours. Why? Because I felt that I benefited directly from that process, because it was necessary to ship a *quality* product to our customers. It was also in a company that *recognized* and *rewarded* that dedication. Imagine that.

And that line about "that's the way the industry is...." is such total bullshit it's not even funny. It's that mentality that kept kids in textile mills and coal miners in peril (not like that situation has been fixed, but it's better). It's just an excuse for comfort and apathy.
posted by raygun21 at 11:27 AM on November 11, 2004


Sorry, no sympathy from me. I routinely work more hours per week than he does. I probably currently make a whole lot less than he does, too. Yeah, it kind of sucks sometimes, and it's hard on my family. On the other hand, I wouldn't have gone into my chosen field if that was really a problem for me or my loved ones, and I would quit (with MANY more ramifications for me than presumably for this guy) if it were unbearable. Video game production is pretty notorious for overworking people, so I can't believe that he didn't know what he was getting himself into.

You can only protect people from their own choices for so long.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 11:30 AM on November 11, 2004


You really need to stop believing what your bosses want you to.

Heh - My bosses are cool enough to have allowed me to cut my work load considerably while taking any time off I need to be with my new daughter with no change in title or pay. And (partly because of that) I love what I do. I love it too much, perhaps; so much so that I often define myself by my job. But I'm essentially paid (well) to draw pictures and sit around and brainstorm one harebrained scheme after another. Ninety nine percent of the time my job is (as Matt points out with far more brevity) what I'd be doing for pleasure.

Can we all repeat together: FALSE DICHOTOMY.

Not arguing. I just think I'm on the right side of said false dichotomy ;-)

Elsewhere I said we have a moral duty to oppose this kind of wage-serfdom, and I still believe we do; but as a practical matter, if you want to have a chance at a career in certain industries (software, advertising, and graphic design are great examples), you will be donating 30-60% of your life to the company for several years. If you're lucky and don't burn yourself out, you'll have a career at the end of that time.

I agree - but to some (not necessarily myself, even though I think it describes my situation) what you've laid out is business as usual. I'm not trying to sound like a jerk, my situation is as reliant upon having been in the right places at the right times (and, as someone noted, "maximizing my perceived value") as any surfeit of talent. But I'm not paid to show up at a particular time, or have lunch at a particular time, or to dress in any certain way, and having had jobs where my twice-daily 10-minute breaks were recorded in some ledger, I consider myself very lucky because of that.

I'm not saying my attitude is healthy, nor am I saying the phenomenon of throwing one's self too completely into one's wage-slavery is somehow exclusive to so called "creative" industries, I'm just pointing out there are those who revel in conditions others would consider cruel and unusual punishment. I can guarantee there are huge numbers of people who would cheerfully put up with worse than what this guy goes through to work at EA. Right or wrong, it's why situations like this will be very hard to change. Good Lord I babble - sorry folks...
posted by jalexei at 11:38 AM on November 11, 2004


I'm jealous, mathowie, and I hope to be in a situation like yours in the next few years. My perfect job entails reading dusty old law books and teaching to ungrateful law students, but that's a whole different story.

The problem is that for most people, there probably is no perfect job. And even if there were, the interests of our society clash with individuals' interests in working in jobs they love. There are a vast number of manual labor, janitorial, secretarial, office-work-type jobs that need to be done to keep our economy afloat, and those jobs dwarf the comparatively small number of creative "ideal" jobs that people seem to love so much. We can't all have jobs we love, or even like.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:39 AM on November 11, 2004


Speaking as someone living in a country with relatively sane employment laws, 85 hours a week with no overtime pay or compensation is pretty damn criminal. That's more than double the hours on his (I'm assuming "his", so if that's wrong, please don't sue me) contract.

What I don't understand is why this guy is putting up with it? If he can get a job with EA then he sure as hell can get another job in the software industry. I mean, I write code for a living - I almost certainly couldn't get a job with EA if I wanted one, yet I'm doing pretty well in the (quite competitive) freelance/contract arena.

If you have the skills, determination and flexibility then it's not as bad out there as some people make out. (Although, again, this is a European perspective.) I work 9-5 for 8-9 months a year, which is roughly 1/3rd of the time the guy in the article works.

Maybe he is one of those kids who just love to work 100 hour weeks making games, in which case his spouse should probably leave him. ([ad]UK passport available - marry a slacker![/ad]).
posted by cell at 11:45 AM on November 11, 2004


"Are you always such a dick?"

I think that would be better stated as, "Are you always this opinionated?" ... and yes, I am. I'm not always a dick, and I can see when I'm wrong. However, Jon, I also focus a lot on seeing and both sides of the issue, and you demonstrate a lack of that ability in your post. I've never signed a contract that said "40 hours per week" when working for someone else, I've only signed contracts that say a "minimum of 40 hours per week." I happen to love what I do and the way I do it and I recognize the bias this gives me...

Oh, and the "switch to non-exempt" ... I've been offered that in the past if I complained about workload. Some companies are willing to. *shrug*

What it comes down to is priorities -- the employee's priorities. If your priority is to have what you think is the coolest job in the world, but it requires sacrificing time with people you love to do so ... then you may do so. If your priority is family, you may settle for a job that isn't as cool or doesn't pay as much but allows you enough vacation time to spend it with your family. It sounds like the programmer and wife's priorities may be mixed, or he may be saying that he wants to spend more time with her while coding a graphics function in his head. It sounds like something's mixed up besides his work life.

The cultural question of, "How many hours per week should we work" is very valid. I think it's better, though, if we leave it up to personal preference. Yes, by law it's 40 hours per week. Some people actually get away with that. Some job roles require that you work longer hours. Some people really enjoy working an insane number of hours per week. Different values. Are you bitter because someone who's capable of working 80 hours per week is ahead of you, and you're feeling the pressure to keep up with the Joneses? If so, any effort to restrict the number of hours that people are permitted to work if they want to sniffs of forced mediocrity. It leaves it open for employers to take advantage of employees, but employees are also a lot more mobile these days and turnover can get very expensive.

Really, other jobs aren't as hard to find as people think. If something isn't right for you, and you feel like you're ground into the ground, for christs sakes LEAVE. A company with high turnover gets the message soon enough because they keep having to replace people and that's flipping EXPENSIVE.
posted by SpecialK at 11:49 AM on November 11, 2004


I think she's got some pretty legitimate complaints about her husband's job. They led him to believe one thing and then led him to believe that the situation was unusual when it was SOP.

It sucks that jobs that people actually want to do pay crap and management treats them like crap.
posted by fenriq at 11:54 AM on November 11, 2004


Video game production is pretty notorious for overworking people, so I can't believe that he didn't know what he was getting himself into.

sure -- the person (how do we know it's a he?) knew they were getting into a situation where they'd work long hours. the article written by ea_spouse highlights an extreme situation of this notorious work practice, so i don't think you can say that the person "didn't know what he was getting into"; that person knew they would be getting into something, but they didn't know they'd drown beneath its cold, briny waves.

i think that software management is a lot like herding cats. managers want you to do X, but they don't know why it takes you so long or why you had to explore Y and Z before you got to X, and the management practices at EA are systemic actions of managerial frustration.

they already have a lot of people working on projects, which is difficult on the programmers because now there needs to be a lot more communication among the teams to make sure everyone is on the same page. those who are not on the same page will probably make mistakes, which others must then go back and fix. when you throw long hours at these people, their productivity worsens and the stress and sleep deprivation makes it even easier to introduce bugs.
posted by moz at 11:59 AM on November 11, 2004


Actually specialK, the first sentence of my post displays that I was thinking about both sides of the argument first and foremost.

As long as you continue to dismiss people and say they are uninformed because they disagree with a few random opinions stated before theirs, I will continue to interpret your opinionated nature as dickishness.
posted by jon_kill at 12:07 PM on November 11, 2004


Is this the start of a quiet revolution or is the American Way too entrenched to be stopped?

The second one.


No, I mean, hell, what would I be doing if I wasn't working?

People like you frighten me. And I'm not employing hyperbole.


But I'm essentially paid (well) to draw pictures and sit around and brainstorm one harebrained scheme after another.

Would you mind telling us what your industry is? I'm guessing possibly architecture? Or maybe advertising? But both of those fields generally have hellish "entry level" positions, no?


and those jobs dwarf the comparatively small number of creative "ideal" jobs that people seem to love so much. We can't all have jobs we love, or even like.

That's the most profound thing I've read all week.
posted by Ynoxas at 12:08 PM on November 11, 2004


The sad thing about this is - as long as employees accept this sort of behavior from their employer - the employer will continue to behave in this matter.

I personally get offended by people who work overtime for no compensation - they are only hurting all of us...
posted by mildred-pitt at 12:11 PM on November 11, 2004


Working overtime for no compensation hurts people because effectively an employer is getting free hours out of someone when they should've hired another person to handle the load.

Also working unpaid overtime implies that you are making less for your effort if you are working. Assuming you earn about 5000 per month at 40 hrs a week you're earning 30 an hour. When you start working 60 or 80 hrs a week you're earning 20 and 15 an hour.

Step back. Are you going to work 80 hrs a week for 15 an hour?
Some of us would work 40 hrs for 15 an hour. Although two of us could work 40 hrs a week for 15 an hour. Effectively as I see it if you want to work a lot you should be compensated for it but your actions multiplied thousands of times shouldn't cost other people who don't view work the same their lives. I should be able to work my 40 hrs and come home and be creative. I shouldn't be forced to spend 80 hrs spinning my wheels. You can't like working all the time.

As a programmer working more than 40 hrs a week "programming" isn't worth it. You need time away from the keyboard for rest and to think. I'd work 80 hrs a week, but only 40 in the office and the other 40 would happen during my shower, sleep, thinking during lunch and dinner, thinking while my SO is talking to me and I should be listening but I just figured out the bugfix to the bug I was working on yesterday.
posted by abez at 12:31 PM on November 11, 2004


Would you mind telling us what your industry is? I'm guessing possibly architecture? Or maybe advertising? But both of those fields generally have hellish "entry level" positions, no?

Advertising, and yes, the entry level can be... unpleasant.

I personally get offended by people who work overtime for no compensation - they are only hurting all of us...

Deeply sorry - I'll go get myself fired so as not to offend. Can I sleep on your couch?

But seriously, this is semantics. I'm paid a given amount of money to produce a given amount of work. How long it takes is not (fairly or unfairly) the primary factor in figuring out that amount. As it stands, I'm happy with the arrangement. If that arrangement is no longer attractive to me, I'll move on.
posted by jalexei at 12:46 PM on November 11, 2004


Hear, hear, abez. Long hours at a software company are always a symptom of bad management.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:47 PM on November 11, 2004


I think those who are saying that these people should have known what to expect, and should suck it up or go elsewhere didn't read the article, at least not to the end, where they would have seen the following passage:


I look at our situation and I ask 'us': why do you stay? And the answer is that in all likelihood we won't; and in all likelihood if we had known that this would be the result of working for EA, we would have stayed far away in the first place. But all along the way there were deceptions, there were promises, there were assurances -- there was a big fancy office building with an expensive fish tank -- all of which in the end look like an elaborate scheme to keep a crop of employees on the project just long enough to get it shipped. And then if they need to, they hire in a new batch, fresh and ready to hear more promises that will not be kept; EA's turnover rate in engineering is approximately 50%. This is how EA works. So now we know, now we can move on, right? That seems to be what happens to everyone else. But it's not enough. Because in the end, regardless of what happens with our particular situation, this kind of "business" isn't right, and people need to know about it, which is why I write this today.

posted by advil at 12:48 PM on November 11, 2004


What a strange thread...I've gotten so used to people screaming at each other around here that this thread seems bizarre to me...does this mean we're getting back to normal?

Long hours at a software company are always a symptom of bad management.

To steal a line: A-Fucking-Men.
posted by lodurr at 12:53 PM on November 11, 2004 [1 favorite]


Advertising, and yes, the entry level can be... unpleasant.
I like how you just kinda went past that directly to the sarcasm. Is it safe to assume you have worked these "unpleasant" entry level jobs to get where you are today? Would you have kept up on it (and on to a nice career) had you thought that there was no way you could move past it? What would you have done had that not worked out?

To get a little more succinct, when did you realize you weren't Sisyphus?
posted by raygun21 at 1:05 PM on November 11, 2004


Realizing the problem here is not very difficult. The path to the answer is the same as the answer to every other question concerning how the American economy works: where's the money?

Answer: The pockets of the executive management. It's more cost effective for EA to overwork their existing resources at base pay than to grow their workforce to a size that allows for normal hours.

Despicable? Yeah. Immoral? Yeah. Should the government do something? I think so. But in the meantime, this is America and if it were me, I'd quit.
posted by tomorama at 1:08 PM on November 11, 2004


I have total sympathy for this woman. The video game industry nearly finished off my brother.

He doesn't like to talk about it much now, but I found out that the week of his breakdown, he had spent all his time at work without returning home. I have no idea how hard he worked himself that week but I do know that when I'd talked to him last, he was concerned that he was working about 100 hours a week.

The kicker here is that there appeared to be no mechanisms in the software company to deal with issues arising from employee stress in high pressure work environments. The team worked themselves into the ground and no one seemed to tell them that they might need to step outside once in a while.

When my brother walked out on the company, my first reaction was "you idiot, it was the best job you've ever had!" Two years later, now he's finally got himself together and his career back on track, I realised it was the smartest move he ever made. His current job may not be as high paid and the project not quite so grand, but he works a standard working day and I'm not so worried that I'll get a 3am call to say that he can't take it anymore.

Incidentally, months later, when the game he was working on shipped, it bombed big time. Seemingly, this was due to both a lack of focus in the final game and a few spectacular bugs.

The movie was crap too.
posted by davehat at 1:10 PM on November 11, 2004


Arguing that people should put up with unpaid long hours because they might "enjoy" it is a hopeless arguement, and one that is relevant to only a very few jobs out there - I refuse to believe someone would rather spend 80 hours a week working than 40 hours working and 40 hours a week waterskiing.

It's purely symptomatic of inefficient, greedy, archaic management. If your employees are taking twice as long (hours-wise) to complete a project as you think they should, then you need to hire twice as many employees. It's that simple. Anything less is, quite frankly, modern slavery, and whether the employee "enjoys" the work or not is irrelevant. Since when did we start turning a blind eye to criminal actions that amount to theft and breaking of contracts and writing them off as "how the industry works"? If a multi-million dollar company can't find some extra cash to hire more people and treat their apparently extremely loyal (beyond the call of duty) employees with a bit of fucking respect.
posted by Jimbob at 2:04 PM on November 11, 2004


since EA bleeds its employees this bad, they should at least tell them to code some sports games that don't suck, for a change. Konami and Sega been kicking their ass in the soccer and hockey games since, like, forever. with the possible exception of Madden, EA is highly overrated.
posted by matteo at 2:19 PM on November 11, 2004


I like how you just kinda went past that directly to the sarcasm. Is it safe to assume you have worked these "unpleasant" entry level jobs to get where you are today?

Yes, though my tenure was briefer than some (again, right place, right time). Out of college I really had no idea what I wanted to do, and found myself working a parade of mind-searingly dull temp jobs. Things like doing data-entry for medical insurance claims, where I had to check with a supervisor to go to the bathroom.

I did jobs like that for almost four years, and I was finally so fed up with my own inertia and complacency that when an opportunity to do creative work appeared, I threw myself into it with a particular vehemence (working for a newsprint magazine making 1" square black and white ads - 100-hour weeks more often than not - I loved it, and was promoted three times in two years - then came the internet...).

I know my life story is pretty dull, I just wanted to point out that my experience is colored by having spent a chunk of time making something like $15K a year in an expensive city, in a working environment that was closer to grammar school ("Son, you're two and a half minutes late!") than a job. Given the extra time it took me to get into a field I love, long hours seemed like a minimal price to pay. And I'm not trying to defend dishonest employers, or practices that nearly killed davehat's brother, just point out why people may stay (and sometimes thrive) in environments that can certainly be called exploitative.

Would you have kept up on it (and on to a nice career) had you thought that there was no way you could move past it? What would you have done had that not worked out?

Good questions. I'm not sure I know the answer. I can say that when I eventually got to where I knew I wanted to be, I was (finally) working with such a sense of purpose and determination that I don't think I ever thought things wouldn't work out.
posted by jalexei at 2:30 PM on November 11, 2004


It is completely, absolutely wrong to suggest that anyone in the video game industry is working "unpaid" overtime. Jobs in that, and many other, industries were not, are not, and will not be 40 hour a week jobs. Long hours are built in to the job and built in to the salary and everyone knows it going in.

If you're getting paid $100,000 for an 80 hour a week job, then your effective wage is $20 an hour with 40 hours of time and a half overtime guaranteed -- it's entirely perverse for you, or your spouse, to think that you're making $50 an hour and getting ripped off when you don't do a 9 to 5.

This country is full of real 40 hour a week jobs. The vast majority of civil service jobs, most corporate administrative jobs, non-faculty jobs at private schools and universities, most health care jobs (docs aside), just for starters. Getting one isn't hard, if that's what you want.
posted by MattD at 2:41 PM on November 11, 2004


Perspective hit:

I had a third cousin named George Spence, now long deceased. I knew him as a quiet, older man with a haunted look, who lived in a run-down shack in East Texas with his elderly mother. When I got to be a little older, my Granny (his cousin) told me a story about him.

Before the War, it seemed, he'd gone to California to make his way in the world. War broke out, and he discovered that as a skilled machinist, he wasn't permitted to enlist. Being an intensely patriotic man, he worked multiple shifts out of guilt at not being able to serve in combat.

Fast forward a couple of years: His mother gets a telegram from a mental hospital somewhere (Granny didn't say) that says they have him -- he'd been committed, and had just recovered to a point where he could identify himself. She traveled out there and brought him back. According to Granny, he had been in that haunted stated, refusing to leave the einvirons of Grapeland TX, ever since.

Many years later, he confided in her that he thought he might have left a wife and child in California. But he wasn't sure.

On preview: MattD, you know, you're absolutely right. And that's completely, absolutely wrong. If 60 hours of labor is the assumption built into salary, then there's a really serious problem somewhere (and probably at several somewheres) in the food chain.
posted by lodurr at 2:49 PM on November 11, 2004


lodurr, are you saying that your cousin's mental illness was solely based on his working extra shifts for a couple of years? That seems like a pretty big stretch.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but MattD is right.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 3:38 PM on November 11, 2004


Why are so many Americans willing to work such long hours? Like 15 years ago I remember news reports remarking at how long Japanese would spend at work. It seemed strange and alien that people could work for such long hours, but now it's Americans that are working longer hours than the Japanese.
posted by bobo123 at 3:38 PM on November 11, 2004


I work beside some of the brightest minds in Asia -- perhaps anywhere. The company consistently leads industry and has been an incubator for some of the worlds largest companies. While the company certainly has problems inherent in it's culture it is nothing like what I am hearing in this post.

First of all many of the brightest people here don't spend all of there time obsessing over their job - working 80 hours a week. They are multidimensional. They maybe gifted physicists on the job but talented cellists by night. They take time to read literature and spend time with family. Working 80 hours a week doesn't make you a better asset to a company nor does it make you better at what you do. It just makes you good at working long hours.

I love what I do and sometimes I stay late or work late at night because it's fun. When I started this job I studied and worked 12-14 hrs a day to ramp up to the position. But now that I have a daughter, and I have half a clue about what I am doing, I make damn sure that I am home to spend time with her. She is only 1 years old once. This 'outside of work' experience has been inspirational too. It has affected our teams work and led to all kinds of new thinking. It's spurred a whole new project.

Now I am sure if I was in America I would make 2-3x my current salary. For that I would be able to afford inflated house rental prices and a better car. I might be able to buy the latest gadget from Apple. I might work better projects. Instead I have 40 days holiday a year, I spend a long weekend a month on an island in Thailand, I drive a shit car, and my Apple Powerbook is 3 years old. I arrive at work at 8am and leave at 530.

I have often thought of trying to find work in the US but I couldn't imagine working under these conditions without a specific end game in mind. There really is no point to it at all.

I would rather try to work smart than work like a buffalo.
posted by cmacleod at 3:54 PM on November 11, 2004


Won't someone think of the investment bankers?
posted by trharlan at 5:00 PM on November 11, 2004


A creative job doesn't have to take over 40 hours a week - if it does your company is undercharging the clients. When you say yes to a saleguy who has overpromised - you give him a commision and fuck yourself...

When employees accept this behavior - then it screws us all - because it underestimates the true cost of services, and there is always a company willing to take advantage of it's fearful employees.

Overtime should be non-negotiable - business is not able to self-regulate itself in this situation.
posted by mildred-pitt at 5:56 PM on November 11, 2004


Hey, LittleMissCranky, I'm just tellin' a story. Don't people still do that? You take from it what you will.

And I still say that the fact that MattD is "right" is totally wrong. Because by making him "right", we're selling our humanity on the cheap. I've done the long hour thing; I've seen the "we'll just do it once" thing play out again and again at the same place, like an abusive relationship, and I get that about it, now: The Company knows we'll always come back - well, that someone will always come back -- and they'll keep on knowing that as long as someone does. They'll keep budgeting for 150% resource utilization and in net terms, they'll keep getting it. And they might yet again get it from me -- truth is, I expect I'll need the money. But they'll get it from a me who has his eyes open and knows that he's screwing everyone else, even if just a little, by caving in to the deal.

So, yeah, MattD is right. It's a cruel world. Deal with it. Life is pain. Blah, blah, blah, blah.... But the moonrise I saw two weeks ago, yellow over a city square in a strange country, that was pretty sweet. I've let a lot of those slide by because I was putting in somebody else's hours.
posted by lodurr at 6:00 PM on November 11, 2004


They refer to a California law that supposedly exempts businesses from having to pay overtime to certain 'specialty' employees, including software programmers.

I thought this was just part of working on salary. If you're not getting paid by the hour, how do you determine 'overtime'?

If you are working a shitty job at an hourly wage, where you have to wear a uniform and a nametag and take abuse from stupid people all day, and you have to smile and be polite and give the company motto, and for that you barely make enough to pay your rent and eat, then, yes, you deserve overtime if you work more than 40 hours per week.

But sorry, I'm just not very sympathetic to this person. I sometimes work the kinds of hours she's talking about without being asked to. I would rather work on salary than be paid by the hour.

Sure, EA should hire more people, but the amount of work would just expand to the new people too.
posted by bingo at 6:27 PM on November 11, 2004


The responses in this thread make me terribly sad. Exactly what in the video game production industry makes it necessary that workers work 80+ hour work weeks?

Nothing. There is nothing in the task itself that requires or justifies this. But people just say "oh well, that's the way the industry is." People probably said that about coal mining, and manufacturing, and even child-freaking-labor, but things changed, didn't they?

I can't believe that there isn't a stronger unionization movement in the software industry. I mean, come on, people, what will it take?
posted by litlnemo at 7:21 PM on November 11, 2004


bingo, no one cares if you're sympathetic or not, according to the linked article and comments below it it's illegal to force salaried workers to be in the office for that long.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:21 PM on November 11, 2004


From somewhere in the not in the gaming game, I know only one thing. The end product sucks, and it usually isn't even delivered on time. Is that what he's flushing away his life for? All jobs need time off, especillay "brain activity" jobs, it's like letting the breads dough take it's time to yeast.
( yes there is a "him" in the link, the SO is a male).
posted by dabitch at 7:41 PM on November 11, 2004


er.. rise..
posted by dabitch at 7:42 PM on November 11, 2004


Anyone see this?
posted by oflinkey at 9:09 PM on November 11, 2004


oflinkey - nice find!

Good news!

Never do free work for your employer. (They make MONEY off YOUR talent!)

If they ask you to work overtime - AT LEAST ASK if you are eligible. Most people don't even ask. And your supervisor probably doesn't know.
posted by mildred-pitt at 11:56 PM on November 11, 2004


good show, oflinkey.
posted by The God Complex at 12:52 AM on November 12, 2004


bingo, no one cares if you're sympathetic or not, according to the linked article and comments below it it's illegal to force salaried workers to be in the office for that long.

No one has to care; I don't care about your feelings either, but what difference does that make? And, as if it weren't mind-numbingly obvious, I think that the article and the comments beneath it are wrong.
posted by bingo at 4:56 PM on November 12, 2004


The general opinion of my fellow game developers is that EA have fucked themselves in the ass, are about to pay for it big time, and that it couldn't happen to a nicer company.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:12 PM on November 12, 2004


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