Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


EA Spouse revealed...and she's cute.
May 7, 2006 9:54 AM   Subscribe

When we last saw EA Spouse, she was married to an Electronic Arts employee and she painted a rather unflattering portrait of EA's programming employment practices. Now at last, Erin Hoffman's identity has been revealed. She and her husband have found employment in the field they love and they've established a website where people in the games industry can discuss the pros and cons of their jobs. Will it be enough to effect permanent change an industry that still has so much on the line? The recent EA settlement bodes well at least.
posted by ktoad (30 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
How nice that just underneath this post sits one on happiness. I would go read that before gnashing teeth at EA. And then when finished, write EA a really snarky letter :-).
posted by jhscott at 9:58 AM on May 7, 2006


What the heck is with that last tag? Anyway, thanks for the update. I know there was a conscious decision somewhere in my first or second year of college where I decided I could never work for the soulless brain pit that EA was becoming, and sort of got turned off to the whole idea of working in the video game industry.
posted by onalark at 11:20 AM on May 7, 2006


What the heck is with that last tag?

It's the infamous Konami code, of course. Why it's in a post about EA...that I don't know.
posted by cmonkey at 11:40 AM on May 7, 2006



It's the infamous Konami code, of course. Why it's in a post about EA...that I don't know.


Isn't it select-start at the end?
posted by delmoi at 11:46 AM on May 7, 2006


Nope.
posted by cmonkey at 11:50 AM on May 7, 2006


Will it be enough to effect permanent change an industry that still has so much on the line?

The problem ultimately is game software writers desperate to 'break in' to the most difficult, yet ultimately least important facet of the software industry.

It's like all the starving actors and actresses out there trying to 'make it big' and take wages and jobs that are beneath them (sort of). People are going to exploit that. You won't see the same kind of situation in the banking industry; coders there will make a shitload of money, and get tons of vacation time.

It's kind of like how you have a strong actors and writers guild, but no union or anything for Accountants and Actuaries.

(The difference, of course, is that people who code games can also code banking software (but maybe not vise versa))

I would hate to see a 'software coders guild' but a game designers guild, similar to the actors guild, might be a good idea.
posted by delmoi at 11:52 AM on May 7, 2006


In some two-player games, the select-start variant is used. See: Contra.
posted by Mikey-San at 12:19 PM on May 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


delmoi: That's a genius idea!

The people who try and break into the gaming industry are the same kind of people as those trying to get a break in Hollywood – desperate, inexperienced, and easily exploited.

They are avid players of video games and see the making of video games as their only hope for a job they could like. Unfortunately, they are generally terrible programmers that haven't a clue what they are doing. If they are lucky, they get churned through a generic CompSci program at a University, or sign up for an overpriced gamer daycare program like Full Sail.

They, like starving actors, should have a guild to help police EA and other companies that exploit their enthusiasm for the medium.
posted by blasdelf at 12:27 PM on May 7, 2006


Related: The Joyful Life of the Lapsed Game Developer

I'm happy for the settlement; I hope the employees actually see some of the cash. But it's not going to change things. If game companies had to suddenly keep to 40 hour work weeks, the industry would collapse overnight. They can't do it. They couldn't schedule themselves out of a paper bag (Hrm, maybe that's not the best analogy). It would take years to put out even the crappiest of games.

When this disposable game developer mentality stops becoming profitable, they'll change their ways, but not before then. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.
posted by Sibrax at 1:05 PM on May 7, 2006


blasdef: [The people who try and break into the gaming industry] are avid players of video games and see the making of video games as their only hope for a job they could like. Unfortunately, they are generally terrible programmers that haven't a clue what they are doing. If they are lucky, they get churned through a generic CompSci program at a University, or sign up for an overpriced gamer daycare program like Full Sail.

Whoa, hang on there, that sounds like a pretty sweeping generalization. What you describe certainly applies to some people trying to break into the industry, but those people don't need a guild, since they're not supposed to actually get in.

The people who need the guild are the people who actually belong in the industry. These people are likely near the top of their class. Video games are the Plan A for a lot of very smart people, who compete for a relatively small number of jobs.

I would say that absolutely none of the people I went to "generic U" with when I took my "generic CompSci major" were of the mindset that "video games are their only hope for a job they could like." It's more like a Plan A for many people (some smart, some not so much.)
posted by blenderfish at 1:29 PM on May 7, 2006


Finally a topic I can talk about from personal experience!

What Erin did was an absolutely great thing for the gaming industry as a whole. As mentioned by others there are two halves to this problem:

1. For many people, working in the games industry is the culmination of a life-long dream. Because of this, when they first join they think it's an AWESOME idea to work as many hours as possible, because it's the best thing ever, right?

2. Certain unscrupulous companies decided to take advantage of this inclination on new workers, and decided to create an environment where it is expected. Once a new worker realizes that there IS more to life than making games, they're already in too deep and there's no way to lower their hours without quitting or being fired.

From all reports I've heard, EA has done a very good job of stopping 2. It's purely a public-relations move, but now EA does NOT push for excessive hours. The problems about creating derivative, crappy games remain, though :)

There is still the first problem, though. When I got hired right out of college last year to program video games, I started out working too hard. However, my company took the exact opposite approach to 2, and my boss told me to start working fewer hours. He ALWAYS offered me comp time for any significant over time. I won't lie, there were a few times where I had to stay at work until 3am doing tech support for Korea, but those were rare, and I took the next day off. If I didn't have my employer helping me out, there's a good chance I would have burned myself out and quit the industry.

The faster new workers realize that there is more to life than making video games, and the better employers get at encouraging a healthy qualify of life among their employees, the more stable, creative, and fulfilling the games industry will become. I really think it's headed in the right direction now, and things like gamewatch will only help.

(PS: I was on a panel with Erin at an alumni event at my college last week, and there's no better person for leading this charge for reform. The company she's at now, 1st Playable, is really leading the industry when it comes to quality of life issues, and I expect big things)
posted by JZig at 1:58 PM on May 7, 2006


Hoffman wrote on the blog that EA's attitude toward its workers was: "If they don't want to sacrifice their lives and their health and their talent so that a multibillion dollar corporation can continue its Godzilla-stomp through the game industry, they can work someplace else.'
Replace EA with *anycompany* and industry with *anyindustry* and MAGIC , it's most likely your job ! Unless you are in China or India, of course.
posted by elpapacito at 2:39 PM on May 7, 2006


EA Spouse revealed...and she's cute.

And the opinions of cute women are almost as important as those of men!
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:30 PM on May 7, 2006 [2 favorites]


They are avid players of video games and see the making of video games as their only hope for a job they could like. Unfortunately, they are generally terrible programmers that haven't a clue what they are doing. If they are lucky, they get churned through a generic CompSci program at a University, or sign up for an overpriced gamer daycare program like Full Sail.

Huh? What are you talking about? Game programming is far more challenging then almost any other field in CS.
posted by delmoi at 4:18 PM on May 7, 2006


But the group of people most enthusiastic about entering the field of Game Programming (hardcore gamers) are some of the least competent people in CS.

The ability to play games does not parlay into having an ability to program games, or anything else for that matter.

If you are really eager to program games (and you don't really care about programming anything else), you'll be easily exploited by the likes of EA.
posted by blasdelf at 4:30 PM on May 7, 2006


I just got my settlement papers from EA. It's like frigging christmas came early this year! $$$!
posted by the theory of revolution at 4:46 PM on May 7, 2006


But the group of people most enthusiastic about entering the field of Game Programming (hardcore gamers) are some of the least competent people in CS.

Wtf? What evidence do you have for this at all? Even an anecdote?

The ability to play games does not parlay into having an ability to program games, or anything else for that matter.

Well, it depends on the game I suppose but some do teach at least somewhat transferable skills.

In any event, my personal experience is that people interested in games programming spend far more time actually programming in their spare time, rather then just sitting through class and squeezing by their assignments. There are lots of non-gamers who also program in their spare time (such as myself) but by and large in collage at least the game-aspirants will have much more practical experience then.

And if you think writing a game engine is somehow less difficult then writing a website in PHP or Ruby on Rails or something, you're an idiot.
posted by delmoi at 5:12 PM on May 7, 2006


At least where I work, game programmers come from a bunch of different backgrounds. We have some people who play a ridiculous amount of games, and some people who almost never play games. It depends on what part of the game you're working on, but if you're doing something other than deep engine programming, it REALLY helps to have a solid grasp of what makes games work, and playing a lot of games is the best way to get that. There are some positions we just won't hire for if the applicant isn't at least a semi-serious gamer.
posted by JZig at 5:44 PM on May 7, 2006


I'm not talking about successful game programmers, but the large percentage of young aspiring game programmers that spent their adolescence playing video games and want to work in the video game business when they grow up.

I've met a lot of people who fall into this category – and they tend to be terrible programmers. They want to spend their career working on video games, but they have few skills other than playing video games. Some of them have other applicable skills, like art creation and 3d stuff that can get them into the field, but many do not.

In a way, it's a lot like Hollywood – there's a lot of people who think they've got the necessary skills to make it in the industry, and many of them are deluded. Some will make it. A cottage industry exists to take people's money to 'teach' them the skills they need to make it (Full Sail et. al.).

The gaming industry needs Hollywood-style guilds for the same reason Hollywood needs them.
posted by blasdelf at 6:40 PM on May 7, 2006


I'm not talking about successful game programmers, but the large percentage.... [that] tend to be terrible programmers

Ah. I think the problem is that when you say 'aspiring game programmers,' some people (especially some of us in the industry) assume you mean 'serious aspiring game programmers.'

Kind of like the difference between an 'aspiring NBA player' being an average kid who plays basketball in his driveway, dreaming of one day being in the NBA, and an 'aspiring NBA player' being a player on a 4A college team.

Yeah, by the all-inclusive definition, I think it's probably fair to say that 95% of 'aspiring game programmers' aren't competent. But, this is correlation without causation-- 99% of the general public are probably not going to be competent game programmers. They're not bad programmers because they want to be game programmers; they're bad because they're mostly a random sample of the general public.

But within a CompSci Major Program there are a lot of competent contenders; the most competent of these will get the relatively few available jobs. And, in my experience, which is similar to delmoi's, the people interested in games (whether they go on to get a games job or not) are usually among those with a lot of drive to actually learn a lot about programming, rather than just make it through the major.
posted by blenderfish at 7:31 PM on May 7, 2006


And if you think writing a game engine is somehow less difficult then writing a website in PHP or Ruby on Rails or something, you're an idiot.

This is an uninformed comment. Writing a game for a targeted platform (Windows) and framework (usually ActiveX) is really much, much easier than writing a successful (profitable), multi-tier application that needs to scale from one user to millions of users, dealing with good database query programming, let alone dealing with the presentation difficulties caused by writing for a W3C-incompliant platform (IE). Please. Game programming is a piece of cake in comparison.
posted by Mr. Six at 9:32 PM on May 7, 2006


Well, I'd say that those few game programmers who are breaking new ground in computer graphics are certainly in one of the hardest subsets of CS. But most game programmers, like most programmers everywhere, are doing various small parts of things that have well-established patterns. That can be easy or hard depending on the particular sub-problem, and so I find it unreasonable to generalize on the difficulty of an entire industry. The guy writing the login screen for BF2 isn't necessarily a star programmer.

But here's the difference I think some are trying to point out --- in a field like enterprise software, operating systems, etc most people who are interested in these fields tend to be serious. Not necessarily good, but serious. However, in video games, like with movies or basketball, almost everyone thinks they can do it and wants to. So yeah, the average aspiring game programmer is like your avergae backyard basketball player --- they may not have many skills, and they're not going to make it (although the programmer has slightly more chance of getting hired since there is a wider range of skills needed in game development than professional basketball).

However, you don't see nearly as many kids growing up dreaming to be accountants or filesystem developers. These are things that you don't generally get an interest in as a career until you've started acquiring a skillset (which does happen for some very young, but for most not until much later).

Anything thats (a) flashy (or seems to be), and (b) something people can relate to (like movies, videogames, and sports) will always be attractive to a wider audience, and so I would expect a smaller % of talented people in the field, but thats because the potential field is huge.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:50 PM on May 7, 2006


DirectX, rather.
posted by Mr. Six at 9:57 PM on May 7, 2006


Two additional comments: first, the *most* hardcore people I knew in college were those who, in middle/high school, spent their time learning the details of operating systems, taking apart programs, etc (in short, "hackers", to use the term in a loose-slashdotty way). Almost every programmer was a gamer, yes, but very few CS people wanted to be game developers (of course, this was true CS, as opposed to Computer Engineering, so people tend to have a more academic mindset and want to do fundamentals).

And if you want a field that is, on average, the hardest in programming, you would usually look to embedded devices. Resource-constrained environments are usually the hardest to program for, and most games these days no longer make any effort to be efficient. But there are plenty of hardcore people in OS development, enterprise software, and even apps development.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:58 PM on May 7, 2006


And if you think writing a game engine is somehow less difficult then writing a website in PHP or Ruby on Rails or something, you're an idiot.

This is an uninformed comment. Writing a game for a targeted platform (Windows) and framework (usually ActiveX) is really much, much easier than writing a successful (profitable), multi-tier application that needs to scale from one user to millions of users, dealing with good database query programming, let alone dealing with the presentation difficulties caused by writing for a W3C-incompliant platform (IE). Please. Game programming is a piece of cake in comparison.

Wow.

And if you want a field that is, on average, the hardest in programming, you would usually look to embedded devices. Resource-constrained environments are usually the hardest to program for, and most games these days no longer make any effort to be efficient.

Maybe _bad_ games that don't sell don't try to be efficient. But if you don't think an Xbox 360 or a PS2 (or even a PC) is a resource-constrained environment, I'm not sure what is. In console programming, you are expected, every year or two, to create a novel, stable, fun experience that looks better than last year's offering on the same hardware, incorporating new physics, lighting, and gameplay, and whatever else the feature-of-the-month is. When you're not dealing with the current generation of ever-less-powerful-seeming hardware, you're dealing with buggy, moving-target pre-launch hardware and software. And yes, you're still writing some assembly and looking at low-level stuff. But now you have three cores running six threads of code simultaneously to worry about (or even more on Cell)! I could go on.

(Of course, this is a nightmare to schedule, which leads to things like EA_Spouse, even if you, like EA, aren't particularly innovative sometimes.)

Fundamentally, trying to argue about which particular field of programming is the "hardest" is pretty silly-- there are many variables. Different programming fields have different expectations in terms of development time, development team sizes, reliability, maintainence, stability of platform, how quickly the field is changing, availability of talent pool, etc. Not to mention that, of course, some people in (let's say) games do have it easier than some other people in (let's say) games.

It'd be pretty difficult to address these differences in a meaningful way in a MF thread, even without strawmen and false dichotomies springing up everywhere. But, yeah, try to have some empathy, people!
posted by blenderfish at 10:54 PM on May 7, 2006


One of the things to remember is that "game programmer" means about 30 different things. It could be someone who does designer support, and is basically a designer with some programming experience. It could be a hard-core graphics guy who has a deep math and theoretical CS background. It could be a tools programmer who basically writes windows applications. It could be a code monkey who implements things with absolutely no control over what it is they implement. It could be hardcore embedded developer, eeking out the last bit of performance from stupidly designed systems. Or, if you happen to work on an online game, you could be doing exactly what Mr. Six described as being harder than game programming. (That's pretty much what I'm doing now)

There's really not much in common about the work that game programmers do other than that what they program happens to be games.
posted by JZig at 12:11 AM on May 8, 2006


There's really not much in common about the work that game programmers do other than that what they program happens to be games.
...and that as a group, they are seemingly far more easily exploited by unscrupulous employers than their counteparts in other CS disciplines.
posted by blasdelf at 2:21 AM on May 8, 2006


Comparing the desire of developers to break into the gaming industry and the aspiring hollywood actors, crews, etc.

How has Hollywood gotten unionized but game development hasn't?
posted by surplus at 2:31 AM on May 8, 2006


surplus writes "How has Hollywood gotten unionized but game development hasn't?"

The tech industry tends to attract libertarians. At least in my experience (in web development), there is a strong anti-union sentiment.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:20 AM on May 8, 2006


Hollywood was unionized a loooong time ago when unions were very strong in America. They aren't anymore, and the game industry has never existed during a time of union strength. We really need a union, but it's highly unlikely it will happen anytime soon.

Mr. Six, you need to be able to port your code to about six different platforms, two of which currently have very few dev boxes available. You're pretty far off base.

I'm glad this has happened, it's going to ripple thru the business. It's already causing changes at my company.

And we could definitely do games on a 40-hour week, and get them done at high quality too. It's just that the game biz hasn't had the kind of process engineering and quality control discipline applied to it that many other businesses use. We tend to be kind of right-brained and sloppy about that sort of thing... with predictable results.

There are companies out there who have made the effort to tighten up and perfect all the various processes of ideation and production that go into a game, with great success... but most of us have not.

Also, a lot of games are produced by smaller independent developer shops, or at least partly farmed out to same. Smaller shops are mostly similar to startups - small staff, everyone working their asses off. Once you start getting up over 100 employees, there are a number of HR management and production changes that become necessary, and they can be painful to implement, especially when everyone's working on production and putting out fires.

We're going through that at my employer now, a slow series of shifts, while producing two games and developing new game pitches simultaneously. It's interesting to watch for me, since I have 20 years of work experience outside the game biz - this is my first game job - and I've been able to compare it to a lot of other different situations.

We're adjusting, slowly. While the business has been around a while, it's only now really truly being considered a "real business," and getting the internal discipline it really needs.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:17 PM on May 8, 2006


« Older Why Hillary Can't Win...   |   Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments