11.12.2004

Thank you: From one EA_Spouse to another!

I am also the spouse of an EA employee and I just want to thank EA_Spouse for the original post (see here if you haven't read it yet). I, and the other EA wives that I know, feel truly grateful that you were able and willing to articulate what we are going though in a way that didn't come across as bitter, but more matter-of-fact and 100% honest! We have sat through many brunches and dinners with our husbands, listening to them discuss the need for a union and the harsh realities of their jobs.

I personally have endured many nights of waiting up alone in a new city (which we moved to for a "better life") for my hubby to get home. I have waited until the wee hours of the morning on more than one occasion and have definitely had weeks and weeks in a row where I’ve spent less than an hour per day with him. I have spent tons and tons of weekends alone while his "crunch mode" time lasted eight months rather than eight days or eight weeks. I have put off going home to see our families for holidays because he was "strongly encouraged" not to take time off. Man, the list goes on and on -- those are just the highlights.

Many of us have been passing around via email the original post and the comments about it -- both on this site and the many other sites that have referenced it. I have to say that after reading some of the comments, I am really sickened by some of the posts. They are obviously written by people who have NO idea about the level of abuse that is taking place on employees (and their families) in the gaming industry, and specifically at EA.

They ask: "Boo-hoo -- how can you complain about the hours when you get paid so well and work for a major game company? People would kill for your job!"
Answer: Anyone out there who would "kill for this job" loves the idea and not the reality of working in the industry. You will never convince me differently because I know all to well -- I do our bills every month. How much do you think these guys make? A typical employee with several years of experience and a few shipped titles under his belt makes around $55,000/annually. Do you know how far that goes for EA employees in Los Angeles or San Francisco? Well, let me tell you -- we aren't signing up for country club memberships or eating at Spago. We are shopping at Wal-Mart and consider brunch out with friends once a month to be the highlight of our social calendar. Just about every guy I know that works with my husband has a wife who also works -- we aren’t the rich elite that you imagine us to be. We are middle-class families who can't afford to pay our bills if we aren't dual income. My husband and his coworkers are pushed to the limit of physical and emotional fatigue and yet after a game gets shipped they get little more than a pat on the head, while the very execs who set unreasonable deadlines and misallocate corporate resources get new cars and major bonuses. Some years the “regular employees” don't even get bonuses. When they do, those “performance bonuses” are about 3% of their salary (keep in mind – this is in place of a raise). Come on, do the math, that "performance bonus" is simply a cost of living increase.

They ask: "If the situation is so bad, why don't these guys just look for another job?"
Answer: When you are working as much as my husband does -- you do not have time to get a haircut, do your laundry, or attend church some weeks. Looking for another job takes time and effort. Any free time that he has after his 60 - 80 hour work week is spent sleeping, so that he can do it all again the next week. Not to mention, in this industry, you don't just send in a resume when you’re on the hunt for a new position. You have to put together a finely crafted and unique interactive portfolio at the very least. Sometimes you have to endure skills tests that require you to submit original code design and/or art. Those things take a ton of time -- which these guys don't have to do the most basic things, let alone the things it takes to get another job. Lastly, the majority of the people I’ve met who interviewed and accepted positions with EA have been bold-face lied to about the hours, corporate culture, bonus structure, and career development, etc. Keep in mind that once those people got hired, relocated, and settled in at EA, and then figured out that they were lied to about the working conditions, they were stuck. At EA, if you decide to leave within a year of your hire date, you’re responsible for paying back all of the relocation expenses. On their salaries, they are stuck, stuck, stuck – none of us can afford that expense when we’re just struggling to pay our regular bills each month. Kudos to those who have done it, but even they can’t do it alone. I know of one young guy and his wife (along with their two kids) got so fed up with outrageous hours at EA after only about eight months of relocating to California. He couldn’t even hold out for a year – after enduring countless evening and weekend hours away from his then pregnant wife, his parents insisted on financing their move back to the South out of sheer desperation to keep them sane and married.

They ask: "Why don't you just talk to your boss and tell him that you refuse to work these hours and either need more pay or better benefits?"
Answer: To try to "pull back" on your hours and/or question the "powers that be" only results in getting fired, as I've seen happen to some at the EA. One of our friends is a brilliant programmer with nothing but awesome reviews from anyone who worked with him. He is a seasoned game vet and started to question the hours in a casual way -- even while never taking undue time off and still putting in his 60 - 80 hours a week. Well, he was fired recently for NO reason. I say no reason and I mean it. Absolutely no reason was given to him. California is an "at will" work state, so no reason even needs to be provided to the employee for a dismissal. Keep in mind ... this guy had only glowing performance reviews. The attitude at EA is “You don’t like it? Leave! There’s plenty of ‘fresh meat’ out there to take your place!”

That last sentence is the last thing that I will address here in my little post. Until that “fresh meat” wises up, researches the industry, truly understands the reality of the working conditions, and demands the money, the overtime, and the benefits due to them – the whole industry is going to suffer. The large game companies will just continue to consume and purge talent by setting unrealistic deadlines and working their talent to the max. You might feel lucky when my husband gets totally burned out and you come along and take his job. However, soon you won’t be a 20-something and when that time comes, your $50,000 salary will no longer seem like the Holy Grail. You’ll contemplate marriage and a family or simply want to enjoy life outside of work and plan for retirement. When that time comes, you will be screaming “union” and “someone pay attention to this situation” just as loudly as we are now. Don’t say you weren’t warned. If you’re smart though, you won’t let it come to that. You will demand this stuff now as you’re looking for work and if you turn away from the corporate sweatshops, like EA, you won’t be afraid to tell them why.

EA_Spouse, I know that you must have thought long and hard about hitting "submit" on your post, knowing all too well the ramifications that might ensue. EA employees have been let go for less and if found out, your SO's job could be in serious jeopardy. I commend you for taking the step to hit "submit" -- you, no doubt, did it in an attempt to help your husband and your family. What you also did was create an open and honest dialogue about this issue. You helped to bring it out into the open. For those of us who previously were too scared to do something so bold...Thank you and God bless you!