Shame Day: Video Game Companies

eaeaI am a dude who loves video games. I’ve played so much Team Fortress 2 in the past few weeks that it’s essentially become a ritual for me, something to do while and after I eat dinner. What I don’t always love are the business practices these  companies  engage in.

The image I Photoshop’d together depicts the EA [Electronic Arts] logo because they’re a company that I’m positive some of the blame lies with when it comes to generally being horrible to its employees.

I was turned onto this flagrant abuse of humanity through a webcomic Scott Kurtz [of PvP] and Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins [of Penny Arcade] put together. The comic, titled The Trenches, follows the life of a QA [quality assurance] guy whose name escapes me at the moment. The important part is that below the comic is a feature called Tales From The Trenches, which catalogues nightmare stories from those who toil within in the industry.

Below is one of my favourites, entitled “Weekend Funtimes.” My favourite not in that I enjoy reading it, but in that it encapsulates some of the horror of working  for large corporations:

We were about two months into “crunch” when they decided to up our hours AGAIN, taking us to over 80/week. The only available day to squeeze these extra hours in? Sunday!

I arrive at the building Sunday morning, only to find it locked—no other businesses had Sunday hours. I call my supervisor, who proceeds to fuss at me about interrupting his “family” time. My team had all arrived for work by that point, which just seemed to make him angrier. He tells me he is on his way and hangs up.

Flash forward ten minutes. We’re all still freezing (it was winter and -10 windchill) when we see his car come around the corner at the end of the block. He drives up the road, rolls his window down, and THROWS the office key at me—all without ever slowing down.

He calls me twenty minutes later to make sure we had gotten in, then informed me we would have to make up the time we had “wasted” waiting on him. He ended the call telling me to never interrupt his family time again.

That’s fairly despicable, and definitely up there among the worst of them. It was posted last month, and while it’s unknown when the event actually happened there is a date we can pinpoint: November 10th, 2004. The date that “EA: The Human Story” was posted to LiveJournal by user “EA Spouse.”

The post is a thorough examination of EA’s policies, especially regarding the infamous “crunch time” that its employees have to go through as the game nears its impending launch. She writes with a genuine, heartfelt voice that stems from being the wife of an EA employee. This is definitely present in the penultimate paragraph of her piece:

If I could get EA CEO Larry Probst on the phone, there are a few things I would ask him. “What’s your salary?” would be merely a point of curiosity. The main thing I want to know is, Larry: you do realize what you’re doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that? That when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it’s not just them you’re hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?

Better known by her blogging handle, little did Erin Hoffman know what sort of action her post would lead to. In part it resulted in the filing of three class action lawsuits against EA and the beginning of many changes within the industry. Her post inspired another entitled “Why Crunch Modes Doesn’t Work: Six Lessons” which garnered a fair amount of attention within the online community.

That being said, Tales From The Trenches continues on into 2013, and it’s undeniable that many are slaving away in gaming companies because they love the final product. Their devotion to video games means that they’re stuck in jobs where they’re treated poorly by anyone and everyone a rung above them on the corporate ladder. Yes, this can be said of many work environments, but few have the same number of young, eager individuals so passionate to take part in what they’ve enjoyed their entire lives.

So shame on EA, and shame on any and all video game companies that treat their employees like dirt. No one said starting a career was easy, but no one should have to toil away thanklessly for an abusive system, either.

3 responses to “Shame Day: Video Game Companies

  1. I like these Shame Day posts. They’re maddening, of course, but very interesting to read.

  2. Evan, I enjoyed your post but I felt there was more you could go into here. When I think of video game PUBLISHERS like EA and Activision/Vivendi the big frustration I have is their treatment of DEVELOPERS, such of Bioware or Infinity Ward. You didn’t specify whether that story featured EA employees for whom “crunch time” is the media blitz leading to launch or EA subsidiary employees for whom “crunch time” is the final debugging/polish and money-grabbing DLC prep of pre-launch. I would be very curious to know which types of employees these are. It could go either way I suppose. Anyway, point is big publishers are generally very exploitative of their pet developers, which is quite sad given that the devs are the ones making the game and having all that creative awesomeness.

    This is what makes companies like Valve so excellent and what makes Steam so wonderful. Valve is both a developer and a publisher and they are pretty much great at both. Why I’m such a big fan of Steam is because in many cases in makes it possible to cut out the middle man of big name publishers.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your post but here’s my two cents on the industry.

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