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EA Spouse speaks out

I’m only just hearing about the [EA spouse][] who spoke out about the increasingly extreme conditions under which the SO was working. At last count this single weblog entry had 2780 comments.

[EA spouse]:

Reading the description of the EA development process from the point of view of a longtime software engineer, my mind boggles at the idea of a “pre-crunch” to ramp up for the “real” crunch, followed by a “super-crunch” — all apparently planned for in the schedule. Folks, apart from being disgraceful and probably illegal, this plain just doesn’t work; engineers get fatigued and you end up with crappy software. And no compensatory considerations for the staff? No money, no comp time? It’s not like EA is a startup company; they’re making money, and they’ve been making games for years. They should know better.

I’ve worked at three different companies, including one in the gaming subindustry. All of these companies were startups or startup-sized, and so the success or failure of any one project might mean the success or failure of the company as a whole. We knew this and reacted accordingly — when the time came, we put in the level of effort needed to accomplish the job, up to twelve- to fourteen-hour days, six or seven days a week. (I tried very hard to keep one day to myself, to protect my own sanity.)

In my experience, we were *always* compensated for our extra effort in some way, usually comp time or cash. In one case we had a specific deadline with promised bonuses for meeting it, including an extra bonus for the “team MVP.” We were given every opportunity to meet the goal (including moving the deadline back ten days after the server failed in the last month), and everyone got the MVP bonus. (We ended up not shipping for another fifteen months, but that’s another story.)

More meaningful were the “personal” rewards. Once our company president got us tickets to a Celtics playoff game (in ’85 — Bird/McHale/Parrish). At the gaming company I was given the opportunity to do a personally meaningful project and given a brand-new Mac II and hi-res color monitor to do it with. It’s a cliché to say this can mean more than the money does, but it’s also true.

So why would someone put up with the conditions described by the EA spouse? Sometimes (as in this case, seemingly) they needed a job in a weak market; sometimes they just didn’t know to expect any better.

One more story from early in my career: one Friday the boss asked me to demo my current project at the company-wide meeting on Monday. Unfortunately it wasn’t working yet, but I was young and the boss was new, and I was too intimidated to say anything. So I worked throughout the weekend, giving up going to New York on Saturday to attend a good friend’s wedding — to my lasting shame and regret. (And on Monday? No demo; something else came up at the meeting, and I didn’t speak up.)

[I wrote the above before skimming the comments. Apparently (a) EA’s record in this area is widely known, and (b) they’re not alone in this. It was nowhere near that at the gaming company I worked at in the mid-to-late ’80’s. I won’t name it here; it’s no longer around as an independent concern. If you Google my name you can probably figure it out on your own.]