EA Spouse — Then and Now
Sitting down and reading articles on EA Spouse from over a decade ago feels like a million conversations I have had with friends from just about every computer programming field. The long hours, the crunch times, the lack of pay, the increasing movement towards to startups and project based work, the lack of job stability, coupled with an enthusiasm for the profession have all led to a predatory environment for game developers. It seems as if nothing has changed since the EA Spouse blew the whistle.
Thus, Dyer-Witherford’s piece on the EA Spouse prompted me to see if things had since changed for the better. One of the outcomes of the the EA Spouse’s blog post was a series of lawsuits that seemed to bring into light the unlawful practices of game studios not only making their employees work overtime, but then not paying for that overtime by misusing a law that tech giants had lobbied into existence. Unfortunately, these lawsuits were settled out of court and no real change was brought on a legislative level.
While these lawsuits forced EA to change some of their policies to reduce long hours, the issue of crunch times becoming standardized into daily work practices keep occurring throughout the industry. For example, in 2010 Rockstar was accused of forcing employees to work crunch time hours for months and the company continues to collect bad employee reviews on Glassdoor. Recent articles interviewing anonymous employees of other companies show that the practice is alive and well. The anonymity is critical here, as employees live in fear of litigative action from the massive video game companies, which would not only cost them their jobs but make it extremely hard to find work in the future.
Aside from the numerous problems caused by a poor work-life balance (ruining relationships, personal health, etc), these types of work arrangements reflects the poor managerial systems within game studios. As a student of project management and someone who has witnessed it through the family business, it is shocking to watch such poor project management in action. Of course, the nature of how video games are published, such as strict release dates, impacts the need for additional hours. However, this issue is not unique to the game industry, as any other industry that works on a project basis also has to handle balancing deadlines, costs, and delivering a quality product. Therefore, what is so shocking is not that video game studios use a project based approach for management, but that they are so colossally awful at it and pass down their errors onto their employees to absorb (who are then excluded from overtime pay).
In addition to damaging the quality of the games that are made, the industry’s approach to destroying employees through burnout has had other ill-effects. There is now a shortage of qualified new employees, who are opting to avoid working in the video game industry. Coupled with this is the high turnover rate of active employees, who are flocking away for more sane work conditions. Meanwhile, the unstable future of gaming has shuttered many studios and creates job insecurity, which adds to the stress levels of employees. While the allure of working in the game industry will continue to attract employees, the issues put forth by the EA Spouse has become a permanent, unsolved concern for anyone considering work at a studio.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for those wanting to work in the industry. Outside of cases like Rockstar, the conditions of work have generally improved across the board since EA spouse. Many studios are attempting to reduce burn out and focus on caring for their employees. Companies like Riot are in the Forbes’ top 100 places to work, and they actively address burn out in their hiring policies. Therefore, what has become clear since EA spouse is that crunch times will always exist in a project based field that is filled with passionate employees who care about their work. What has changed, however, is that their are better approaches to tackle projects to minimize the damage caused by crunch time. In doing so we will no only have happier employees and increase workplace sanity and retention, but also end up producing better games at lower costs through effective management techniques.