EA Spouse says EA doesn't get enough credit

Erin Hoffman says publisher has undergone a massive reformation for quality of life; EA devs attest to changes

In 2004, developer quality of life issues came to the forefront after Erin Hoffman posted a LiveJournal account of forced overtime and brutal working conditions at Electronic Arts under the handle EA Spouse. In a presentation at the Game Developers Conference today, Hoffman said the publisher has made significant strides to improve quality of life for its employees, a sentiment that was echoed by multiple EA developers in attendance.

Hoffman currently works at GlassLab, a MacArthur and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-supported project to find educational uses for AAA games. Coincidentally enough, GlassLab is located on Electronic Arts' Redwood Shores campus. Hoffman acknowledged it was unusual to find herself working in the heart of EA, but from her perspective, it appears as if the company has had a massive--but largely unsung--reformation from the inside.

"To me they've learned one of the biggest quality of life lessons in the industry, but nobody really focuses on it," Hoffman said.

A pair of EA employees attested to that during the post-talk Q&A session. In particular, an EA Tiburon employee said he just wanted Hoffman to know her speaking up had an effect. The team produces two games a year (NCAA and Madden NFL), but it doesn't work weekends anymore. And even when the work does ramp up, they get by doing 50 hour work weeks.

Hoffman noted that she has a "weird cloud-like awareness" of quality of life issues in the industry because the original EA Spouse account still receives messages and horror stories. She said that Tiburon sounded like a pretty intense place to work, so "if Tiburon can turn around, then that means any place can turn around."

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Latest comments (15)

Paul Jace Merchandiser 7 years ago
Thats great that EA has fixed their "quality of life" issues. Now they just need to focus on everything else. Thats not a knock against them, just a light budge of inspiration:)
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Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst 7 years ago
"And even when the work does ramp up, they get by doing 50 hour work weeks"

Anyone who thinks this is reasonable is part of the problem, not the solution. I've watched the culture of long hours. It rewards idiots and sycophants and burns out the people with talent we actually need in the industry.

50 hour weeks? No one is very productive above 40, if managing their time properly. That's a function of physiology, not "business administration". Crunch exists for two reasons: You have a compulsive need to complete your product or you have incompetent/unreasonable senior staff.
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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games7 years ago
Giving 2 extra hours per day in a time of need when you are focused and know what needs to be done is quite productive. Beating a dead horse is not.

Any of the indies want to share how many unpaid hours per week they work to reach their promised dates and pay their bills on time?

EA is one of the better companies out there and i really start getting annoyed by all this attitude towards traditional game industry recently. A. I think mobile success got into some people's head way too much. B. Some think tanks try too hard to blame games and the industry in general for everything crazy that happens in a certain influential society. And that simply is not true, and this should not be tolerated! We all know the sacrifices and passion that flows into our games. No it is not the perfect industry, and there is no such thing, but it is by far one of the most democratic and productive industries in the world!

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Yiannis Koumoutzelis on 29th March 2013 4:30am

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Adam Jordan Community Management/Moderation 7 years ago
@Yiannis: Couldn't have said it better myself

Especially considering now it's the employees that WANT to work those extra hours instead of being forced as some people continue to believe and assume

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Jordan on 29th March 2013 7:13am

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Andrew Animator 7 years ago
Anyone who thinks this is reasonable is part of the problem, not the solution. I've watched the culture of long hours. It rewards idiots and sycophants and burns out the people with talent we actually need in the industry.
50 hours a week is not that much really. A standard working week in the UK is between 35 and 37.5hrs. Are you suggesting that above a mere 2.5 hours of overtime a week "No one is very productive...". If that's true then the UK as a whole must be boderline stagnant and unproductive. The trick is working to your limit, no two people are cut equal, some people can work more overtime than others. To suggest that anyone working overtime is an " idiot and sycophant" is a bit insulting to people working in the industry and certainly a bit naiive of the realities of earning a living in a production environment.

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Andrew on 29th March 2013 4:43pm

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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus7 years ago
While we're all celebrating this, let's remind ourselves that the captain of that sweatshop is currently back in charge.
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Adam Jordan Community Management/Moderation 7 years ago
I actually believe the standard these days in the UK is 39 hours since over 39 hours is considered overtime but that might differ depending on the industry you are in.

I know when I was in the retail industry, I was hitting 40 hour weeks and I was supposedly on a 20 hour a week contract. Although speaking of which, if people think the games industry has it rough regarding overtime and working try initially working a 8 hour shift and then being forced to stay a further 4 hours just to meet deadlines and yes this happened on a regular basis all because someone at the Head Office sent way too much stock to be processed each week and causing insane amounts of back-log due to the insane goals we had to achieve.

Granted HR didn't take kindly to hearing this kind of information and by law an employer can only hold an employee back for 20 minutes...unless it is paid overtime.

In this day and age, 50 hour weeks are average and nothing that anyone batters an eye at but as Alex mentioned, no two people are made equal, I'm considered a work-horse and a grafter because I will do as many hours as offered or stay behind in order to help those that need it but if someone decides to go home as soon as their shift ends then I wouldn't blame them or resort to calling them names like "slacker" just because they couldn't handle a few more hours...neither would I do the same in a reversed role of calling someone an idiot of sycophant if they wished to work more than 40 hours.

Heck my dad used to do 72 hour weeks, the pay off however was the long vacations he would have and the money he bought in, so I am used to people working crazy amount of hours.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Jordan on 29th March 2013 5:50pm

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Hours are meaningless. In the wrong environment someone can be "working" 50 hours a week and produce very little, in a good work environment someone could "work" 10 hours and be very very productive.
Im sure Im not alone here stating that, I myself sometimes do more work in the middle of the night because I got inspired, then I will do in the the next week during regular hours..
I understand that hours worked is important to families, because its about hours and time away from the family, but for employers, we really need to get away from thinking hours work is some kind of good quantifier of production.

Treat people like grown ups, trust them, and allow artist some room to breath, their production and quality of production need be the only thing that matters. I mean would you rather have someone who works 60 hours a week and produces so so quality production, or someone who works some weird hours and produces great stuff. Seems simple enough, yet for some reason companies still seem to be so worried about stupid things such as "hours worked".
Its one of the reasons I still think large structured corps are a place great ideas and artist go to die.
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Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst 7 years ago
I didn't suggest people who worked overtime were "idiots and sycophants". I said a culture of putting in lots of hours rewards those who are. Because anyone can stay for extra hours at work, even if what they are effectively doing is dragging out their working week over more hours.
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Samuel Verner Game Designer 7 years ago
moving people in a situation where they have to do unpaid overtime results only in one thing: leaving talents. noone who is his money worth will stay for long in such an enviroment, if he does not get payed for the trouble.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Samuel Verner on 1st April 2013 4:34pm

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Andrew Clayton QA Weapons Tester, Electronic Arts7 years ago
Worked an average of 60 hours per week on Medal of Honor: Warfighter in September - November. One week was 85 hours even with 2 days off. Maybe it's different at other EA locations.
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Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts7 years ago
I work regualr hours at EA most weeks about 40, only really goes up much when I do events like GDC/Gamescom but thats always welcome as I love attending events and meeting those I normally only get to speak to over the phone.

I sometimes do more but on my terms, Its very easy to get your employees to work hard for you by making them love there job, by looking after them.
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Gareth Eckley Commercial Analyst 7 years ago
80+ hour weeks?

But you worked those because you wanted to, right?

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Gareth Eckley on 2nd April 2013 12:39am

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Roland Austinat roland austinat media productions|consulting, IDG, Computec, Spiegel Online7 years ago
@Gareth, as a writer I'd go as far as to say: Writing more than five hours straight per day doesn't yield any good results. That's a shocking 25 hour week, I know.

But if we just work, sleep and eat and maybe play some games during lunch break at the desk, how are games supposed to be creative endeavours and new? Or, to quote someone's comment at last week's GDC losely: "If you just watch the Alien movies and expect to make a great alien game, it might not be working."
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Andrew Clayton QA Weapons Tester, Electronic Arts7 years ago
@Gareth: I have a wife, hobbies, and a small social life. I loved my job, I liked my coworkers, and I liked being given a chance to work on a AAA title. I wasn't chained to my desk under lock and key, but when I felt that "optional" overtime was actually optional, I chose to go home, unwind, and do things that could keep me fresh for the next day. But there were plenty of days when overtime was not optional. We had a deadline to hit, and everyone in QA had to share the load of late nights.

I wanted to keep my job. I wanted to keep my superiors happy with my performance. I wanted to make sure that, when the time came, I was a serious candidate to continue on to the next project. So I worked days from 9 AM until 3 AM. I worked well after my effectiveness as a tester was eliminated, but even then I continued to do the best that I could. And as much as I didn't want to let my bosses down, I didn't want to let the gaming community down either. As abundant as the bugs were in MoHW, we still managed to prevent a ton of major issues from hitting the market.

Still left me a bit scarred though. Every time I see "must be willing to work nights and weekends" I immediately think of those late night exe swap checks. And as bad as 85 hour weeks seem, I have friends that have done 115 hour weeks with other companies in the area. Bad times.
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