Global Game Industry News Blog

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Revisiting EA Spouse - 3 Years Later (and a bit of Field Work's Insight)

Well, alright, it hasn't really been three years yet. That date isn't until November, but I guess sometimes you just can't wait to publish that anniversary article.

One thing that troubles me about this first article I link to is that (as much as I have love for SHRM) there is no mention of quality of life, reasonable work hours or anything of that sort in the ranking system. While I suspect that Insomniac has something figured out, having read some of their postmortems, I'd wonder a little bit if it is simply that their people are excited about what they're working on, and happy to put in massive numbers of hours. I wish we knew more about studios like this, but we don't.

But back to ea_spouse. I'm sure Erin Hoffman has gotten a little tired of that label, she works just down the street from me at 1st Playable, and also works as a designer/producer in the video game industry.

An excerpt from an upcoming article:
At the time the blog was published I was sitting with a group of developers working on a game based on an upcoming movie title for an unreleased handheld console. They too were in "crunch" mode, working to beat timelines which had arbitrarily been set to meet the demands of movie executives, game publishers, and console manufacturers. The game was later canceled, but those hours late at work fighting against pre-release hardware with pre-release software development kits (SDK's), new engine, in-development build system, and no proven "pipeline" for art assets or design data were not forgotten. Which is not to say that ea_spouse was wrong, but rather the situation is even more difficult and complex than we had previously envisioned.

And really, it hasn't changed all that much. Fast forward three years later and I hear more rumblings that things are amiss than I hear that they've improved. It's not a good sign, and from near as I can tell, the industry hasn't found a way to maintain some semblance of sustainability yet.

For the reason WHY that is, you'll have to wait until the dissertation is finished.


GameDaily.Biz - Insomniac Honored with Top 10 'Best Companies to Work For'
Resistance: Fall of Man and Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games has been named to the list of best places to work for. The list recognizes companies with "smart people management strategies to develop successful organizations with highly productive and satisfied workforces."

[Update: Insomniac's exact ranking was not immediately available. We have discovered now that the company placed 8th.]
The announcement came during the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM) 59th Annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas. This is actually the third straight year that Insomniac has made the list. Last year the company ranked fourth. Insomniac (southern California's lone representative to the small business list) continues to be recognized as a best company to work for despite an increase in applicants of more than 20 percent since last year, and a combined 50 percent increase since 2005.

Moreover, it's worth noting that Insomniac is the first and only video game company named to this list, they're the only company in the history of the small business category to earn a Top 10 ranking for three years in a row, and they're the only company in the "TV, Film and Video" category to be recognized this year.
GPTW based the results mostly on a randomly distributed employee opinion survey that measured categories such as workplace environment, management's responsiveness to employee feedback, and adherence to company philosophy. Then, each company evaluated was given a score based on the questionnaire responses. Other factors included assessments of company programs, practices and workplace culture.

Kotaku - EA Spouse Revisited
The article is filled with quotes from Hoffman, illustrating how game companies have changed since the whole situation started. It's an interesting look at how one voice can change the way an entire industry works.

GameSetWatch - Game Developer Revisits EA_Spouse, Three Years On
"In 2004, a then-anonymous letter writer, 'EA_Spouse,' penned an angry and outraged treatise to the game community chiding Electronic Arts for forcing employees to work egregious amounts of overtime. In the months that followed, development studios, the IGDA, and other outspoken individuals stood up and voiced their opinion of what it means to be in this obsessively dedicated line of work, with most of them calling for industrywide change, too. Nearly three years later, has any of it stuck? Or has the call to action petered out?"

Of course, since then, EA_Spouse has 'come out' as Erin Hoffman, and she makes plenty of comments in the article about how game company cultures (and EA in particular) has changed: "From what I understand, the Los Angeles studio has made a really big turnaround, for example. I've heard mixed comments from Vancouver, and I consistently hear bad things about Tiburon." We've heard that too, judging by a brief letter received after the article debuted, and some of the feedback on the forums, set up by Hoffman to help discuss the issues.

But is it fair to single out EA? Absolutely not - all major game companies have (or have had) some degree of problems with working long hours, an edgy extension of a job that can require a lot of creative dedication. But it's when working 60 or 80 or 100 hours per week becomes corporately mandated or 'tribe'-impelled and management does nothing to stop the burnout that we get into trouble.
[Have any (anonymous, if necessary!) GSW readers had experiences with quality of life issues being addressed thanks to EA_Spouse's publicity, or has it made little difference in your neck of the woods, I wonder?]

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