[Marxism] Programming sweatshop

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 2 07:39:42 MST 2004

Santa's sweatshop
Electronic Arts developers work night and day to crank out hits like 
"Madden NFL 2005." But now the elves are revolting.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Katharine Mieszkowski, salon.com

Dec. 2, 2004  |  The hottest new game from Electronic Arts these days 
isn't "Madden NFL 2005," a new installment of "The Sims," or the latest 
title in the James Bond series "GoldenEye: Rogue Agent."

No, the company's unexpected smash hit is a Web-based soap opera of 
sorts. Call it "Electronic Arts: Rogue Employer."

The characters are some of the company's current and former employees -- 
and their families -- who have created an addictive drama simply by 
posting accusations online that one of the industry's largest computer 
game shops, with revenues of $2.96 billion in its last fiscal year, 
routinely squeezes hundreds of hours of uncompensated overtime from its 
programmers and artists.

On Nov. 9, fed up after watching her fiancé work 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., 
seven days a week, with the occasional Saturday night off at 6:30 p.m. 
for "good behavior," a woman calling herself only "EA Spouse" posted a 
lament online titled "EA: The Human Story." 
(http://www.livejournal.com/users/ea_spouse/) The crux of her complaint: 
At Electronic Arts the long hours of crunch time, typical in the game 
industry in the final weeks before a big deadline or during efforts to 
rescue a faltering project, had expanded to encompass the entire 
development cycle.

"Every step of the way, the project remained on schedule," she wrote. 
"The extended hours were deliberate and planned; the management knew 
what they were doing as they did it. The love of my life comes home late 
at night complaining of a headache that will not go away and a 
chronically upset stomach, and my happy supportive smile is running out."

Since her tale of woe went live, it's drawn 3,318 comments and counting 
on the original Web page, and hundreds more over at the geek news site 
Slashdot. The responses to EA Spouse's story assure her that she and her 
partner are not alone: Posters joke with a gallows humor about their own 
experiences at E.A. doing "hard time" at "14 hours a day, 7 days a week."

One claimed to work 179 days out of 180, averaging 85 to 90 hours a 
week. And just a few days after EA Spouse posted her story, a software 
engineer fired from Electronic Arts posted his own story using his real 
name, Joe Straitiff. Among his accusations: His manager had hung a sign 
in the office that read "Open 7 days."

The criticism of Electronic Arts is hardly limited to online venting by 
geeks and their loved ones. The company is now facing a class action 
lawsuit that, if certified, could encompass hundreds of current and 
former workers at the company, including animators, modelers and 
environmental artists. The plaintiffs are seeking back pay for 
uncompensated overtime.

So much for the fantasy job of playing games all day for a living.

The uproar at Electronic Arts is a sign of yet another gut check for 
high-tech workers. We've come a long way from the dot-com boom days just 
a few years ago, when programmers and digital artists were celebrated 
for their tireless ability to work inhuman hours in pursuit of the 
start-up dream: creating something so new, so quickly it would make them 
all zillionaires. Back then, members of the high-tech labor force 
considered themselves a privileged elite, the backbone of the way new 
economy. Unions were for lefty wimps, antiquated relics of a bygone era, 
and Silicon Valley's ability to trounce all competition was what made it 

How quickly things have changed. Today, squeezed on the one side by 
outsourcing and low-priced foreign labor, and on the other by employers 
demanding more work for lower wages, programmers and designers are no 
longer keyboard-jockey heroes of the digital age. Instead, they are a 
new era's commodity workers, reduced to desperately suing to try to get 
paid for the hours they work or publicly embarrassing their employers 
into at least giving them a free weekend now and again. In the new 
standard operating procedure, crunch time is all the time. And there's 
little that anyone can do to help.



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