November 13, 2004
Employee class action against EA ?
I've just been reading about a possible Class Action against EA by some of their employees seeking unpaid overtime. There is also an article by a 'disgruntled spouse' about the way EA treated her Significant Other with a good personal account of one persons hell. The EA Spouse article is also reprinted at IGDA where there is a discussion about it in their Quality of Life forum
I find myself torn on this issue. I truly believe that some crunch-time is a benefit to games development (as opposed to slipping the ship date) and should be planned for and used. I'm yet to see a game that wouldn't benefit from a little more attention to detail in the final days (*cough* Tiger Woods 2005 *cough*). I feel that in general this crunch time is somewhat balanced out with the slacker constraints during the rest of the project (flexible start times, no clock-on mentality, etc). However some companies abuse this (significantly) because people 'want to work in gaming' and if the articles above are true then some places are turning the entire project into 'crunch time'.
So what happens to the games industry if paying all overtime became mandatory ?
Lets think about this:
Game production costs would increase - but by how much ? Lets say the staffing cost of your development team went up by a factor of 2 (unlikely, but lets just pretend for now) due to overtime.
The thing is that the development team wage cost on most projects is a small proportion of the total cost of the game. I don't know exact figures but it would probably sit somewhere between 10% and 25% of most AAA games total budgets (including marketing). Doubling that cost still only makes it 18-40% of the total cost.
Perhaps game developer wages are too high, I hear you thinking... in which case you don't work in the industry :-) Wages are OK, usually slightly lower than a traditional job for the same employee - only a few earn the megabucks (kind of like the Acting industry). Even so, if compulsory paid overtime starts then you can bet that base wages will drop to cover it.
Logic tells me that paid overtime wouldn't be impossible, as long as you budget for it. The catch is (for me) that if I were to pay people overtime then I'd sure-as-hell want to make sure they worked a full 40-hour week every week of the year, we'd need to clock-on and clock-off every single day. No long lunches, no late arrivals, no playing games during work hours (unless you clocked off)
Why so strict ? If you leave work 15 minutes early each day, then over the course of a year that adds up to over 60 hours, or four extra hours a workday for a month! You can't ask an employer to pay you for every overtime minute you work while expecting to also get paid for the time you don't work.
I enjoy the easy lifestyle working in the games industry. I have plenty of friends who do not enjoy their work and I know that enjoying work is worth a lot of money, but that doesn't give someone the right to exploit me.
Watching with interest...
Posted by Zaph at November 13, 2004 12:54 PM
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Personally I'd be happy with a reasonable 'base wage' - crunch time is something I accept as necessary in the IT industry.
The thing is, there are plenty of game dev companies who don't pay a reasonable base wage. It sucks when you spent 3 years of your life working on a comp sci degree, have IT industry experience and yet you're struggling to make ends meet - i.e. I have trouble paying my bills because my game industry salary is so low.
Posted by: Anonymous at December 2, 2004 11:35 PM
I agree - a reasonable base wage is a necessary thing in the games industry.
Defining what is 'reasonable' is probably a little harder - I've been told that I don't deserve to get paid for working on games because it's not a real job :-).
I know people who make AU$35k and support a family, and people who make AU$100k and have a hard time supporting themselves. The lack of transparency in the industry for wages makes it hard, and having USA wage stats thrown at non-USA people make us feel like paupers. Like yesterday when I heard that "it's not unusual for a programmer to start on US$200k" !
Posted by: Zaph at December 3, 2004 08:05 PM
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