EA Spouse was 15 years ago, and not much has changed in games development

    
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Nothing really changes.

When it arrived back in 2004, EA Spouse felt like a wakeup call. But now it’s easy to mark how long it has been since that infamous posting, and Game Workers Unite UK chair Austin Kelmore has noted that not only has it been 15 years, but not all that much has changed in the game industry. Crunch is still here, even if companies say they don’t crunch; let’s not forget when Rockstar was actively bragging about its crunch period. Even last year, in a retrospective on the landmark diatribe, a producer in EA claimed that crunch was a path to greatness.

Kelmore goes on to note that while many things have stayed the same, there is at least more general awareness and public conversation happening about crunch and the culture surrounding it. Erin Hoffman, the eponymous Spouse herself, has gone on record saying that she doesn’t feel that EA gets enough credit for the changes that the company actually has made to quality of life. Kelmore’s big takeaway, though, is that after 15 years the industry still has a long way to go in terms of truly eliminating and moving beyond crunch as a concept.

Source: Twitter
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Ardra Ventax

The big question in my mind is, does Star Citizen have “crunch”. They seem uniquely able to just say “nope, not ready yet. Someday. ” and apparently this is acceptable to their patrons. Maybe it just takes that kind of courage and conviction, although the word unique applies to SC and CIG in a variety of ways.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

I know Google exists and I can find this out on my own fairly easily, but in my head I’m thinking “What in the world is EA Spouse?” It’s mentioned as if it is something we should know about.

15 years ago? Okay, I get why I don’t know what it is.

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Dankey Kang

EA has a spouse?

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Anthony Clark

I still won’t buy anything from EA.

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rosieposie

The only changes the industry has made since then have mostly been cosmetic. And have become more adept to put a positive spin on the issues. That is all. There will be no changes without legislation. Self-regulation is the great libertarian myth we all want to opt in to, because it sounds nice and feels good.

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Tee Parsley

Had friends who worked for Kingsisle a couple of years ago. They reported that if crunch lasted longer than a month, Kings hired more people to alleviate it. Folks seemed to have a generally positive attitude towards their approach.

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Robert Basler

I worked at EA from 05-09 and EA spouse made a huge difference at the time. The company made a lot of positive changes. Working conditions were good. Most of us worked regular hours then went home. The people who got laid off were the people you expected to get laid off. We had nice holiday parties. After the stock market crash in 08 things did get a bit worse as EA started laying off whole teams again. EA is a big company so experiences definitely vary, but I talk to my friends still at EA, and they’re pretty happy.

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Bruno Brito

Why am i extremely skeptical about this?

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johnwillo

I don’t know. From the article, it sounds like the original EA Spouse agrees with Mr. Basler.

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Bruno Brito

Probably just the words EA and Happy on the same sentence. I’ll try to control the scorn and take a deeper look.

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Crowe

Crunch is just a type of bottleneck. Even if the original impact of the awful times of EA crunch are gone… the time period right before a major milestone (example: game launch) is always going to be a form of crunch. The goal should be to make it less awful than it was 15 years ago. It’s always going to exist.

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Mark Jacobs

Cut the maximum hours per week, compensate with cash/stock (food is not compensation), and make sure crunch lasts only as long as absolutely necessary. And make sure that the folks who can really afford it (publishers, big studios) do the right thing every time. It’s one thing for a small, independent developer to crunch harder and with less bonus compensation (cash is tight but you should always have stock) but for the big publishers, no way, they need to do the right thing, every time.

It really isn’t complicated…

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laelgon

Do you think higher box prices for games would help reduce crunch?

It’s an idea I heard suggested on some podcast recently that got me thinking. The price of games hasn’t really changed in over a decade, despite inflation and the increase in development costs. There are more and more adult gamers with jobs and disposable income for whom the increase to an $80 to $100 price-tag wouldn’t be a big deal, especially if it’s for a quality product that didn’t require developers to suffer through abusive crunch schedules. The obvious issue would be the worst offenders not changing anything and simply profiting more.

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Mark Jacobs

Well, it should but I don’t have any faith that certain publishers/devs will do the right thing. Some will, others won’t.

However, I do think that a higher box price would mean that publishers *could* remove RMTs of all kinds. While I was at EA, the idea of raising the box price was discussed endlessly. The only reason that box prices aren’t higher these days is due to two major events – 1) Digital Distribution; 2) RMTs/Games as a service/etc. While it is true that certain parts of game development have gotten cheaper over time, others have gotten a lot more expensive so it’s a bit of a washout.

If I was running one of the studios/publishers, I’d raise the box price for any game that we could put out a trial version for (so people can see what they will get) and have no Day 1 DLC. Also, no paid lootboxes, ever. I’d also invest games that have a longer play/replay time so that people feel like they got great value from their purchase. This would, in turn, lead to a higher pickup rate for expansions, the trial would cut back on refunds, and the no lootbox/PTW stance would help generate goodwill for the publisher. However, for games that are fully connected and require the cloud or cold iron, we would have to have some kind of DLC since the one thing that the cloud is not is cheap. I’ve got some ideas in my head about how to do that in a fair way but who knows if they would work.

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Armsbend

A two or even three year sequel cycle would do much to re-ignite fan appreciation of games, up the quality and ease up on the employees.

It’ll never happen until a few die out though.

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Mark Jacobs

AB, in theory you are correct, but some folks will still abuse it unfortunately.

So much of the problem would go away if teams felt like they were really benefiting (besides simply keeping their jobs) for working their asses off.

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Armsbend

It’s almost like a classic study we did in college economics of why cartels generally don’t work. One member of the cartel will always sell at at non-agreed upon price to get a leg up on the other members.

The only examples of cartels that work are the illicit drug economy and OPEC – likely due to the fact that violence can be employed other than market forces only.

Anyway, someone will always cheat.

At first I thought Battlefield was going to eventually win because of their two year schedule but the more the original DICE was pushed out and it became more modern EA-like the more the quality of the original product deteriorated.

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Mark Jacobs

Yep. It’s too bad because this isn’t actually a hard problem to solve. And the problem is that if we as an industry don’t get better and the right circumstances happen, unions could force their hands. There are not many reasons why I think high-paid folks would form a union but this is one of them. It’s in the best interests, even investors (in the long term) but good luck getting them to do things the right way. It has, in general, gotten better, but I interview a ton of people and well, it’s still pretty bad out there.

Any of us can make a bad game but this is one of the issues that is so easy to solve in the vast majority of cases but we don’t. And the shame is that it’s not just the big publishers or big developers, it can and does happen at smaller studios as well. We can be so much more than we are, it’s such a shame.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Unions? Really? C’mon.

The computer games industry is in the mess it is because the competition for those jobs is ridiculously in favor of the employers (“living the dream!”). Unions only work if they hold monopoly power on the workforce and that ain’t gonna happen.

For context look at the history of the Screen Actors Guild and ask yourself if you think the same thing can happen in the gaming industry. The things that made SAG even remotely possible simply don’t exist elsewhere.

Until the industry’s employers grow up they’ll never hold on to the best and the brightest engineering talent. Non-gaming development can be just as exciting AND have sane working conditions.

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Mark Jacobs

Actually PJ, I do think it can happen under the right circumstances. BTW, I’m not saying I want them to happen (I actually don’t) but my point is just like loot boxes, the gaming industry needs to do something about certain things before we are forced to. I said the same thing about paid loot boxes years ago, and look at where we are at today. All it takes is the right combination of events and all sorts of things can happen.

And yeah, I do think something like SAG could happen. Conditions were worse in the film industry than they are now in the game industry when the unions formed. And keep in mind that some states are “right to work” states so there is no monopoly, yet Hollywood is very unionized.

And, BTW, as an industry we do have some of the best and brightest, as does Google, Facebook, etc. Some engineers prioritize working on games (at least for a little while) more than the money/conditions that they will find at other non-gaming places. As usual, it depends on the individual. I chose to make games over the much more lucrative and sane choice of practicing law or working in the government. I just wanted to make games that badly that I was willing to leave that part of my life behind me. And I know I’m anything but unusual in that regard.

The major thing that is holding back unions in the gaming industry right now is that the pay is a lot better than it used to be. That’s due to a number of reasons but we went through another Great Recession (or worse) and if some of Big Tech was hit with the kind of changes politicians across the world are talking about, yeah, things could change again.

And while the employers have lots of power, working conditions, wages, benefits, etc. are indeed better in the game industry than they have ever been. Far from perfect, but so much better and we can do better still.

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Neurotic

Good grief, 15 years? I was still getting all my news from magazines back then. I remember PC Gamer UK did a big article on EA Spouse.

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Robert Basler

Just renewed my PC gamer subscription. It’s still great (they usually have a big sale for Black Friday.)

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Crowe

I pick up one every now and then… usually when I’m in the airport between flights. The quality of the writing has much decreased and they love to do major filler articles like top 100 lists instead of in-depth interviews or anything really solid. Definitely not worth the price of the sub for me… and it’s pretty cheap!