On November 10, 2004 a blog was posted on Live Journal. It was called "EA: The Human Story" and it was posted by ea_spouse. It documented the physical and mental toll exacted on a team of developers working for the large video game publisher Electronic Arts. The blog post went viral and garnered 4661 comments. Most were posted within a few days of the original blog, but the conversation went on for some time. The last post was made on June 6, 2011. The original post, as well as the comments can be found here: EA: The Human Story The article received a further 1143 comments when it was re-posted at Slashdot: The Human Story - Slashdot 1143 comments The EA Spouse affair was immediately picked up by game and media sites:
Kotaku: Nov 10, 2004: Fear and loathing at Electronic Arts_Kotaku
Gamasutra: Nov 11, 2004: 'EA Spouse' Weblog Raises Issues On Game Development Quality Of Life
CNET News: Nov 11, 2004: No fun for game developers?
It also prompted academic interest:
Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter. 2006. Canadian Journal of Communication vol 31(3): EA Spouse and the Crisis of Video Game Labour
And it prompted or exposed a few other 'tell-alls' including Rockstar Spouse (LINK) and 38 Studios Spouse (LINK). The first one documented here is a post on Live Journal by Joe Straitiff about his experience at Maxis, a studio acquired by Electronic Arts. It received considerable attention because it was seen as corroborating the claims of EA Spouse, as Straitiff had worked at EA and used his real name. The second is a Live Journal blog that was cross-posted to 1Up. It was posted on September 9, 2004, by a game development student in San Francisco under the tagline 'ninjadan'. It gained attention after being linked to from the EA Spouse comments.
EA Spouse and related stories came at a time when the industry was doing some soul searching about what has come to be termed Quality of Life. In April of 2004 the International Game Developers Association Quality of Life Committee published a report called "Quality of Life in the Game Industry: Challenges and Best Practices". That report is archived in a separate post on this website. The report in itself was a wake-up call as it was the first time that an attempt was made to systematically examine the working conditions of video game developers. The report highlighted high levels of turnover in the industry, long work hours, issues of compensation, and burnout. But the additional essay by EA Spouse added a human dimension that captured the attention of the industry.
Simultaneous to the coverage of the EA Spouse blog, the news was announced that a class action lawsuit against EA from employees about unpaid overtime. According to reports, EA was aware of the suit in July, 2004. The suit challenged Senate Bill 88 (2000) which exempted some professionals employed in the software business from paying time-and-a-half overtime pay. Jamie Kirschenbaum was the lead plaintiff representing "image production employees". He was employed by EA's Redwood City studio to work on James Bond Everything or Nothing and Lord of the Rings: The Third Age. A second suit was filed with similar claims but for the programmers at EA.
Mania: Nov 12, 2004: Electronic Arts: Innocent or Guilty?
1UP: Nov 12, 2004: EA Faces Class-Action Overtime Suit_ News from 1UP
CNET News: Nov 12, 2004: Electronic Arts faces overtime lawsuit
Kotaku: Nov 12, 2004: EA faces class action suit
GameSpot: Nov 11, 2004: Employees readying class-action lawsuit against EA
Following the end of the law suit, EA Spouse revealed her identity. It turns out that she was not just a disgruntled bystander blogging in isolation. Her name is Erin Hoffman and her fiance (in 2004) was Leander Hasty. Hasty was one of the named plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit that programmers brought against Electronic Arts for unpaid overtime. With this information it was surmised that the team and working environment referred to in EA Spouse was the EA Los Angeles studio working on Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth. In both class action suits, the plaintiffs (employees) were successful. The graphic artists received a $15.6 million settlement and the programmers received a $14.9 million settlement.
Gamasutra: Oct 5, 2005: Gamasutra - News - Electronic Arts Settles Overtime Suit, Will Reclassify Entry-Level Artists
Gamasutra: Apr 26, 2006: Gamasutra - News - Programmers Win EA Overtime Settlement, EA_Spouse Revealed
GameSpot: Apr 26, 2006: EA settles OT dispute, disgruntled spouse outed
This is not the only class action law suit that has been laid against video game publishers/studios. The two settlements at EA and the settlements at Sony and Vivendi listed below totaled more than $39 million and affected over 1200 employees. The settlements also resulted in the reclassification of many employees to be below the pay and responsibility grade which would make them exempt from receiving overtime pay.
Wilson v. Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc: Schubert Jonckheer & Kolbe LLP: Employment Wage and Hour Cases
Aitken v. Vivendi Universal Games: Vivendi sued by programmer over employment law breaches _ GamesIndustry International
Kirschenbaum v. Electronic Arts & Hasty v. Electronic Arts: Schubert Jonckheer & Kolbe LLP: Our Results
The story of EA Spouse is now firmly rooted in the collective consciousness of the industry and prompted others to follow the lead of whistleblowing on the internet (see the post on Rockstar Spouse). Erin Hoffman emerged as a spokesperson for quality of life issues and sat for a time on the Board of Directors at the IGDA. She established the now-defunct online watchdog site Gamewatch, which is set-up as a discussion forum to engage in self-policing of game industry and studio practices. She continues in her role of a public figure and also comments on broader issues of interest to the game and fantasy fiction communities. Some additional 'fall-out' that could be attributed to the EA Spouse blog and the class action suits are internal changes at Electronic Arts documented as follows:
Kotaku reports on promised changes at EA: Dec 3, 2004: EA promises changes in leaked internal memo
Joystiq reports on positive employee survey at EA: Apr 8, 2008: EA employee survey shows positive change
Erin Hoffman herself recently applauded EA Tiburon, developers of the company's NCAA and Madden NFL games, for their newly-positive work environment:
Brendan Sinclair on Gamesindustry International: Mar. 28, 2013: EA Spouse says EA doesn't get enough credit
There was also some printed follow-up on the 'Quality of Life Movement'.
GameSetWatch: June 21, 2007: Game Developer Revisits EA Spouse, Three Years On
Gamasutra: May 13, 2008: Quality of Life? Does Anyone Still Give a Damn?
More articles about the broad topic of Quality of Life are archived under the post "Quality of Life Discussions".
A sidebar to the EA Spouse story is that of EA Louse. In early October, 2010 a person using the tagline "EA Louse" posted on a WordPress blog about his/her experiences working on WarHammer at Bioware Mythic (owned by Electronic Arts). They then went on to comment on the making of Star Wars: The Old Republic at Bioware. In contrast to other whistleblowing episodes like EA Spouse, Joe Straitiff and even the later Rockstar Spouse and 38 Studios Spouse posts, EA Louse was received with negativity and derision in much of the online space. In his post he says that he is being laid-off from the company and many interpreted his words as purely vindictive. However, others have supported his comments in light of hindsight - they say that much of what EA Louse said about the future of both those games, did indeed occur. Archived material from both sides is presented below.
Game Revolution (this includes the original post which has since been taken down from WordPress): EA Artist, Soon to Be Laid Off, Burns EA Management
NetworkWorld: Industry reacts to EA Louse
Eurogamer: BioWare: "It was sad to read EA Louse"
The Escapist: David Jaffe F-Bombs the EA Louse
Games Brief: EA Louse, you are no EA Spouse
GameFAQs Message Board: This guy called it in 2010
The Ancient Gaming Noob blog: Star Wars: The Old Republic - Two Years After EA Louse