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Electronic Arts and Working In the Game Industry

Somewhere along the way, "making video games" certainly must have passed "becoming the President" and "playing football" as the most common dream of kids everywhere. Ask any kid if they'd like the chance to make their own video games and watch their eyes light up. That was definitely my dream as an Atari-playing kid.

The 1980s were the days when games (and entire operating systems) were coded by one or two guys, working in a basement somewhere. Things have changed: commercial games are multi million-dollar ventures, worked on by teams ranging in size from 20 to over 200 people.

What's it like to do that for a living? Recently some alarming claims have been made by formed Electronic Arts employees, discussing mandatory 70+ hour weeks for six months or more at a time, with no overtime compensation. You can read those disturbing claims by the spouse of an EA employee, another bleak EA employment story here, or read a less-unpleasant paper by a CMU professor who spent time at EA.

I was disappointed to see these revelations. Back in the early 1980s, game developers were anonymous and were never given credit. Activision was the first company to buck this trend, putting the designers' name on the box. EA took it even further, treating their game developers as stars and artists in their own right, featuring the designers' names and pictures on the game packaging. One encouraging aspect of that professor's paper is his observation that the various product teams at EA are highly independent of each other. Perhaps not all of the product teams and managers are that bad.

Still interested in getting into the game industry? Good, that's the spirit! One of the best resources is Gamasutra, a site run by and for those who work in the game industry. They have articles about the development process behind many games, and job listings so that you can see which skills are in demand.

Random thought:Does anybody remember Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon? Remember the Scumsoft offices, where sadistic managers walked along the cubicle aisles, whipping the game programmers like galley slaves?

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