Is EA killing BioWare? Part 3 of 4

by manylaughs on August 15, 2012

To EA, all employees are widgets

In corporate mind-think, one MMO programmer is totally replaceable by any other MMO programmer. One environment artist is the same as any other environment artist. They’re all widgets, right?

Like so many American companies, Electronic Arts (EA) cycles through employees. They keep expenses and benefit costs low by employing a lot of contractors. Even long time employees (Are there any?) are never safe, as EA has had several restructurings – hiring and firings – over the last few years. To EA, employees are as interchangeable as the batteries in your TV remote.

BioWare in Canada has been recognized six times since 2004 as one of that country’s Top 100 Employers, leading Canada “in offering exceptional working conditions and benefits.” According to develop, BioWare, Canada, provides employees with time off after completing a project, a seven-day holiday break at Christmas, three weeks annual leave and a 7-week, paid sabbatical for employees after seven years. BioWare is one of the best places to work in Canada.

BioWare in the US? Not so much.

Looking through comments from US BioWare employees who have posted reviews on glassdoor.com – a website that allows employees to rate their employers – the general consensus is that the company pays well, but management and job uncertainty undermine their product. The over-use of contractors and job uncertainty is one theme that comes up repeatedly.

“Unstable future, your job is one failure away from being removed…”

“Employs a ridiculous amount of contractors with almost no capability for advancement into full-time positions as the company is too stingy to pay for benefits.”

“Over two-thirds of the employees are contract workers.”

“The large corporate mogul of EA opens doors but closes independent thought. Only on the micro-level may creativity thrive… Long ‘assembly-line’ like production pipelines turn great ideas into watered-down results…”

“Unstable future…” “[R]idiculous amount of contractors…” “[A]ssembly-line-like production…” EA-BioWare in the US sounds more like a 20th Century car company than a 21st Century gaming company.

Developing a video game is a highly creative process. There are environment artists and animation artists and content designers and quest writers and so on. It’s a business filled to the brim with creative people, many of whom a smart company would have under contract for life.

But EA doesn’t seem to get this. Which makes you wonder if EA really understands the business they’re in.

Making a video game is not like building a car. EA seems to think anyone can stand on the video game assembly line and screw in the bumper. But all those artists, writers, and creative types are not interchangeable. Only R. A. Salvatore can write the Drizzt books and only Monet could paint those water lilies. Unlike the workers on Henry Ford’s assembly line, one creative worker can not be easily replaced by another creative worker.

EA is employing a staid, very tired, business model to the gaming industry. It’s an approach that yields mediocrity at best and failure at worse.

And what happens to people who feel like they’re just widgets? They have no loyalty to your company and they leave.

Tomorrow, in Part 4, BioWare, somebody that I used to know.

Is EA killing BioWare? Part 1 of 4

Is EA killing BioWare? Part 2 of 4

Is EA killing BioWare? Part 4 of 4

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