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The rise of modern sweatshops

commentary The thought of working at game companies conjures images of fun, fun and more fun. But this has proven far from the truth for some employees at Electronic Arts (EA).

commentary The thought of working at game companies conjures images of fun, fun and more fun. But this has proven far from the truth for some employees at Electronic Arts (EA).

As one of the world's largest game developers, EA dominates headlines for its well-known titles like The Sims, FIFA Soccer, Madden NFL Football and The Lord of the Rings, and is certainly not scrutinised for its operating practices.

But the winds of change are blowing ferociously and software developers at the US$3 billion company have had enough.

Employees and those who have quit or were fired tell of a sorry tale. The real situation is dotcom-esque where able-bodied men and women traipse around like zombies, working non-stop, obscene hours.

They claim the company consistently forces workers to clock 80 hours or more per week. These alleged sweatshop-like conditions have resulted in a lawsuit against EA, which stands accused of failing to pay overtime wages.

A former employee and software developer, Joe Straitiff, has gone on record to tell his story. And it's pretty appalling.

Straitiff claimed EA employees were more or less expected to live at the office. His manager had a neon sign which brightly glowed the words "Open 7 days".

"You shouldn't be able to ask a person to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week for months on end," Straitiff said. "You really fry a person working like that."

After a year and a half at EA, he was fired.

Many developers and designers go the extra mile when a project is underway but things get ugly when work is prolonged. "Once it starts, it doesn't let up until the game ships, which can be up to two years away," wrote one developer who claimed to work for an Atari-owned studio. "It starts with 50 hours, then 60, 70, 80 ... they don't want people to have lives or families."

Workers are used to overtime without pay but it's when they're taken for granted and treated with disrespect -- that would stoke feelings of animosity and dissent.

To every employer, every boss, I'll leave you with this quote from Jason Della Rocca, a program director at advocacy group the International Game Developers Association: "Happy workers are more productive ... happy workers are more creative."