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Video game developers used to call it “crunch time” or “the death schedule.” Now they’ve found another term for their 80-hour work weeks: overtime.

A group of employees at Electronic Arts – the enormo-publisher of hits including Madden and the Sims–is filing a class action lawsuit seeking unpaid overtime. The dam broke early this week when an anonymous self-described “disgruntled spouse” of an EA worker posted a blog flaming EA’s exploitative practices.

“Never should it be an option to punish one’s workforce with ninety hour weeks; in any other industry the company in question would find itself sued out of business so fast its stock wouldn’t even have time to tank,” the blogger wrote. “In its first weekend, Madden 2005 grossed $65 million. EA’s annual revenue is approximately $2.5 billion. This company is not strapped for cash; their labor practices are inexcusable.”

Now the Net is flooded with stories of developers caught in the perpetual crunch. One person chimed in saying that “white collar slavery is alive and well in the games industry.”

Not every game company is run like a prison camp. But I’ve witnessed my share of death schedules over 10 years of reporting on the industry. It’s not uncommon to see a pillow and blanket under a cubicle desk. Of course, there are plenty of developers—particular those in their early 20s–who want to pull the late shift. I remember one boss telling me that he had to ask some of his guys to go home by midnight. But what happens when these night owls get families? How many more divorces does the game industry need to endure before taking care of its peeps? If this business–and medium–is going to mature, it needs to create an environment that respects, and compensates, its maturing employees. Otherwise, it’s kids’ stuff.

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