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They Saw Farther – An Early History of EA

Electronic Arts is a ridiculously huge mega-publisher that owns half of the gaming business. Theres no doubt about that. And once you reach that level, you usually end up being the bad guy – just look at Microsoft. However, theres one thing thats easy to forget: all of these companies started somewhere. Thanks to todays feature on Gamasutra, we get a look at how Electronic Arts became the uber-conglomerate that they are today.

Trip Hawkins, early employee of Apple and founder of Electronic Arts, sat down with Jeffrey Fleming and discussed the early days of EA and how the company came to be. In 1975, Hawkins saw his first microprocessor and decided that in 7 years, enough technology would be available to make his company a reality. Oddly enough, it happened just like that.

Hawkins managed to get into Apple Computers in 1978, when there were just 50 employees, and by 1982 he had made enough money off of Apples IPO that he could start EA. Once the company was started, Hawkings started hiring programmers and releasing games. Thanks to good fortune and wise hiring decisions, EA had a great year:

It was a pleasant surprise that the media quickly embraced my vision and lifted the profile of the company. In hindsight, my choices of the first round of products turned out amazingly well. Of the first six games, three of them ultimately made the Computer Gaming World Hall of Fame, and a fourth one charted on the bestseller lists of the day.

However, not everything was going to be smooth sailing. Shortly afterwards, gaming hit a wall and imploded:

Ataris meltdown created a tsunami that wiped out public interest in games, retail support, media interest, and gave gaming a stigma that lasted a decade. I made a conscious decision to ignore Atari and to focus on the next generation of technology. We had to operate like the Fremen of Dune, recycling our own saliva to live in the desert, to survive. We had to rebuild the industry brick by brick over a period of years.

After making it through the market collapse, Hawkins then made the one move that forever cemented EA into gaming history: he signed John Madden as a celebrity endorsement for his football game.

I picked John because I wanted a design partner that could help us make the game authentic but also have selling-power from his name on the cover. After signing him, I flew to Denver with my programmer and producer and went over my game design. We spent two whole days on the train with him going over an incredibly long list of details about football and it helped me finish the design properly. Wed get together periodically after that initial session to review our progress, and John would yell and scream about details we had wrong, and it was a lot of fun!

As with any other company, Electronics Arts was founded on ingenuity and the desire to innovate. If you add that to hard work and luck, for better or worse, you get the industry we have today. Check out the rest of the article over on Gamasutra. Its a really interesting read.

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