Electronic Arts is one of the world’s biggest and most recognisable brands in the computer games industry. It has relatively long and largely successful history and, unlike Atari for example, it has remained stable throughout all those years. No changes of ownership, buyouts or bankruptcies – just a forward looking innovative company which still leads the pack today.
The company was started by Trip Hawkins who, in 1982, was in the early stages of developing his software company which was named Amazin’ Software. At the time Hawkins was a relatively senior Apple employee who was able to use $200,000 of his own money to kick-start the venture. An extra $2 million was invested from a group of investors which included Sequoia Capital.
This was no tiny operation and right from the off, Hawkins had assembled a team of employees which included a couple pilfered from Apple, one from Atari and a former Stanford classmate. Their first office was located in San Mateo in California and it was here that a substantial business plan was formed. By 1983, Amazin’ Software had begun to produce games software and early releases such as Pinball Construction Set and Archon were successful releases which are recognised today as quality pieces of work.
The idea for the name changed came about in October 1982 at an employees retreat. Hawkins has been aware for some time that his employees were not altogether satisfied with the Amazin’ Software moniker and this retreat was an opportunity to brainstorm on the subject of a new name. Various themes were floated in an all-night session and ultimately the name Electronic Arts won the day. Other suggestions along the same lines had been Electronic Artists and Blue Light, a contemporary reference to the Tron movie.
An early obstacle for Trip Hawkins and Electronic Arts was the retailers reluctance to buy products from a relatively new and unknown publishing house. It took some work and coercion for Hawkins and his marketing employees to convince retailers to stock their products – it was Hawkins wish that Electronic Arts would sell direct to retailers without using the distributors as a middle man. Despite these hurdles, revenue was a healthy $5 million in 1983 and $11 million in the following year. 1984 saw revenue of $18 million – clearly Electronic Arts was doing something right.
Using Electronic Arts as a name, one of the innovations Hawkins et al were able to introduce was the use of album-style covers for their software. The company wanted to be thought of as an artistic production company rather than a nuts and bolts programming venue and this helped EA attract some of the most talented software developers Pinball Construction Set was a notable example of this clever business practice but whether it contributed to the huge success of that game is unclear.
At this stage, Electronic Arts was purely a producer of games for the home computer market but towards the end of the 1980s it became clear that developing for consoles was going to be a major part of the future. 1991 also brought the departure of Trip Hawkins from the day to day running of EA, although he remained on the board. His new venture was 3DO, begun in cooperation with EA among others.
Part Two follows…..