The Firm

The Firm
Setting the Stage

Virgil | 11 Oct 2005 08:01
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These types of titles were another way that EA could reward developers of the day. As a successful company, EA could negotiate deals like these for their contractors that a purely independent studio couldn't. It was collective bargaining at its finest. For the individual developers, meeting with the expert could be a greater reward than the financial ones.

Yeah, especially in the early days, we had those kind of figures involved in the design process. Back when we did Yeager's advance flight simulator, Ned Lerner was meeting with Chuck Yeager on a fairly regular basis. Ned would sit down with General Yeager, show him the program in development, and let him handle the joystick. General Yeager would tell Ned, "Yeah, this doesn't quite feel right, I think you ought to be doing it this way." And on Earl Weaver Baseball, much of the thrill for producer Don Daglow, was in collaborating with Earl Weaver on the design. - Jeff Johannigman

Revolutionizing Sales
EA games weren't released in plastic bags. Taking another cue from the music industry, Trip commissioned "album cover" packaging for their products, with custom artwork for each title. The results ended up as unique flat boxes, with detailed, high quality art, developer credits and game descriptions. This helped the early EA titles stand out among the rest, at least until the rest of the industry followed suit.

I kept track and counted 22 competitors that went to the same printer and used the same album format that we pioneered. However we later had to drop it because with increasingly crowded shelf space the albums got turned sideways ('spined out') and were too thin to see the brands. At that point we began thickening the albums into boxes. - Trip Hawkins

At the same time, EA began to revolutionize the sales and distribution system for games. Up to this point, any company selling software would have their product placed into retail by a general software distributor, who would take a rather significant cut of the sales amount. When Larry Probst arrived at EA in 1984, as VP of Sales, he rapidly grew the sales force and cut out nearly all the distributors, giving EA much higher margins than its contemporaries.

This sales force would have an incredible impact on the industry. Maintaining a distribution channel of this size required more titles than EA was capable of publishing at the time. Their solution was to partner with other developers and publishers to fill in the gaps, as a games-focused distributor themselves. Distribution would be the foundation of EA's initial relationships with Origin Systems, Westwood and Maxis, among others.

Aftershocks
If one were to say that early EA was idealistic, they wouldn't be far from the mark. Certainly, it was a business first and foremost, but like many startups, EA was founded on idealism and with a mission to change the industry. But with such incredible success, the rapid expansion that comes along with going public, company culture changes. Only as EA's culture changed, it pulled the rest of the industry along in its wake.

The first thing that began to change, even in the early '80s, was the developer promotion. Though it never quite regressed back to the early days of Atari - to this day developers still have credits in the game manuals - the active promotion of individual developers has generally faded away. Certain developers, the Sid Meiers and Will Wrights of the world, are still promoted individually, but franchises and brands have long since become the primary focus.

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