The Firm

The Firm
Setting the Stage

Virgil | 11 Oct 2005 08:01
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In 1982, computer games were still sold in plastic bags.

Trip Hawkins, a newly-minted millionaire after his time at Apple, wanted to change that. He wanted to give developers more credit for their work, and at the time, any credit at all would be more than most. Just as United Artists was designed with a mission to revolutionize the film industry, Electronic Arts had equally grand ambitions. EA derived not only its name, but it's own mission of revolution, this time in games, from United Artists.

Today, most gamers don't remember a time when Electronic Arts (or as they prefer it now, EA) wasn't an industry leader.

Trip's mission caught the attention of the greatest game designers of the era, and with a phenomenal stable of games for the Atari 800 and Apple II, they took the gaming public by storm. Early EA releases included M.U.L.E., Archon, Hard Hat Mack, Pinball Construction Set and Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One on One.

In terms of commercial success, Hard Hat Mack was a bestseller, Archon was a classic bestseller, and Pinball Construction Set was a classic bestseller. It was a really remarkable debut set of products. - Trip Hawkins

We See Farther
The initial lineup was just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next few years, EA would attract the best talent in the industry, dominating the marketplace. Attracted by the promise of more respect and more credit for their work, Bill Budge, David Maynard, Jon Freeman and Dan Bunten were among the first to sign on.

This was a rather significant change in the industry. Until this point, game designers were barely credited for their work, if they were even mentioned at all. Atari was particularly notorious in its day, leading to the creation of the first "easter egg": a developer credit in Adventure.

More than just credit, developers for early EA products had their names featured prominently on the packaging, and a number of early advertisements and games even featured photographs and interviews with the development team. As a company, early EA was entirely focused on external developers, to the point where they had no internal development teams at all.

That was a very conscious decision on Trip's part to keep a clear separation. EA modeled itself after a record label. The artists were external and on contract, and the internal employees were there to support the artists. Trip never wanted to create a situation where the external artists felt like they were competing for resources with the internal development. - Jeff Johannigman

Expert Involvement
Even in 1982, the trend toward licensing had already begun, with games based on Tron and Star Wars, among others, already in existence. But the first time individual sports stars became involved with a video game was EA's Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One on One, and it proved to be a landmark development for the company. Not only was it an incredible commercial success at a time when computer games weren't doing exceedingly well, but it paved the way for future titles.

Interestingly enough, and unlike most modern games, the namesakes of these titles were actually heavily involved in the game development process. In the process of developing One-on-One, both Julius "Dr. J" Erving and Larry Bird gave pointers to designer Eric Hammond on how to better capture the feel of basketball. Future EA games would expand on this model, with Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer, Earl Weaver Baseball and the now-perennial John Madden Football.

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