Trip Hawkins joined Apple in 1978 just after completing his MBA at Stanford. The company had released its Apple II computer the year before and the machine was beginning its meteoric ascent. By 1980 the Bay Area company had its initial public offering of stock and made overnight millionaires of many of its employees.
Hawkins saw first hand how low-cost personal computers from Apple, Atari, and Commodore were being rapidly assimilated into American life. Machines of sufficient computing power were now on the market to support sophisticated game experiences that went well beyond the simple hand-eye exercises that were predominant on consoles.
The time was right for a new computer game publishing company, one that would cater to adults and put video games on equal artistic footing with books, films, and music.
In 1982 Hawkins left Apple and formed Electronic Arts, modeling his new company on the example of the United Artists film studio in which artists maintained creative control of their work.
The company's first games were released in 1983 and included such future classics as Dani Bunten's M.U.L.E. and Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set. The packaging of the games was notable for its hip "album cover" graphic design and most importantly, for its emphasis on crediting the developer.
The company was off to a strong start but fallout from the Atari crash began to undermine Hawkin's original business plan. Although Electronic Arts was focused on PC game publishing, retailers were understandably hesitant. Hawkins responded by cultivating relationships with retailers one by one and building a strong sales team that could deal with each directly. As the eighties progressed, Electronic Arts began developing its sports games franchises with Jordan vs. Bird: One on One and Earl Weaver Baseball. The Madden NFL series saw its first iteration as John Madden Football in 1988 as well.
By the end of the decade the home console was finally emerging from its post-crash deep freeze thanks to the efforts of Nintendo. The Nintendo Entertainment System proved that a market still existed for console games, and Sega was preparing to enter the fray with its new 16-bit Genesis machine. Previously focused on PC titles, Hawkins saw this as an opportunity for Electronic Arts to dive into console publishing. The Genesis utilized the Motorola 68000 processor -- a chip that Electronic Arts was already familiar with from its years of PC development -- making it an easy platform to work with.
Electronic Arts was used to publishing games its own way though, and was unwilling to conform to Sega's restrictive licensing terms. Having already reverse-engineered the Genesis, Hawkins threatened to release games without Sega's approval unless the hardware company offered a more favorable deal. With the Genesis' 1989 North American launch fast approaching, Sega relented to Electronic Arts' demands. The result turned out to be a windfall for both companies, as Electronic Arts was able to quickly turn out quality titles like Syndicate, King's Bounty, The Immortal, Starflight, and John Madden Football, ensuring a strong line-up of games for the Genesis.
By 1991 Hawkins was ready to move on to the next big thing -- 3D polygons and low-cost CD-ROMs. He appointed Larry Probst CEO and ultimately left the company in 1994 so that he could put all of his efforts into creating the 3DO, a machine that he believed would revolutionize the game industry.