Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins had a lifelong fascination with games. "I fell in love with complex board games like Strat-O-Matic and Dungeons & Dragons," he told us. "I realized I was making invaluable social connections from playing games and that my brain was more active."
"In the summer of 1975 I learned about the invention of the microprocessor and about the first retail store where a consumer could rent a timesharing terminal to use from home," he remembered. "That very day I committed to found EA in 1982. I figured that it would take seven years for enough computing hardware to get into homes to create an audience for the computer games that I wanted to make."
After graduating from Harvard, Hawkins moved across the country to pursue an MBA at Stanford, a decision that placed him at ground zero of the personal computer revolution.
"When I finished my education in 1978 I got a job at Apple. When I started there, we had only fifty employees and had sold only 1,000 computers in the history of the company, most of them in the prior year. Four years later we were a Fortune 500 company with 4,000 employees and nearing $1 billion in annual revenue."
Machines that had once filled entire rooms at universities could now be had for less than $500 dollars and fit nicely on a corner desk in the family recreation room. Affordable microcomputers like the Apple II, Commodore 64, and Atari 400/800 brought real number-crunching power to the average person, allowing them to figure their income taxes, write school reports, and of course, play games.
Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins
Flush with cash from Apple’s IPO, Hawkins knew that it was time for him to make his move. "Right on schedule, I resigned from Apple in January, 1982, but they convinced me to stay a bit longer. I finally left for good in April and on my own I incorporated EA on May 28, 1982. I personally funded it for the next six months. Initially, I worked by myself out of my home, and then in August began using an office at Sequoia Capital, where I also began hiring the early employees." San Mateo, California would become their permanent headquarters for many years until a 1998 move to nearby Redwood City.
The only thing left to do was come up with a name. "The original name had been Amazin' Software. But I wanted to recognize software as an art form and wanted to change it to SoftArt. But Dan Bricklin of Software Arts asked us not to use that name. So, in October of 1982 I called a meeting of our first twelve employees and our outside marketing agency and we brainstormed and decided to change it to Electronic Arts."
From the beginning, Hawkins had an ambitious view of what games could be. "We learn by doing," he said, "and computer simulation was the most efficient way to do this. I wanted to help the world transition from brain-deadening media like broadcast television to interactive media that would connect people and help them grow."
Hawkins also wanted to properly credit and compensate the talent that produced games, giving them the same respect that artists in other media enjoyed. He envisioned Electronic Arts as a publishing company that would be known for its quality and professionalism, working with the best independent talent to make the computer game industry equivalent with film, books, or music.
Electronic Arts shipped its first titles, Hard Hat Mack, Pinball Construction Set, Archon, M.U.L.E., Worms?, and Murder on the Zinderneuf in the spring of 1983. The games were packaged in unique gatefold sleeves, with the designer’s names on the front and an elegant graphic design that gave them the hip appearance of rock albums.
A majority of Electronic Arts' 1983 line-up. From left to right: Hard Hat Mack, Pinball Construction Set, Archon, M.U.L.E., Worms?, Murder on the Zinderneuf, Axis Assassin, Word Flyer and The Last Gladiator
"It was a pleasant surprise that the media quickly embraced my vision and lifted the profile of the company," Hawkins remembered. "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."
EA's rock star artists, from the infamous "We See Farther" 1983 advertisement.
Left to Right, Top: Mike Abbott (Hard Hat Mack), Dan Bunten (M.U.L.E.), Jon Freeman (Archon designer), Anne Westfall (Archon programmer), Bill Budge (Pinball Construction Set) Bottom: Matt Alexander (Hard Hat Mack), John Fields (Axis Assassin), David Maynard (Worms?)