Things move quickly in the publishing business, and Hawkins was already looking ahead. "After scoring a massively favorable license with Sega, I knew I had a big bull's-eye drawn on my chest, because the console guys would make sure I could never repeat what I had done with the Genesis. And on the PC side, nothing was going on that would advance the cause of the gamers and the game industry," he recalled.
Hawkins always had a keen awareness of technology cycles. "I knew the Genesis would give EA a great ride at least until 1994, but was afraid for what would happen after that," he said. Even as his company was diving into cartridge-based games, Hawkins sensed that a future of faster processors, low-priced memory, and easy to print CDs was just around the corner.
"I thought the industry needed [a console] to push forward with 3D graphics and optical disc media and networking capability. Nobody was doing anything, so it seemed like the window was open," he said. Wanting to pursue development on the next generation of console hardware, Hawkins appointed Larry Probst as EA's new CEO in Fall 1991, and started a new company called the San Mateo Software Group, which soon evolved into The 3DO Company. Hawkins remained as chairman of the board for Electronic Arts until his resignation in July of 1994.
When Frank Gibeau, Electronic Arts' Executive Vice President and General Manager of North American Publishing interviewed at the company back in 1991, he was fresh out of graduate school and looking to get in on the ground floor.
"From the moment I walked into the lobby to drop my résumé off, I fell in love with the place. It was filled with Nerf balls, there were monitors going with games everywhere, and everybody was really laid back," he recalled. "People were playing games, shouting, yelling, and running around. It felt like a really cool company on first impression. I just went for it and interviewed like hell, got the job and never looked back."
Starting out in EA’s marketing department, Gibeau could tell that the company was moving into a new phase. "There was a vibe inside the company that felt like things were really going to go fast.," he recalled. "There was a lot of stuff that was about to pop, and everybody had this keen sense that we were going to be part of something big.
"We didn’t know what it was going to be, I don’t think anybody had a business plan or a vision that said, ‘This is what the Sega Genesis is going to be like and this is why video games are going to be huge.’ The one guy who had the game plan was Larry Probst. Positioning the company there was going to be a big risk but it could have a big pay out, it could change the company and it did happen really fast,"
When Nintendo brought its Super Nintendo Entertainment System to North America in the fall of 1991, Sega had already gained a significant portion of the marketplace. Over the next four years, Sega and Nintendo battled for the number one spot in a vigorous competition that expanded the video game market, edging it closer to mainstream entertainment.
Electronic Arts benefited from the success of both companies, bringing its Madden, NBA, NHL, and Strike franchises to the SNES, while continuing to enjoy healthy sales on the Genesis.
"So, a lot of things came together," Gibeau said. "And there was this explosion of activity and growth."
When Electronic Arts was founded, most development was done by individual programmers who had a personal vision of a game that they wanted to create. However, by 1990 the days of game designers working out of the garage were long gone.
Large teams of specialized talent were now required to create the complex and visually exciting games that consumers demanded. Development teams needed the kind of money, organization, and marketing that only big studios could provide. EA had grown along with the industry and now that things were booming, it was critical for the company to keep pace.
Electronic Arts purchased its first outside development studio, Distinctive Software, in 1991. Based near Vancouver, British Columbia, Distinctive had previously worked on the Hardball and Test Drive series’ for EA’s competitor Accolade. After joining EA, they set to work on several of EA’s sports franchises and created the long-running Need for Speed series. Distinctive was later renamed EA Canada and is now one of the largest studios in Electronic Arts’ organization.
In 1992, Richard Garriott’s Origin Systems joined the fold. The Austin-based studio would go on to develop new volumes in Garriott’s Ultima and Chris Roberts’ Wing Commander series as well as the groundbreaking Ultima Online. Other important games from Origin included Crusader, Privateer, and Warren Spector’s System Shock. AH-64D Longbow, the first installment in the Jane’s Combat Simulations series, was also developed at Origin.
Despite its successes, Origin had difficulty integrating with EA and in 1999, after the release of Ultima IX, Garriott left the company. Later, several of Origin’s high-profile projects were canceled and the company was dissolved in 2004.
EA’s next big acquisition came in 1995 when it purchased designer Peter Molyneux’s UK studio, Bullfrog. Electronic Arts had previously published Bullfrog’s Populous, Power Monger, Syndicate, Theme Park, and Magic Carpet games. As a division of Electronic Arts, Bullfrog went on to produce Dungeon Keeper and its sequel.
After spending time as a vice president of EA, Molyneux left in 1997 to form the independent Lionhead Studios. At Lionhead he created Black & White, which was published by EA in 2001. His old, studio Bullfrog, was eventually absorbed into EA UK in 2004.
Maxis was a company built on designer Will Wright’s ability to turn his intellectual obsessions into entertaining computer games. Influenced by system dynamics and architectural theory, he created SimCity in 1989.
The success of SimCity launched an enduring franchise that included SimEarth, SimAnt, SimCity 2000, and SimCopter. When EA bought Maxis in 1997, Wright set to work on a new project that would become The Sims, one of EA’s best-selling computer games.
The Sims reached the market in 2000, and Electronic Arts has continued to expand the franchise with a sequel, a massively multiplayer online version, and numerous expansion packs. Currently, Wright is working at Maxis’ studio in Emeryville, developing the highly anticipated Spore.
Westwood Studios was an early innovator in the real-time strategy genre with their game Dune II. Out of that game’s success came the break through hit Command & Conquer in 1995 and many sequels and expansion packs followed.
In 1998 Electronic Arts acquired Westwood. The studio soon produced Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, a new sequel built on an improved game engine. Over the next few years Westwood continued to produce titles for the Command & Conquer franchise as well as a hybrid RTS/FPS called Command & Conquer: Renegade.
In 2002 Westwood released Earth & Beyond, a complex massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Unfortunately, Earth & Beyond struggled to find an audience and EA shut it down two years later. Westwood was closed in 2003, and its remaining staff moved from Las Vegas to EA’s Los Angeles studio, where Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars is currently being developed.
Acquiring these studios’ Intellectual Properties significantly enhanced EA’s portfolio of games, but as Gibeau explained, acquisitions also brought much needed talent into the company.
"You are looking at a business that, even today, has tremendous constraints in terms of the talent pool," he said. "The number of guys that can really make great games and are visionary about it, there’s not enough of them. When you’re working with a company, it’s great to be able to lock up the IP, but it’s also great to be able bring new talent to your organization so that you’re constantly growing and staying cutting edge."