There are a few video game companies that nearly all gamers know, and one of those is Electronic Arts or EA. EA is one of the biggest names in video games and has been for quite a while now. The company has gone through a lot of changes over the years and has faced both positive and negative attention in the press. While EA still has a place as some gamers’ favourite company, it has also earned a reputation for others as the worst.
What kind of company could earn such a strong response from the gamers and the rest of the industry? Where did Electronic Arts come from, and what was it like at the start? How did EA become the major company it is today, and how did it gain the controversy currently surrounding it? Keep reading to discover our History of Electronic Arts, and get ready to learn about the company that all gamers are talking about right now.
One Man’s Vision
EA was founded May 28th, 1982, by William Murray “Trip” Hawkins III. Hawkins was originally the Director of Strategy and Marketing at Apple Computer but left this position to found EA as his own company with a personal backing of around $200,000 USD. While his original idea was to name the company Amazin’ Software, he went with Electronic Arts at the end. Thus EA was born in a spare room of Sequoia Capital, with one man and his own personal investment. Little did he know, but Hawkins was making history.
Trip Hawkins, along with two old co-workers from Apple and one from Atari whom he hired, planned out the business model for EA together. By November 1982, the employee count had risen to 11 and EA had outgrown its spare office space. The new company relocated to a new office near San Francisco airport. The following year, even more, staff were added to the team from companies like Xerox PARC and VisiCorp. With this growing team, Hawkins began his new and controversial business practise - he wanted to sell video games directly to buyers, skipping existing distribution partners and adding a serious challenge to sales. But the EA team rose to this challenge, pushing their original game ideas and sticking to their ideals. By dealing directly with these buyers, EA was able to grow faster than its other competitors and rose to be worth over $18 million USD by 1984.
Besides having a new approach to sales, Hawkins brought a new approach to how developers for games would be seen and treated. Rather than as ghosts working behind the games but never given public credit, Hawkins saw them as artists. He saw the creation of software as an art form and wanted the world to see it as such, too. It was the reason behind changing the name Amazin’ Software to Electronic Arts. EA also became the first game company to feature game developers on an ad. EA shared a large profit with developers as well, and that made them an appealing company to work with.
Hawkins remained at the head of EA until 1991, and even to this day is credited with pushing video games into complex team projects instead of games made by single people. EA’s early games are a testament to this idea. While he went on to found another game company later, Hawkins remained chair of the board for EA until 1994. His ideas and standards remained even after he was gone through, and can be found in many EA titles that have since been produced.
A Big Name in Games
A lot of video game companies begin small, as subsidiaries or companies that have to wait to land their first big title. Electronic Arts, however, was off to a running start right from the beginning. At the start in the mid-1980s, EA mostly focused on games for a home computer system called the Commodore Amiga. In addition to games, EA also published an intense paint programme called Deluxe Paint, along with some music software. In 1987, EA published their first internally developed game, a skateboarding title called Skate or Die! In 1988, EA launched an exclusive flight simulator for the Amiga called F/A-18 Interceptor, which had exceptional graphics for the time and drew a lot of attention to EA.
1988 also saw the start of one of EA’s most prominent game titles - Madden, an American football simulator that still releases a new title every year even now. It would be the first of several sports franchises that would release every year with updated player rosters, and EA was the first company to do this. In 1990, Electronic Arts began publishing games for the NES and continued to branch into other platforms and even more game genres. By 1993, EA had launched FIFA as a successful football simulator. The rest of the 1990s continued to see successful standalone games released, as well as the start to several series that continued into the 2000s (and some still continue today) like Medal of Honor, Dungeon Keeper, Need for Speed, Ultima, and Command and Conquer.
The year 2000 was a major game year for Electronic Arts with the release of the life simulator the Sims. It has been one of the most successful series that EA has ever released, capturing an incredibly wide and varied audience across many demographics. The Sims found success not only in its main titles but also in expansion packs and an expanded community allowing gamers to add their own customisations and share with other fans. 2002 saw the start of Battlefield, Call of Duty’s main competitor in the first-person shooter genre. EA continued to expand their limits and market with Rock Band in 2007, which used unique controllers shaped like guitars, microphones, and a drum set to let gamers simulate being in a band and included hundreds of songs to download and play.
Also in 2007, EA had a major overhaul and company reorganisation. EA had acquired several other smaller companies over the years and planned to split into four autonomous divisions that would be able to work more efficiently and with streamlined decision making. It also was meant to let independent developers prosper more, and foster creativity such as what began to happen with BioWare and Maxis under the new system. 2007 was also the year that EA expanded some of its biggest franchises to the MAC instead of just Windows, including Need for Speed, Battlefield, and Madden just to name a few.
Flash-forward to 2013 and several more acquisitions of other companies later, and EA made another massive deal, this time with one of the biggest names in entertainment - Disney. Electronic Arts and Disney signed a deal allowing EA to produce all Star Wars titles from 2013 to 2023, using their smaller subsidiaries like BioWare to get this done. EA thus became responsible for bringing all the new Star Wars universe games into the gaming world and got started right away with Battlefront and Battlefront II. This is also around the time that the most controversy was born around the company’s practises, and leads us into the company today.
For Better or for Worse?
Like most big companies, Electronic Arts hasn’t always been in the spotlight positively. While EA has come under a lot of scrutinies especially in the past few years, controversy existed even at the start. When EA was first growing, it was accumulating and consolidating a lot of smaller gaming companies at what some called an alarming rate. EA was accused of destroying the creativity and independence of developers in these subsidiaries, and often the games released were different than they were originally meant to be. For example, both Ultima VIII: Pagan and Ultima IX: Ascension were made under EA, and we’re both considered “rushed” and “sub-par” compared to earlier Ultima games.
Electronic Arts recognised that this was happening and began to listen to the criticism, and in 2007-2008 the company restructuring was able to give autonomy back to smaller subsidiary companies and allow developers to have creative freedom once again. EA continued to face criticism though for shutting down subsidiaries when they made poor games, such as Origin, but according to the company the teams were rather restructured and these smaller subsidiaries combined into larger ones within the company.
Electronic Arts has received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, about its inclusion of LGBT characters in several of its major franchises. Especially around the time of the release of Dragon Age II, and then again when the company added gay romance options to the MMORPG The Old Republic, employees at EA faced a lot of angry fans and some even faced harassment. These games were disliked by some gamers who claimed this inclusion meant to broaden audiences did the opposite and pushed out straight male gamers, and the Family Research Council also protested against the inclusion of these romance options. How each gamer feels about this progress is up to their individual feelings, but EA was among one of the first companies to receive a perfect score by the Human Rights Campaign of 2014 for an LGBT-friendly workplace.
One of the most recent criticisms of EA has been its promotion of “pay to win” practises. Most notably in the Star Wars: Battlefront series, a lot of upgrades and options cost extra money in addition to the game’s cost to get. Because these games are multiplayer, it means that paying a lot of money is what can make a player excel over skill, practise, and time. That gives professional gamers and the rich a serious edge over average players and has created a lot of heat and a negative public for EA in the past couple of years. It has even led to some gamers boycotting the company completely until this practise stops, including fans who have been devoted EA players for many years.
From a beloved developer and publisher behind some of the biggest games in history to a corporation accused of selfishness, money-grubbing, and not acting with gamers and developers in mind, Electronic Arts has seen it all. Like any game company, some people love EA and some people hate it. Regardless, the impact that EA has made in the video game world will always be significant, and some of their games will never be forgotten in game history. Whatever your personal feelings are towards the company today, EA has had a long and successful history in video games, and only their choices at a corporate level over the next couple of years will determine their future.
How do you feel about EA yourself? What is your favourite EA game? What do you think has been EA’s biggest impact on the gaming world? Are there any other game companies you would be interested in seeing a similar article about? Drop us a comment below with all your thoughts about Electronic Arts!