Well, you really have to think back to the beginning. When I was a kid, I started playing games and discovered that I was really excited when I played them. I could tell that I was thinking and I was engaged and I was in the flow, and I thought it was a really great activity. This was the golden age of television, and I was having trouble getting my friends to play games with me because they wanted to watch TV. I particularly liked games that had something to do with real life. Of course in those days there were war games, Strat-O-Matic sports simulation games with cards and dice, and things like D&D were being invented. Those games were more elaborate and complicated because they were trying to do something real. You didn’t have a computer, so you had to be the computer—and that was even more alienating. Fewer of your friends were going to be willing to do it. I got exposed to a computer kit that a friend of my father had built. This was around 1970 I think, or ’71. He built a PDP 8, and that’s when the light bulb went on. I realized: Hey, we can put these games in the computer and then it will be a lot easier for players to get to the heart of what they’re trying to enjoy without having to do all this administration and computation. So that’s pretty much when I decided I wanted to do games as a career. But I hadn’t finished school, and I didn’t really know that much about business.
I designed a sports simulation game—a football game with cards and charts and dice—and in the process I confirmed for myself that I was an entrepreneur and I wanted to do it again. But as I said, I knew this really should be done with computers—so I spent the next 10 years planning the launch of Electronic Arts, including how I tailored my education, summer jobs, where I wanted to go to work. There was one point in 1975 where I very deliberately plotted it out and concluded that I was going to start Electronic Arts in 1982. On January 1, 1982, I slipped my resignation under Steve Jobs’ door, and the following month I went off and met with Don Valentine and kind of got his encouragement. He offered to let me use office space at his venture capital firm, but by then, I had already been planning and working on it for some time.
What were some of the core principles upon which EA was founded?
If you look at the seminal ideas around the foundation of EA, one of them was direct distribution. I had figured out how important that was at Apple. Apple had initially gone through distributors, but because Apple was growing so fast, it couldn’t keep up with the growth. Eventually Apple decided to go direct, but then there were all these transition problems and lawsuits and chaos. I decided that, first of all, I’d rather go direct right from the beginning and avoid that kind of a transition. While I was at Apple, I also figured out the whole idea of software artists.
I was working with really brilliant software engineers, and I realized that they were very much creative brains and divas—like in Hollywood or other creative industries or arts—and they needed to be managed accordingly. At the time, I really thought that was the big idea. And then a third component was the idea of technology leverage. If you’re Richie Valens, and you’ve got a guitar and a tape recorder, you can do a demo tape of La Bamba and get that in front of a record producer. But the record producer is eventually going want to bring you into a place called a studio—with much better sound-proofing, a lot of equipment, the ability to record things properly—so that you can be brought to market in a really professional manner with high production values. I thought: Why don’t we make the equivalent of that for our software artists? It became known as the artist’s workstation.
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