Halls of EA - 30th Anniversary of First Games Shipped
Thirty years ago today, EA’s first employees—including founder Trip Hawkins--modestly packed and shipped EA's first five games.
Senior Director of Global Media Solutions Nancy Fong was there on the fateful day in a South San Francisco warehouse that started it all. Fifty to sixty employees took a break from their usual job duties—programming, advertising, etc.—to instead get together in the warehouse, pack games into boxes, and then load them into UPS trucks. Unlike today, there was no dedicated game store or digital distribution that offered the option to let you download the game straight to your Commodore 64. That meant that these orders were going to mom-and-pop brick-and-mortar stores
Why was the whole company needed in the warehouse? Nancy reflected, “It was the only way we could have made it—we only had a couple of warehouse employees at the time. It was a great team bonding experience.” She added, “It was hard, but we had fun. The average age of workers at the time was around 25-26.” Once they finished packing, the tight-knit team at EA continued team-bonding over a BBQ, and commemorated that day with shirts sporting the slogan: “I survived: May 20th 1983.” When the day was over, Nancy recalled, “everyone was so happy, that was the culmination of so much hard work.”
So what was in the initial EA lineup? The first five games were: Hard Hat Mack, Archon: The Light and the Dark, M.U.L.E, Worms?, and Axis Assassin. Hard Hat Mack is truly "EA's first game", and featured a construction worker ascending a building in a similar fashion to Donkey Kong. Take a look at the box cover below; you’ll notice a chalk drawing on the steel beam showing a square, a circle, and a triangle. That little doodle was influenced by the original "Square, Circle, Triangle" EA logo (which you can also spot in the lower right corner).
Archon: The Light and the Dark represents one of EA's first forays into strategy gaming, as it was a chess-like game that featured action-style combat. The way it used and displayed combat to remove pieces off of the board provided an early look into how computer games differ from traditional games.
M.U.L.E was a classic four player game and one of the first to utilize the supply-and-demand economic model during multiplayer. While it may not be as pretty as StarCraft II, it laid down the foundation for the "harvesting crystals and gas strategically" mechanic. Fun Fact: M.U.L.E. takes place in Irata—which happens to be "Atari" backwards..
Worms? was entirely different than what modern gamers associate as the Worms franchise. It also sported a great neon cover, and a simple premise: grow worms and keep them keep them alive. Sounds simple, but it was a science to play this game, and provided a blueprint for simulation games to follow.
The final game, Axis Assassin was an early arcade-style shooting game (think Tempest) that pitted players against the "Master Arachnid." It exemplified EA founder Trip Hawkins's outlook that, "great games must be simple, hot, and deep." Meaning be full of action, easy to learn, and difficult to master.
Making and packaging these games was fine and all, but remember that this was 1983. Not only were there no dedicated game stores or big box retailers selling games, but there wasn't any online advertising or media to get the word out either. How did these small shops hear about EA in the first place to make orders? Check out this magazine ad, which was quite a big splash when it first came out.
EA's ad campaign focused on a promise to make use of all the possibilities that computers can provide. The developers had a bigger vision and wanted to make passive entertainment more active. In the ad we exclaimed, “It is a communication medium: an interactive tool that can bring people’s thoughts and feeling closer together.” EA made the promise to help build the future of gaming and computers with this ad. We've come a long way—starting with packing floppy disks and using magazine spreads to now airing advertisements about Mass Effect being available for download during the NFL Eastern Conference Championships. Where will gaming go next?
The Halls of EA is a look at the people, places, and artifacts that define EA history