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EA was established as a publisher in 1982 by its charismatic founder, William Trip Hawkins It sought out excellent game developers, signed contracts with them, and produced some truly groundbreaking early games: Archon, Pinball Construction Set, Dr J and Larry Bird Go One-on-One, and others Trip s motto was simple, hot, and deep : games should be easy to learn to play (simple), exciting (hot), and provide rich, long-lasting gameplay, with new things to see and learn (deep) Before long, however, EA began to hire developers to work in-house They set up programming, art, and music departments and staffed them with some of the best people they could find Sometimes they bought small development companies outright They didn t stop doing contracts with external developers, however; they adopted a mixed approach, often doing their most valuable projects in-house where they could keep a close eye on them In the late 80s, Electronic Arts decided to capitalize on the strength of their sales force and enter the distribution business as well If they were so good at selling their own games, why not sell other publishers as well, in exchange for a cut of the revenue They signed distribution deals with Lucasfilm Games (now LucasArts Entertainment), Strategic Simulations Inc, and a variety of other small publishers So they actually occupied three different parts of the chain: development, publication, and distribution The two areas that EA hasn t gone into are retail sales, at one end, and hardware manufacturing at the other They don t own software stores, and they never tried to build a game console of their own Nor have they ever signed a deal to produce games exclusively for one machine This way they re not dependent on a hardware manufacturer; if a console flops, as the Sega Saturn did, they can simply stop supporting it and carry on building games for its competitor EA has had its failures on occasion They established a children s software group, EA*Kids, that was poorly managed and had to be shut down They tried to get into the arcade game business, spent several million dollars, and got out again after their development efforts bogged down They also backed Trip Hawkins new company 3DO, which made a machine called the 3DO Multiplayer that turned out to be an over-hyped, overpriced failure But EA has never bet so much money on one of these projects that it really hurt the company when it failed; and, in fact, by selling their 3DO stock at a judicious moment, they actually made money on the deal In recent years, EA has taken to buying up other publishers Origin, Maxis, and Kesmai to name just a few and then adding those companies products to their own lineup They ve also gotten some great licensing deals, making games with the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and James Bond brands EA still doesn t have the money and power of a console manufacturer like Nintendo, but they are the largest independent publisher in America
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A publisher is a company that funds the development of new games and advertises them to the public Of all the various company names which may appear on the game box, theirs will be the largest and the one that they want the customers to remember So far as the publisher and the general public is concerned, it is their game they paid for it to be developed; they put it on the market; they re held responsible for its content and ultimately, for its success or failure Also, even if a different company developed it, it s very likely the publisher actually owns the copyright on the source code and the artwork it is literally their property The publisher is the financial though not necessarily the creative heart of the game industry They re the equivalent of book publishers in the book industry, or movie studios in the film industry They decide what games will be funded for development They also have the final word on content: since the publisher is paying for the game, they get to decide what s in it Publisher employees who oversee the development process, and keep it on track, are called producers, and I ll talk about them and their jobs in the next chapter Some publishers develop their games themselves that is, they have an in-house team of programmers, artists, audio engineers, and so on who actually build the games This is called internal development Other publishers have no developers on staff, preferring to publish games done by development companies under a contract, a process called external development Many publishers work both ways at once, using internal development teams for some projects, and contracting with external developers for others So the customer buys from a retailer, the retailer buys from a distributor or publisher, and the publisher buys from whom Well, the publisher doesn t actually buy a game; rather, it pays for a game to be developed, and then it hires a manufacturer to produce copies of the game in quantity If the publisher develops the game internally, it s paying the salaries of its employees; if the publisher uses an external development company, it pays them according to their contract Usually the publisher pays the developer just enough money to build the game, with nothing left over (no profits), and then gives the developer a royalty a percentage of the price of each copy that the publisher sells to the retailer That way if the game is a huge hit, the developer stands to make a fortune on royalty payments (It s actually more complicated than this, but I ll discuss development contracts in more detail in 4)
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