"You are wasting your time at Harvard by monkeying around with games."

-- A Harvard professor's sage advice to Trip Hawkins

His real name is William M. Hawkins III, but everyone knows him as Trip Hawkins. Writing a biography of Trip Hawkins is tantamount to writing a history of Electronic Arts and the early days of computer games, including Ozark Softscape/M.U.L.E. However, those looking for a detailed history of EA should view that node. (Same goes for 3DO, notably Anatole's excellent write up.)

Hawkins was born in 1954 in Pasadena, California. In high school his hobby was designing his own board games. He carried his love for games over to Harvard. At Harvard, the dark-haired, charismatic ("Smarter than Bill. Better looking that Jobs.") youth convinced the administration to let him carve out his own interdisciplinary degree. Taking an assortment of computer science and sociology courses he got what he calls a B.A. in "Strategy and Applied Game Theory".

While at Harvard in the mid-70s, he invented a tabletop football game. With financial backing from his dad (a physics grad from Dartmouth), he manufactured the game and sold it via mail. People loved the game but Hawkins couldn't sell enough via mail order to make it a go. One of the limitations of the game was it required a lot of record keeping. Hawkins quickly recognized a computer would be an ideal game machine, able to handle record keeping, but home computers were still a few years off. Hawkins also realized computer game companies would be big money when home computers were common place. Biding his time he enrolled in Stanford and got his MBA.

Hawkins timing could not have been more perfect. On graduating he got a job right away as Apple's very first marketing person. He was employee 68. In the early days of Apple, everyone knew everyone else's employee number. Lower the number, higher your status and your perceived net worth.

By 1982, home computers were well established and Hawkins realized the time was right to act on his computer game company idea. His time at Apple was informative, however. Apple treated its computers and software like works of art. Its programmers and designers were treated like artists. His computer game company, then, would be the same. However, there are artists and then there are artists. Right? No one wants to form a company of artists that don't sell big until they die. The biggest selling living artists were rock stars. Taking a cue from the music industry (not to mention the fact that A&M founder Jerry Moss was an early investor), Hawkins decided to form a game company along the lines of a record company. This is one of the reason EA published computer games in packaging that resembled record sleeves.

Hawkins was also big on making games approachable. During his time at Apple he had to deal with a lot of nerds. And not just any nerds. I'm talking the lowest of the low: nerds that worked in retail shops like Computerland. You know the type: snarky, without talent (unless you count reading Kevin J. Anderson Star Wars novels a talent) and ready to pounce on you if you betrayed the slightest ignorance of computers.

Hawkins along with several partners from Apple founded EA in 1982. Originally Hawkins wanted to call his company "Amazin' Software". His partners absolutely hated the name. Hawkins was wise enough to farm out the naming to some ad wizards. Hawkins' business model was not to be a software maker, per se, but a distributor, distributing the best works of other game companies. This model seemed a lot like the original business model of the United Artists movie studio. The ad wizards suggested "Electronic Arts". That dovetailed nicely with an EA partner's suggested company name "SoftArt". Unfortunately, that name was too close to Software Arts, the all-powerful maker of VisiCalc. (A few years later, Hawkins managed to sneak by his original name by forming a low-cost C-64 distribution wing called Amazing Software.)

EA's original business plan was to be a billion dollar company in six years. EA achieved that although it actually took them twelve years.

While heading EA, Hawkins innovated the idea of linking computer games with real world celebrities. The first computer game to carry a celebrity connection was Hawkins' Dr. J and Larry Bird Go One on One. Basketball stars Julius Irving and Larry Bird got paid something like $25,000 for use of their names, a huge bargain even in the '80s. The game was a massive best seller and never again would a sports celeb lend his name for such a derisory sum.

In 1991, after 9 years as CEO of EA, Hawkins was itching to get in on the hardware side of the game and he founded 3DO. 3DO would borrow from his EA model. He wasn't a hardware maker, his company merely set the standards and licensed the specs. Some big names signed on, like Korea's GoldStar (makers of terrible microwaves) and Japan's Matsushita (a company unknown in the west by its Japanese name but instantly recognizable as Panasonic).

For 3DO's hardware design, Hawkins grabbed some of the most underrated over achievers in the gaming field. His chief designers were Dave Needle and R.J. Mical. Needle and Mical designed the Atari Lynx and the Amiga. Alas, third time was not the charm for Needle and Mical and they watched yet another innovative design swirl down the drain. Sales of 3DO hardware were not stellar. The game engine was remarkable on paper but by the time it got to market, Nintendo, Sony, and Sega leap frogged them on the technology front and undercut the console price. The flaw in Hawkins licensing concept was manufacturers making 3DO only made 3DO. They could not, like Nintendo or Sony, sell their hardware at cost or at a loss to drive game sales. Manufacturers needed to sell 3DO for about $400 to make a profit, while Sony, with deep deep pockets, could sell PlayStation for $200 and recoup money on game sales and third-party game licenses.

In 1995 People Magazine named him one of the world's 50 Sexiest People.

For hobbies, Hawkins enjoys attending San Francisco Giants games. He's a season-ticket holder. For the last two decades, he has been playing softball with the same four friends in a San Mateo city league, also known as the "Rotisserie League". Hawkins' love of sports instilled in him a deep and wide respect for fair play. In business Hawkins always tried to play by the rules. For example, while at EA, he refused to raid the staffs of his main competitors like Broderbund.

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