Bringing the art of storytelling to video games

Electronic Arts

Brook Byers was introduced to Electronic Arts in 1982. The company had attracted considerable interest from venture capital firms for both its new gaming software and its formidable team, which included CEO Trip Hawkins and his former Apple co-workers, Rich Melmon, Dave Evans and Pat Marriott. (Bing Gordon, who in 2008 would become a partner at Kleiner Perkins, also joined the team that first year.) Byers and Doerr had heard the EA team was looking to raise money and called Hawkins. A few hours later, Byers talked with the founders about the opportunity to transform the video game business. Byers was excited about the idea, and the EA team appreciated that he understood the parallels between video games and the movie business. We invested in the company in December 1982, together with Sequoia and Sevin Rosen. Byers joined EA’s board, a seat he retained for 13 years.

EA radically changed the video game business. The early ’80s was still the era of Pong and Donkey Kong—the games EA developed were like nothing else available at the time. EA’s developers were treated like artists, and the games were built around stories that drew players into the narrative. Hardware was getting cheaper and faster, allowing EA to replicate Hollywood-style storytelling and action computer games. Under Bing Gordon’s direction, EA innovated around celebrities, signing Chuck Yeager for Advanced Flight Trainer, John Madden for Madden Football and Tony Hawk for skateboarding games. Design innovation flourished, too. EA was the first video game company to use an outsourcing model for creative talent, freeing them to find brilliant designers anywhere. EA’s success in part came from being platform agnostic: the company developed games for Apple, PCs, Sony PlayStation and Nokia mobile devices.

The EA board played a critical role in the early years, guiding the company through some tough years that included management changes and strategy shifts. Today, EA remains one of the most successful gaming companies in the world, with nearly $5 billion in annual revenue and close to 9,000 employees.