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Browsing any collection of Genesis / Mega Drive games at someone's home, at a convention or at a sale, it's always immediately obvious which games were developed by EA. They all have a different shape than the usual rounded, black cartridges do, and they sport a notable yellow tab. Why?

The reason all Electronic Arts games look different from other games for Sega's third console has, as always, to do with money. Specifically, EA's problems were twofold: licensing fees and lack of recognition. As Cole Monroe explains, Sega enforced some pretty heavy licensing fees: for every game sold, developers had to pay from $8 to $10 dollars back to Sega. Being a tiny, new, developer, Electronic Arts couldn't quite pay that.

What's more, EA was just too plain small for Sega to consider handing out development kits. When a console launches, third-party developers (as well as, nowadays, game design schools) either receive or buy a development kit on which to make games. This new company called EA, however, was never really noticed enough by Sega to give them one. 

EA wanted in on the Genesis' success, that much is sure. So how to go around doing so? Ben Kuchera is able to share the story after he visits the EA offices' museum, where one of their old home-made development kits is still on display. Apparently, EA was able to borrow an official development kit from an anonymous other developer and used that time to disassemble, analyze, copy and re-assemble it before neatly returning it to its proper owner. Then, they hacked together an unofficial Frankenstein they call the "Sprobe," or Sega Probe.

 

 

With that, two problems were solved in one blow. First, EA had a development kit despite its lack of funding and Sega's recognition. Second, they were now capable of illegally making games without needing to pay the licensing fee. However, EA's next move is even more ballsy and it solved the problem of their games' illegal status: they went to Sega to pressure them into recognizing their games.

Blake J. Harris' great Console Wars book reconstructs the scene. After Sega's Mike Katz mockingly told EA's William 'Bing' Gordon that "if you want a different deal you're going to have to reverse engineer the system, aren't you?" EA did just that. So, instead of the usual $8 to $10, Bing proposes this: "How about we pay you $2 a cartridge with a cap of $2 million?"

And, so, Electronic Arts went from a poor, unrecognized developer to one of the Genesis' biggest third-party developers. It's hard to imagine now that they were such rebellious underdogs when they are now, as a result of their 90s success, one of the biggest developers out there.

Now, next time you see the huge, ugly, yellow tabbed likes of John Madden Football, Jungle Strike, Buck Rogers, the Immortal, Marble Madness or even the very first FIFA International Soccer, now you know the rags-to-riches story behind them.

Lars de Wildt
Lars de Wildt

This article is written by :

Lars de Wildt

Lars once went to a street fair and all he could see was a Game Boy stand. Since then, he's endeavoured to play every game console post-1986 and read every related book. He is probably not going to succeed in doing so. Lars is currently writing biographies of exactly 75 words long; and a fashionably underemployed cultural studies graduate looking for elusive game studies-PhD's. He can be found on Google+ and probably some other places.