Stewart’s story begins with a passion for math and for building and creating stuff, specifically in a way that didn’t punish his left-handedness! It then moves into the creation of video game giant EA from the very beginning, before there was even a video game industry. As he says, a true “Revenge of the Nerds” tale… –Jon Kraft
I knew I was different than most kids at an early age and it was not just because I was left-handed. Right-handed people don’t realize how right-handed the world is. Try writing in a 3-ring binder or spiral-bound notebook with those big rings in the way. Or worse, try writing or drawing when your hand follows and smears everything you try to create.
It’s not just because I could not write neatly or draw accurately that my form of creating was to build. I fell in love with tinker toys, Lincoln Logs, and American Bricks. If I was your age today it would be Legos.
What I loved about that form of play was that you could imagine, build, change, and build more and there were never any eraser marks, torn paper, or smudges. You can build without fear of showing your mistakes. You can always make it better and I loved trying to make something perfect.
When I reached the summer before my 4th grade, my parents moved us to a new neighborhood. If you have ever had to move to a new school you know how scary that can be. My parents knew this as well and enrolled me in summer school. At first, I thought this was going to be a boring way to spend the summer when all I wanted to do was play first base on a new little league team. I did get to select the classes myself and one that sounded interesting was “Fun with Math.”
I’m sure you are wondering how math could be fun. Well, it was not a summer spent filling out worksheets; I spent the summer working on puzzles, discovering interesting things about numbers and with every new thing I learned I found there was even more to learn. I solved puzzles where I had to move matchsticks, fill in number squares, or solve fun word problems. This was the beginning of my love of math.
By the time I made it to high school my excitement about math was in high gear. I took advanced math classes where most of the kids were older than me. I joined the Math Team (seriously) and we competed against other high schools by solving more problems faster. I even competed in a national competition put on by the MAA (the Mathematical Association of America). This test consists of very challenging problems in Algebra, Geometry and even Calculus. A perfect score is 150 points but anything above 25 was impressive. As a sophomore, I got the highest score in my school. I was now officially and nationally recognized as a nerd. We didn’t get letterman jackets so nobody outside of our club knew much about us though. We nerds only got one club picture in the yearbook.
My personal “Revenge of the Nerds” story took many more years but it happened. I went to college and fell in love with computers. It was just like Legos except you typed what you wanted to build. I loved it so much that I went to work at IBM right out of college. Today I would probably work at Google or Microsoft. It was a serious job but I always stayed late and found some nerds who knew that computers could be fun to play with and not just for serious stuff. We made games to fly planes or play pinball or create our own Startrek episode where we got to be the captain of the Starship Enterprise. In those days a computer was the size of a VW.
I kept playing with computers until IBM and Apple invented personal computers. This was the point that everything I had done before finally became clear. PC’s would allow a whole new form of fun to be created. My goal in life became creating games that everyone would like not just nerds. I wanted them to be as interesting and exciting as the best movies, tv, and books but have that added dimension of interactivity. All media before the computer you just sit there but with computers, you interact.
Just like I discovered in school that I was not the only person like me, I was fortunate to have met people at the time that shared my view of how important games on a PC could be. We started a company that would push the boundaries of entertainment and art on a computer. We also wanted to recognize that these games were created by talented, driven individuals who were a new type of artist creating a new form of art. After much debate, we decided to call the company Electronic Arts. It became the publisher of popular games like Madden Football, FIFA Soccer, The Sims and many, many other games and today employs almost 10,000 people worldwide. When we began in 1982, the video game business did not exist. Today it is a $50B industry worldwide.
Today, every day is new and interesting just like it was as a child. I was fortunate to have found something that excited me and I never lost faith in the belief that this excitement would be interesting to others. There were many ups and downs, victories and defeats along the way but being true to my passions kept me on the path to success and happiness. And it turns out I was not as different as I thought.l
Steward Bonn joined Electronic Arts in 1983 as the 18th employee. During his 12 years, he produced many of Electronic Arts’ most successful titles including software for music, paint, flight simulation and children’s education. As SVP/GM of EA Studios, he led the world’s largest interactive studio. Since then he has been a Co-Founder or an Advisor to numerous social media and game companies. Stewart earned a BS in EECS from UC Berkeley and received the 1993 Stanford Business School Entrepreneurial Company of the Year award as one of 5 EA executives.