Throughout this week we've been serialising an extended interview with Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts, The 3DO Company, and social gaming firm Digital Chocolate. He's already shared the formative experiences that led him to a career in videogames; discussed his time at Apple and relationship with Steve Jobs; told the story of the founding of Electronic Arts, and the recruitment and development philosophies that set EA on its path to become one of the biggest videogame companies in the world. Today, in the concluding part of the interview, he gives his views on EA as it is today - its public image, its CEO, and that Worst Company In America award.
Did you hear about the Consumerist poll earlier this year that labelled EA the worst company in America?
Yeah, I saw that. I think that's a little harsh.
There is an underlying current among gamers that EA is kind of an evil, corrupt company now. What do you think about that?
I think it's a shame. Obviously the company went through a transformation where we started out really focusing on art and artists. We tried a wide range of different kinds of products, including creativity tools and children's educational products. We hit our stride with the sports games, which were really my baby and my passion. I was basically finally just bringing Strat‑O‑Matic into a computer to make it more social and more accessible and more audio/visually appealing.
That became a real moneymaker - the more classic games and the sports games. The company obviously rallies financially around that. After a while, that was the entire focus. After a while, it shifts more to an operational focus, because you're cranking out the same stuff every year. It's all about operational efficiency.
That's more consistent with Larry Probst's [Hawkins' successor as EA CEO] background. He did what he knew how to do well. He certainly did that sort of thing better than I would have. But basically, I think that I had a different idea about the culture of the company and the vision. Obviously that got lost over time.
Meanwhile, I don't think they really noticed or cared because they were making plenty of money. A lot of their games are really good - they certainly have always made a lot of good games.
If you were in charge of EA today, how would you fix the company's image problem?
I think John Riccitiello right now is in a very good phase in which he's got his heart in the right place and is trying to do the right thing. I think that includes a recognition of all the disruption that's happening from new digital platforms and the shift to free‑to‑play with virtual goods, and the need to basically pivot the resources of the company and not over‑invest in the old business models and not under‑invest in the new ones. From what I've seen him say publicly, and what I've been hearing through the grapevine, he certainly seems like he's pointed in the right direction.
Would you do anything differently if you were the CEO?
No, I don't really want to speculate. I'm not the CEO and I'm not going to be the CEO - that's a very difficult job. I have a lot of respect for anybody that wants that job and can actually get in that stuff.
Do you worry that EA's negative public image reflects poorly on you, since you founded the company?
No, I don't think the modern image of EA reflects on me. I think I get dinged, obviously, for the 3DO image. Although, these images are mixed - obviously the EA image has some very strong positives, but I even hear a lot of positives from people about 3DO. So, hey, what the heck? As I've gotten older, I have fewer ego concerns about my status or my reputation. It's simply a matter of history, and it is what it is. People feel one way or the other about it, and there you go.
Last month you announced that you were stepping down as CEO of Digital Chocolate. Any hints about your plans for the future? Perhaps a new game studio?
I have no doubt that interesting things lie ahead of me. The game industry is changing very rapidly and I believe I understand where it is going. I think the game industry still needs me, and I still need it.