Trip Hawkins vs EA

Posted by: Steve Hamm on March 30, 2006

Electronic games industry pioneer Trip Hawkins is still stewing over comments made last week by Mitch Lasky, senior vice-presidnet of EA Mobile. Previously, Lasky was CEO of Jamdat, the mobile gaming leader that was bought by Electronic Arts. In his keynote address to the Game Developers Conference, he said medium-size mobile gaming companies and startups are doomed to failure now that the big boys like EA are staking a claim on the nascent but fast-growing mobile gaming market. Hawkins, the founder of mobile gaming startup Digital Chocolate (and, earlier, Electronic Arts and 3DO), took umbrage. “If the carriers don’t support the better original-thinking companies like Digital Chocolate and Gameloft, they will end up having a supply chain that entirely consists of big companies like Yahoo and EA, and that’s not the best outcome for this platform.”

From the coverage I read of Lasky’s comments, it’s not clear that he thinks only the giants will survive. But I think there can be a healthy debate about whether EA or Digital Chocolate is bringing more innovation to the mobile world. So, I invite Lasky to respond.

Read on for more of Hawkins’ comments:

It's not that Hawkins disagrees with Lasky entirely. He believes the mobile gaming experience has to improve for players and the industry needs consolition. But he think Lasky goes too far and draws some wrong conclusions.

Here's what he told me:

"Lasky made some provocative statements. He complained about the carriers' storefronts and how they’re cluttered with mediocre games, and they’re slow. That’s true, by the way. Then he made a statement that the merchandizing of the carriers had to be reorganized to make it easier for customers to find the EA brands, because that’s what people want. Then he said that the rest of the companies in the industry were doomed if they didn’t already have a hit or weren’t really big already."

"That’s where you start to shift into half truths and false conclusions. You can see that his set of comments is very self serving from EA’s perspective. It’s abundantly clear to me that having one publisher rule them all is not the right destination for mobile. It’s not how we’re going to get the innovation and creativity that’s going to make it a first-rate platform. Jamdat doesn’t even have the highest quality. We do. And another company with the highest quality is Gameloft. Jamdat is wrapping themselves in the quality flag, but that’s us more than them."

"The carriers have been willing to do business with hundreds of companies. It’s not sustainable. It really has to consolidate down like any other industry, where you have perhaps 10 important publishers and maybe 20 to 30 total. But it’s really premature for any company to make a pronouncement that only one company’s going to make it."

What's the right size for the mobile gaming industry? What needs to be done to improve quality and produce games that very smartly take advantage of mobility? Hawkins makes a lot of sense to me. If you think Lasky knows better, weigh in.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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