Trip Hawkins is one of the game industry’s most prolific and influential people. He worked for Apple before he founded Electronic Arts, and later 3DO. Currently he is CEO of his latest venture, mobile and social gaming firm Digital Chocolate. We got the chance to sit down with Trip and discuss why he advocates the browser as the platform of choice for developers, as well as some other topics around gaming, discovery and disruption.
SocialGamesObserver: Trip, you said in the era of convenience the browser is going to win – but isn’t a closed ecosystem, e.g. a console or App Stores so successful precisely because they are most convenient to use?
Trip Hawkins: The thing about private clubs is that not everybody can get in, and not everybody wants to join the same club, so they end up being elitist institutions. It’s OK if you’re one of the members but if you’re a game developer you want to reach a larger audience than that. And pretty much from this moment forward every human being that’s going to be born is going to know how to use the browser by the time they’re five years old. It’s a very solid, very capable platform, and when people are using the browser they’re also using all the social channels.
I think this is a big change in how we’re going to decide what to try because we come from this history of going to a shop and somebody else has decided what we see in the front of this shop – but they don’t really know me or care about me that much. They’re responding more to brand power and financial leverage and whoever has got a chokehold over controlling that shelf space.
When you look at the discovery model on the internet, the storefront is created by the consumer. One way the consumer is looking is ‘What are my friends doing?’ Anything that comes with a recommendation like that has more meaning to me because it’s from a trusted source that knows me. The second category is search – clearly that’s me designing my own store that has sponsored sections where somebody paid to respond to that search, and it has an organic section where the search engine has decided who deserves to be there purely on their own merit. That’s a relevant source to me because I’m looking for something specific and here are the people that really want my attention.
SGO: But what about people who aren’t searching for games. Doesn’t a more closed environment like Facebook or the App Store turn a lot of people into gamers because it brings games to the attention on regular users?
Trip: I don’t think the point is the fact that it’s closed. What Apple did, in a very inspiring way is that they reinvented a user experience on a mobile device that was really fresh and appealing. It immediately caused a lot of people to think ‘Oh I didn’t realize I needed a mobile content platform but now that I can do it that way, I want it’. They didn’t want it in a Java feature phone but when they saw an iPhone they went ‘That looks like fun’. Android is an example where there is a more open platform because there are different manufacturers, different handsets and fragmentation. If an Android device has as much graphic processing power and capacitive touch display, it’s going to have a lot of the same appeal and positive characteristics of an iPhone – and it’s about that and not the fact that it’s a closed system.
SGO: Do you think that the browser can replace native apps?
Trip: The game industry has a huge bias towards game performance, graphics and animation. It’s always overrated, and the industry continues to overrate it. When you look at every other medium you see that it’s been disrupted in this fashion already. It’s a little slower to happen in games because they’re more complex data type. But inevitably it’s going to happen – and Japan is an example where it’s already happened. In Japan the big high-growing game markets are in the browser on feature phones. The console market has declined and the smartphones are just beginning to arrive in Japan, but they had already decided that the browser is the better way to go and they were doing it even on the feature phone.
Maybe it’s harder to believe that the browser on a smartphone, maybe the Android smartphone, will blow the App Store out of the water. But what about tablets? A tablet has a bigger screen, it’s much easier to access World Wide Web content on it and be able to use it. A lot of people would like to use them as mobile devices but something like battery life I think is more mission-critical for a phone than it is for a tablet. If my phone goes dead, I go dead. If my child’s tablet goes dead in the car – it’s not the end of the world. The tablets are going to improve in performance, screens will get better, they’ll be able to run better browsers.
SGO: So tablets will be the future of browser-based games?
Trip: When the iPhone was introduced, Google didn’t already have Android. It took three years for them to make it and convince people to adopt it. With the iPad, Apple didn’t have a lead because Android was already in the market and manufacturers were building Android products. Whatever happened in smartphones, it’s going to be more extreme in tablets.
The volume in non-Apple tablets is going to get so big so fast it’s going to make your head spin. The other thing is that when Apple introduced the App Store, they caught the fancy of the world because it was very clever. The first year of tablets coming to market every review talked about screen size, battery life and App Store. Nobody talked about the browser. I guarantee you within a year a lot of the reviews of tablets will talk about the browser and the public is going to figure out that the World Wide Web will always have more content than any app store. And thankfully there are no corporate profit interests that can prevent the browser from existing.
Read the second part of the interview