Getting EA Ready for the Future
March 26, 2012 Page 4 of 4
It's definitely interesting to see how people take an initial success and run with it. Like when I met the League of Legends guys [Riot] for the first time, they were six dudes and they were trying to convince me why I should care about their game [a free-to-play action-RTS]. But I kept in touch with them, because they were nice, and then over the years I've seen how they have done a fantastic job at building it as a business, and have really been meeting and sometimes exceeding the needs of their user base.
RH: They had a vision behind the tactics, and that showed.
Yeah, but then sometimes when you get someone it's like wait, now I have all of these players; what am I supposed to do about it? [laughs]
RH: Many times -- and for a lot of designers -- some portion of the people who are successful in this business have no idea how it happened. And what is more absolutely immobilizing? The fear of having been successful at something you have no concept of how to reproduce.
And so we've seen that a few times in this business. It's sad; to me it's often sad because it usually involves a tremendous amount of thrashing [laughs] that turns somebody who you used to like into somebody you don't like for a while.
What I think is best -- when you see the best of this business, it's when you see the creators help each other understand what made them successful, because often you are just too close.
And so when I look back, I remember going to the first GDC. In the middle of Chris Crawford's living room is Jon Freeman, Sid Meier, Chris Crawford, and Dan Bunten talking about how to play Seven Cities of Gold better. And none of those guys had any money in Seven Cities of Gold, and Dan's not done with it, and it's crashing every 15 minutes, but I guarantee you every single one of those guys put something in that game that Dani shipped.
I think that's a part of this conversation. When you get in one of those circumstances, ask somebody else. It's okay! To be honest, the industry's full of people who love to have that kind of conversation. But for a lot of folks, the simple "asking somebody else means that I might not know" means they don't want to have that conversation.
Yeah, there are definitely a lot of people on both sides of that thing, but I think that we've done a relatively decent job as an industry of encouraging people to talk to each other.
RH: Well, so, the very first product I ever did was Chuck Yeager's Flight Trainer, which was like number one in the country for 18 months. So I have some sympathy for the problem. [laughs]
It's a good problem to have.
RH: It is, but you really do not know what to do next; you have defined a success in a context that you had no idea. So it's as new to you as everybody else; the problem is all the people around you have no idea that's true.
I have a really dumb question for you. Were you involved at all with the TurboGrafx version of John Madden Football?
RH: Involved? I think I signed the contract. I think I said it was okay. I think Scott Orr was the guy who ran the thing, and I think it was built by Visual Concepts, if I remember correctly. So I kind of know about it; I'm sure it ran my playbook from that time. But, yeah. We built a lot of versions of Madden in that era.
I was just curious, because I'm a big TurboGrafx fan.
RH: That was one thing I was going to say, is it was definitely a machine we did it for with no commercial justification at all; we did it because we liked the hardware. And so we did a few of those things. I mean, God sakes, we made Amiga products for three years; what other reason? We probably made more money than Commodore did off the machine. But there was no rational reason to be on that machine except that we liked it.
Sometimes that works.
RH: Well, I was going to say there are two real cases in EA where I think we made bad choices, and ended up being brilliant choices, and Amiga's the first one. When we built Amiga titles for the first time, we were coming out of the 8-bit world; we were building some IBM PC stuff, but for the most part it wasn't high quality, relatively high resolution high color stuff.
And so the Amiga, for us, taught us a whole bunch of new things. We had to get good at music, we had to get much better at art, we had to get better animation that wasn't all sprite animation, we had to do 3D for the first time -- a whole bunch of things that we had to do.
None of that paid off except Deluxe Paint, really, in the Amiga world. But how it paid it off is almost all of that stuff went straight to the [Sega] Genesis. And so really what happened for us is the Amiga was sort of a pre-run of what the Genesis business was for us.
About five years later we did exactly the same thing over again -- it was called 3DO. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how do you build products for disc-based media with this particular set of characteristics.
And although 3DO didn't achieve the commercial results we were after, Ken Kutaragi was definitely paying attention, and that product carried a lot of the same characteristics that Trip [Hawkins] had wanted in the 3DO titles. As a result, everything we did on 3DO was a preface for what we could do on PlayStation 1.
So what's been good for EA is even sometimes when we don't get it exactly right, we're in the neighborhood of where something's going to happen; we just showed up a little early. And what that does is it makes you ready for the future.
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