What do you think about the Minecraft idea of releasing an alpha and seeing what people like, and supporting that more?
RH: I think Minecraft's a great game; it dominates my household like nothing else. I think Minecraft is fundamentally a construction set at the bottom of it, and that what it does well is that thing. But I think the name is a very cogent thing to think about Minecraft as a business. So I think Notch is doing great; I'm really happy for him. I think in the long term that business evolves into something different.
My favorite television show of all time is Deadwood. Have you ever seen that show?
I never watched it.
RH: But you know about it?
RH: What Deadwood taught you more than anything else -- and anybody who went to a California school learned this too -- is that the people who made money from the gold rush were not the gold miners. It was guys named Levi Strauss and Crocker, and folks who ran banks, and people who sold jeans, and sold picks and axes.
I think ultimately in the long term that the money that will get made in Minecraft will not be about Minecraft, but will be about the services and products that get introduced into it. And so that's what's most interesting to me about Minecraft, is that the ecosystem, it's almost an American history lesson.
Going back to the concept of the service of the player to the player, what do you think about the concept of like "I" in a game? You've done all this Madden stuff and you make people feel like they've accomplished something great in this game.
RH: "Pride," as [Bethesda's] Todd [Howard] called it the other day [in a DICE Summit presentation]; I thought that that was a good word.
If you're in Call of Duty, or something, and you get this amazing headshot, you say "I did this", but you simultaneously mean you as a person and you as the character. And in a game like Minecraft, it's kind of a different thing, because the character's really just the embodiment of the player. What do you think about that space there?
RH: I think there are many people for whom Minecraft is definitely "I". I think sports games are a reasonably good example of a subtle difference. So in a sports game, do I want to be me, or do I want to be Michael Vick?
Or do you want to be the team?
RH: Or do I just want my team to win? We see people kind of play it in both ways. There are folks who the fantasy is to be an NFL player, and then there are other folks who the fantasy is to be Michael Vick. It's real specific.
I think NBA, the products we made with Jordan sold a lot better than the products that we made that didn't have Jordan. And they didn't just sell because Michael Jordan's an attractive individual; I think it's because, for most people, that's a very specific fantasy that they wanted to have.
And so I think it has to do with, does the player want to be something specific, or do they want to be themselves in that context? And that's really the difference. The games that have to deal with that in a subtle way end up being like The Sims and Madden. The games like Skyrim, I don't think you have to be subtle about it; I think those characters are them, in that world.
The interesting one, I think, of all of the fantasy role playing ones that's hard to describe is Ultima. Because Lord British is definitely a thing, and more specific than that -- it's not only a literary creature, but it's a human being who really thinks that's who he is.
So in that particular context, I always thought that was a somewhat confusing thing for the players of that game. That they had a somewhat hard time displacing themselves from who Richard was, and the character, and we really never saw anybody else in this business play that game that way. I think there's a reason why; I think it is disturbing to the player.
RH: It takes away their ownership of it. I love Richard, but who knew at the time? God sakes; it's 1981, give the guy some credit! [laughs]
People were just coding away at whatever they could at the time.
RH: Those of us who remember Ultima I and the BASIC code that was in it, the fact that it shipped is a miracle. He did a lot better after that.
Speaking of those times, what's your opinion on the whole video game crash? It was around the time that you came into EA.
RH: Essentially it's the [Atari] 2600 crash. Because coin-op did fine. It turned out coin-op just fine during that period of time.
Yeah, computers did, as well.
RH: Yeah. So the 2600 crash, from my perspective, was a good example of creative destruction, and anybody who's spent any time reading about Atari at that time recognizes that they needed some creative destruction; they clearly were not the right custodians of a great new business. What I know happened was the 2600 raised the profile of what was possible, set expectations in people's minds.
And then when the business went away, it did a couple things. It scared the crap out of an entire generation of retailers, and they were absolutely -- every single one of them knew somebody who got fired because they bought too much of 2600 stock. Or actually, most of them were guys who got fired and got a new job. They all changed seats.
So number one is, it changed the behavior of our retailers toward the way they took product, and the way that they took risk, and I think the consolidation at the top of the chart is an example of that expression and its long-term influence.
But the other thing that happened was it went away, and it left a hole and the hole got filled by computer games, and those computer games were really different in form. 2600 games were, almost without exception -- maybe Star Raiders being the sole exception -- they were essentially 90 second arcade experiences. There was no changing of the form; there was no changing of the granularity, no changing of the expectations.
Computer games did all that innovation. And some of it was because they had writable, local media, some of it was because they were pirateable. But I think the decline and demise of the 2600 market was absolutely necessary, or actually we would've died as a fad.