There are some CVs in the technology world that just stand out. Trip Hawkins’ journey from Apple, to founding Electronic Arts, through the ill-fated 3DO days and the rise of Digital Chocolate as a mobile gaming powerhouse is one such example. We caught up with one of Silicone Valley’s most influential entrepreneurs to find out how the iPhone has made a difference to his latest business venture.
Most of your games can be played with a single digit. Do you think this is why they’ve become so popular?
You bet. Way back in Digital Chocolate’s beginning we decided that everyone would have a mobile phone and hence everyone would be playing. Originally the market was held back by platform constraints but with now it is really taking off. It was for similar reasons that we began with the slogan, “Seize the Minute!”
Being able to play a game with one hand or one finger was always important, but of course now we can use the finger to gesture and swipe which is even cooler. The accelerometer can be fun too, although it is easy to mis-use and has ruined some games I’ve seen. The main appeal of the iPhone is that it is so mobile and elegant; so I’m not sure that additional buttons or accessories would work.
How do you decide on price points?
It is purely a question of relative value. We play our own games and determine how many hours of gameplay value is represented and how good we think it is. We think we’re a better offer than just about any other form of entertainment. Just think that if you go to a movie it is costing you $5 per hour! We’re less than $1 per hour.
Virtually all your games have free versions. How important do you feel this is?
We’re trying to establish our brands and build a new market, so for us it feels important.
Digital Chocolate has found great success in the iPhone market. Why do you think this is?
Originality, quality and ubiquity. We are the leading makers of original mobile games, which customers want to tell their friends about. And because of the quality, they know their friends will be glad.
Of course there is a huge market for Java and BREW games on feature phones. But the carriers are being invigorated by Apple because the iPhone has awakened such huge public interest in mobile content. This means that all of the phone companies will begin to offer services and products comparable to Apple’s. The market for mobile content is going to get much larger. It’s all good.
Do you think download services like the AppStore are giving more power back to the developers?
Yes, and it’s a throwback to what DoCoMo began in Japan with the first data phone in 1999. Throughout the world you can clearly see that the largest markets and the most successful phone companies have come about from having healthy supply chains of games in a more open, competitive market environment that enables the cream to rise to the top.
You predicted an iPhone like device many years ago. How do you feel now that it’s come true?
Apple deserves a lot of credit for a truly innovative device and user experience. It blows my mind, because even the writers of Star Trek didn’t think of the touch screen, the swipe UI, or the computing power that can be in your hand. They did invent the mobile phone and GPS, but as you recall Kirk had to then use the “phone” to call Spock and Spock had to be in this enormous room with the computer. Apple put the whole thing in your pocket.