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GDC Mobile: "Lasky was wrong," says Hawkins

Trip Hawkins, the founder of Electronic Arts and mobile game firm Digital Chocolate, has opened the GDC Mobile conference with a message for one of his biggest rivals.

Hawkins began his speech by observing that according to research, just 5 per cent of mobile phone users have downloaded and played a mobile game. In addition, only 5 per cent of mobile users are 'hardcore' gamers - which, Hawkins argued, is further evidence of the need to focus on casual mobile games rather than PC and console brands.

He went on to refer to the keynote speech delivered at GDC last year by Mitch Lasky, the founder of Jamdat and now CEO of EA Mobile following the company's acquisition.

"Mitch Lasky basically said that if you didn't already have a hit in feature placement, then you were dead. At that time Digital Chocolate did not have either a hit or any games in feature placement, so we're supposed to be dead now. Well, we're alive and well," Hawkins said, observing that his company has since enjoyed success with titles such as Mafia Wars: Yakuza and Tornado Mania.

"I just want Mitch to know, you were wrong - we're still here. It was the same in the 1980s, when I was building Electronic Arts. It took a decade before we had our first hit, but we really stuck with our convictions.

"And one more question for you Mitch, where's Jamdat Bowling? Wasn't that the big hit in feature placement? Well, it's not there. Again, if you give it enough time, things change."

Hawkins also talked at length about the issues surrounding mobile games based on films and TV shows, stating that althought he is "not anti-property license per say" there are still serious problems to solve.

"When you look at the top 20 mobile games on a typical carrier, unfortunately what you'll find is that only ten or 15 per cent of those games will be original games created for mobile. Another 15 per cent will be these very expensive property licenses from film and television and so on," he said.

"There's something about that part of the market that makes no sense whatsoever."

Hawkins told the audience that a few years ago he was in discussion with "a major property license holder" who took 4 per cent royalties for a Game Boy title, 7 per cent for PlayStation and 50 per cent for mobile.

"Clearly the mobile industry can't go anywhere with that kind of cost structure for licenses. Money is leaving the mobile eco system, and developers and publishers are starving to death, unable to spend enough money on the product and the technology to deliver a really good experience," he argued.

"Yet it's not even working - if only 15 per cent of the top 20 are coming from that set of property licenses, it's obviously highly overrated. And to a degree it's exploitative, because in many cases the property holders just want to see their game show up on a deck listing to put some butts in seats for their movie or get people to watch their TV show.

"It's not really creative value - it's just taking people that already had an experience in one place, and trying to give them an inferior version of it in mobile. It's an abuse of the customer, it's an abuse of the publisher, it's an abuse of the carrier. And if that's what we settle for as an industry, shame on us."

However, Hawkins said, situation will improve as mobile games companies focus more heavily on issues such as user interfaces, one-thumb play and user-generated content.

"As we build up the credibility of mobile as its own platform, we will be legitimate partners we'll start to get all sorts of crossover merchandising benefit, and after a decade of talking we'll finally get to see true synergy and true convergence. But we're not there yet," he concluded.

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Ellie Gibson

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Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.

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