Trip Hawkins on Apple and Steve Jobs

Trip Hawkins on Apple and Steve Jobs

Throughout this week we're publishing an extensive interview with Trip Hawkins, founder of EA, The 3DO Company, and Digital Chocolate. Yesterday he discussed the formative experiences that led him to found Electronic Arts, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary; today, we look at his time at Apple, and his relationship with the late Steve Jobs.

You started working at Apple in 1978. Were you working on Electronic Arts in the background during that time?
The plan to start EA went on for 11 years before the actual incorporation. In 1971, I'm getting the "ah?ha" that I'm going to make computer games. In 1973, I'm getting practice as an entrepreneur with a game company that I've started. By 1975, I've decided that, OK, I'll start my company in 1982. By then, I had my Game Theory academic program at Harvard. I had structured my college education around my plan to start Electronic Arts.

Did you ever mention your plans for computer games to Apple executives?
We might have talked about it on occasion, but Apple was not that interested in the consumer market, in general, or the game market. During my period at Apple, when I got there, [The Apple II] was a hobby product that, basically, you had to be a total hobby geek to get. We had only sold about 1,000 of them, and they were almost in kit form, frankly. There was some assembly required to do anything. My boss, who was the guy that brought the first money into Apple, Mike Markkula, said: "You have an MBA." I'd been to business school and gotten an MBA, and I had been working on my own to study how to get where I wanted to go.

He said, "Look, you know something about business. You have an MBA. Go figure out how we can sell these to businesses."

My focus at Apple was on getting into the business market and working on the product design principles that culminated in a Macintosh. For example, I was one of the guys that drove getting the mouse adopted by Apple. Nobody at Apple really wanted to talk about games.

Did employees of Apple play games on Apple II machines there? Was it part of the culture?
No, not really. Honestly, the first time [Apple] went to the CES show, we didn't have anything to show other than a really crippled little Asteroids-type game with the Star Wars name on it. It was hilarious because, in those days, people just rampantly trampled both copyright and trademark laws – and really, that was what we were doing to show off the machine. A guy from 20th Century Fox came up to me, gave me a business card, and said: "Yeah, you're going to have to stop doing that." [Laughs] Other than that one stupid little game, it just wasn't really important.  It really wasn't.

How did Steve Jobs feel about computer games?
Steve was always uninterested in games, his entire life.


The Apple II, which made its debut the year before Hawkins joined the Cupertino company

Even though he worked at Atari for a little while?
I think while he was doing that, he was probably more fascinated with the design of the equipment and maybe issues associated with user interface. Plus, obviously, in the very beginning, the machines couldn't do very much. So you really had no choice. If you had to make a game, it had to be a really brain?dead, simple game, and that didn't necessarily make you a game fanatic.

Did Steve Jobs' style influence you at EA later?
Totally. Totally. I would say in both good ways and bad. He had a lot of bad habits. When you see people with bad habits get away with it and get what they want – unfortunately, I picked up some of that. On the other hand, I always, always, always was very different from Steve in terms of how I related to creative people. What Steve would do is he would pick out a few creative people and he would treat them very lovingly as peers, although he'd still occasionally rip into them. They knew that they were respected. It turns out he treated me that way.

He respected me a great deal. He consulted with me about everything. I could influence him pretty easily. Occasionally, he would blow up and want to get in a fight about something, but you didn't really worry about it because you knew how solid your position was. With a lot of the rank and file people, he would literally take them apart. He could be really cruel. I have never been that way around creative people. I can be that way around business people because, as business people, I suppose, we've got to take it. There's a lot of dishing it out and taking it that's part of the sales and negotiation process of business.

Of course, for me, a really big moment with Steve was when he told me he thought I was really creative. That was maybe the first point in my life where somebody influential had told me that. That was empowering. Obviously, I was, and I am, and I was already expressing it. But it really boosted my confidence to hear that from him, because I knew how creative he was. He inspired me a tremendous amount as a leader, and particularly as a public speaker, and his ability to persuade. I certainly paid really close attention to the details of how he did that.

Did you feel like one of his peers?
Totally. We would talk about girlfriends. We would hang out. One time we were at a hotel at CES and smoked dope, and then went down and shot craps and made a bunch of money. It was hilarious! It's unfortunate, because the way Steve operated was that as long as you were loyal to his mission, you were going to be friends. Then, unfortunately, he didn't really understand how to be friends with somebody that was no longer in that context. Because he cared about me, he was really pissed off when I left. Then he permanently put me in the enemy category.

So I would see him socially from time to time, and he invited me to all the Pixar screenings – probably because I was a celebrity. But you could tell that, at least emotionally and socially, he moved on and would rather think of me as being lower class, which is a shame.

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Every day this week, we'll be telling more of the Trip Hawkins story. Check back tomorrow for the story of the founding of EA, and how Hawkins' decision to emulate the music industry led to his new company becoming one of the world's biggest videogame publishers.