Two of EA's best decisions were its worst in disguise

In a new Gamasutra feature interview, EA's chief creative director Rich Hilleman discusses how two of the company's major blunders turned out to pave the way to huge, unpredictable success for the mega-publisher.
In a new Gamasutra feature interview, Electronic Arts' chief creative director Rich Hilleman discusses how two of the company's major blunders turned out to pave the way to huge, unpredictable success for the mega-publisher. "...There are two real cases in EA where I think we made bad choices, and ended up being brilliant choices," says Hilleman, who's worked for the publisher since the 1980s. The first one? EA's support for the Commodore Amiga computer platform. "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." Unfortunately, says Hilleman, "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." EA made a massive success of the Sega Genesis platform, with both its sports and non-sports titles, producing a huge number of titles for console. "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," says Hilleman. The 3DO platform, which was launched in 1993, also received heavy support from EA, but did not find much success in the marketplace. "And although 3DO didn't achieve the commercial results we were after, [Sony's 'Father of PlayStation'] 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," says Hilleman. "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." The full feature interview, in which he discusses precisely what he expects that future to be and how he's helping push EA in the right direction to meet it, is live now on Gamasutra.

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