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Trip Hawkins: Nintendo Ran A "Feudal" Development System

by Matt Bertz on Jul 12, 2011 at 01:14 PM

Speaking at the GamesBeat 2011 conference in San Francisco today, current Digital Chocolate CEO and former EA founder Trip Hawkins had some harsh works for Nintendo and console platforms in general.

As reported by Gamasutra, Hawkins opened fire on Nintendo's old business practices while singing the praises of browser-based gaming. "Look at the world wide web and how many great companies have been built on that open platform," he said. "Nintendo is a great, amazing company, but how many companies have been built on the back of Nintendo's platform in the past 25 years?"

Case in point for Hawkins is his own former company, Electronic Arts, which shunned Nintendo's "feudal system." When EA approached the Japanese company about producing games for the NES, it was astounded by the one-sided nature of the business model. When I spoke with former EA CCO Bing Gordon about the company's bold reverse engineering of the Sega Genesis (read the full story in Game Informer issue 219), he shed light on Nintendo's original third party arrangement. He said that in order to create games for the popular console, companies needed to purchase a dev kit at a "ridiculous price," and after the game was finished Nintendo would decide whether or not the game could be manufactured.

“Wait, we spend all this time and we build a game but we don’t know if we can bring it to market?” Gordon remembers asking. “They said, ‘That’s right, and if we decide to bring it to market, we manufacture it and we’ll tell you how many we’ll build. You pay us half the cost, and then we manufacture it when we feel like it. When it’s done in Japan you pay the second half of the cost and we release it and you figure out how you want to ship it.’”

The current third party relations with Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are far less draconian than they were in the early days of the console business, but Hawkins still feels that the browser-based model is inherently more appealing to developers. "There is no question that there is a war going to win the hearts and minds of the developers," he said. "They will decide which feudal lord wins or loses. The days of floating your boat on one platform are over. The question is, do you as a developer, own the dirt?"

"Owning the dirt" is what Hawkins is convinced will ultimately drive developers away from consoles and into the web space. What do you think?