Trip Hawkins: Using virtual worlds for social interaction

After three decades of striving to develop video games with the realistic appearance of broadcast television — including one of the most popular games ever sold in Madden NFL Football — Trip Hawkins now says he hadit all wrong. But don’t tell his competition, for whom high fidelity is still the industry standard.

“Fidelity is important to an elite segment of the market, but social connection is important to just about everyone,” said Hawkins, a video game industry icon and the founder of Electronic Arts, in a recent interview with The Examiner.

It’s an epiphany that came to him about four years ago as another of his startup video game companies, 3DO, was heading toward bankruptcy, Hawkins said. An avid player of everything from Risk and Monopoly to fantasy baseball, Hawkins realized what had been missing from his earlier games was personal interaction.

His latest video game firm, Digital Chocolate, hopes to correct that. Founded in 2003, “the mission of the company has not been games for the sake of games, but games for social benefit,” Hawkins said.

With convenience, mobility and social interaction as the key elements, Digital Chocolate has developed a new suite of games for mobile phones, called the Café Series. The idea behind the series is that players’ avatars, or digital likenesses, can hang out in a coffee shop, talk, meet others, play games and win credits to purchase avatar gear and improve the café, Hawkins said.

Another game, scheduled for a spring rollout, allows avatars to date each other (adult situations aren’t allowed) and even follow up with a real date, if the players choose, Hawkins said. While it may sound quixotic, he sees such games as a way of staving off the social loss felt by so many people in modern society.

As with most CEOs, Hawkins brings his work home with him. Building social communities is part of a bigger life change he began about a year ago when he moved his family from Atherton back to San Mateo. He now lives within a few miles of work, his children’s school and, perhaps most surprisingly, a new church he has helped launch.

TheOpen Door Church, which currently holds services at San Mateo’s Aragon High School, is the northern branch of the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church that Hawkins and his family have attended for more than a decade.

“Life is just a whole lot more interesting if there is something bigger,” said Hawkins, who as a volunteer on the leadership team helped bring the church to San Mateo.

TRIP HAWKINS

» Business

Latest project: The Café Series, games for mobile phones

E-mails per day: 300

Voice mails per day: 10

Essential Web site: www.espn.com

Best perk of job: Company mobile phone with all of his games installed

Favorite gadgets: Mobile phone

Education: B.A. from Harvard, and MBA from Stanford

Last conference attended: Cellular Technology and Internet Association

First job: Mortgage lending industry investigator

Original aspiration: Start my own game company

Career objective: Make Digital Chocolate a big success

» Personal

Age: 53

Hometown: Pasadena

Sports/hobbies: I’ve been a season-ticket holder of the San Francisco Giants for 20 years. I’m also an avid snow skier.

Most-used transportation: Lexus sedan

Favorite restaurant: Astaria in San Mateo

Favorite brand of computer: Nokia cell phone

Favorite vacation spot: Disneyland, because my kids have so much fun there

Favorite clothier: None

Role model: Jesus Christ

Recently read book: “Bowling Alone”

Worst fear: Something bad happening to one of my kids

Daily motivation: Thankful to be living in the grace of God

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