EA founder Trip Hawkins steps down as CEO of troubled casual game pub Digital Chocolate

Love him, loathe him, or even if you don’t know who the heck he is, Trip Hawkins has influenced your gaming life at some point. Even if you haven’t played one of the games Hawkins was directly responsible for in his pioneering days at the end of the 1980s, you’ve played those games’ descendants. The man founded Electronic Arts. John Madden Football is his fault. The guy has a penchant for spotting how the video game industry is changing well before the rest of the business knows what’s going on, hence why he opened up mobile game developer Digital Chocolate back in 2003. Entrepreneurs take note: The man is moving on again. Trip Hawkins has left the company as CEO.

Tech Crunch reported on Sunday that Hawkins had left the company following an announcement the executive himself made at Digital Chocolate’s official blog. He did say that he will continue to work with the company as an advisor as Digital Chocolate becomes a “more streamlined” operation.

Crunch’s report elaborates further on the streamlining process though, indicating that not all is well at Digital Chocolate. The company’s studios spread across Russia, Spain, the United States, Finland, and a number of other countries and commands a staff of more than 300 employees. That staff was significantly increased with the 2011 acquisition of Cake Mania developer Sandlot Games. Rumors suggest though that Digital Chocolate has laid-off 180 employees, shuttering offices in Mexica, Armenia, Washington state, and Russia.

The truth is that Digital Chocolate has ceded much of its former power in the casual game market to competitors like Zynga, Rovio, and others. Its Facebook games for example commands just over 6 million monthly active users on Facebook, whereas Zynga commands 247 million and still well behind second place game publisher on the network, Electronic Arts, who commands more than 77 million monthly active users.

The acquisition of Sandlot Games didn’t help bolster Digital Chocolate’s stable of intellectual properties, but that’s none too surprising. Sandlot’s Cake Mania, its most prominent franchise, peaked in popularity back in 2006 and 2007, before Apple’s iPhone and its App Store radically transformed the mobile game market.

Hawkins original enterprise, Electronic Arts, remains his greatest legacy. He also founded the ill-fated 3DO, a business that failed as a CD-ROM game console maker in the ‘90s but survived as a game developer and publisher well into the ‘00s. 3DO’s legacy is the once ubiquitous, now forgotten Army Men game franchise. Let’s hope his next endeavor isn’t resurrecting that monstrosity.

We’ve reached out to Hawkins to discuss changes at Digital Chocolate and his future in the industry.

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