Who called it? We called it. I’ve been asking for Don Mattrick’s head longer than Microsoft’s investors have been asking for Ballmer’s and it looks like now, three weeks after he took the stage in Los Angeles, he’s departing for distant seas. But who is this Mattrick? We’ve talked about him before, but let’s see if we can’t nail down his contributions to gaming down, for better or worse.
1. Need For Speed
Mattrick co-founded Distinctive Software, Inc. as a 17-year old in 1982 and its reputation with racing games grew over the eighties. His company was acquired in 1991 by Electronic Arts, becoming EA Canada and producing the very first Road & Track Presents: The Need For Speed. That series, of course, has become EA’s crown racer, at one point spawning more than one branded game a year, for worse and not any better at all.
2. EA Sports
Electronic Arts had been making sports games in a few major franchises for years by the time of DSI’s acquisition, but it wasn’t until Mattrick got involved that the label exploded. Their NHL series began in 1991, FIFA and NCAA Football in 1993, NBA in 1995, Knockout Kings in 1998, then their “extreme sports” games under their BIG sub-sub-label in the early aughts, the majority of which were built at Mattrick’s EA Canada studios.
3. EA’s Licensed Games
Already a popular series of children’s books, Mattrick was instrumental in bringing Harry Potter to the EA fold under their elaborate portfolio of licensed games. After Mattrick’s departure, new CEO John Riccitello would suppress their reliance on licensing IPs from other media to build gaming franchises on.
When Xbox 360’s approach to playing games suddenly looked super old-school in the wake of the Wii’s motion-based success, Microsoft had already invented the base technologies that would become Kinect, but it was Mattrick that turned that research into a plastic-shelled peripheral, one that would become Guiness’s fastest-selling consumer electronics device ever and revitalize Xbox 360 sales for years to come. The jury’s out on the impact it had for games (our initial impressions weren’t fantastic) and Microsoft still hasn’t quite sold us on why there needs to be a Kinect with every Xbox One, but the peripheral remains incredibly popular.
5. Xbox One
The Xbox was always destined to be Microsoft’s trojan horse into your living room, but when Ballmer and Gates were mulling pitches from the X-Box team and the WebTV internally 14 years ago, they weren’t thinking of people streaming Netflix, they were thinking of people using Office on their television. People have rightfully criticized Microsoft for playing their Xbox consoles as merely powerful set-top boxes – both the 360 in its dashboard updates and the One, well, entirely – and it’s been Mattrick steering the good ship the whole time. Now that the partners are lined up, the games left to be developed and the console left to be sold, Mattrick’s fleeing the coup for another great adventure in which he will bland-ify and commodify everything about it until it’s a shape you no longer desire.
Oh, he’s fleeing to Zynga. Well, can’t be much worse than it is now, can it?