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How I Made It: Michael Pole

Building online worlds

June 27, 2008|Tiffany Hsu | Times Staff Writer

The gig: Chief executive of Trilogy Studios, which moved to Sherman Oaks from a Santa Monica warehouse this week. The company has 32 domestic employees and 300 workers in Shanghai who develop multi-player online games and virtual worlds. In one, the "Pimp My Ride" world for MTV, more than 3 million subscribers personalize avatars that upgrade virtual cars. Other clients include Coca-Cola Co., Toyota Scion and Viacom Inc. Pole co-founded the private company, whose gross revenue is expected to grow 200% this year, with Rick Giolito in 2005.

Got the idea: Although he was once an avid player of World of Warcraft and many of his friends and advisors are "computer nerds," Pole says Trilogy was born of more than a love of gaming. "The entrepreneurship bug bit me late in life. We had just gotten to a point in our careers where we wanted to control our own destinies."

Background: An Army brat, Pole, 48, was born in London but lived in Los Angeles after age 11. He attended a local public college (which he declined to name for fear of being hounded for donations) and received a bachelor's degree in radio, television and film studies. He now lives in Sherman Oaks but swears he did not move Trilogy just to shorten his commute.

First job: When he was 15, he exaggerated his age to bag groceries at a store that also sold liquor. After college, he spent 14 months as a page at CBS working on shows including "The Price Is Right" and "The Young and the Restless."

Along the path: Pole spent the 1980s in animation, working on "Ghostbusters" and other shows for DIC Entertainment before filling executive positions at Electronic Arts Inc. and "Guitar Hero" producer Activision Inc. He moved on to Fox Interactive and then produced games based on "The Simpsons" TV show and the "Scarface" and "Hulk" films as an executive vice president for Vivendi Universal Games.

Outside the box: To publicize Electronic Arts' boxing-based game "Knockout Kings" in 1998, Pole helped stage an event billed as Havoc in Hotlanta, where Sugar Ray Leonard was to come out of retirement to battle Oscar de la Hoya. What most people, including the World Boxing Council, didn't realize was that the two boxers would just play the video game. About 5,000 people attended the showdown, but Pole was more thrilled that the game software did not crash.

Biggest splurge: Once he was promoted at Electronic Arts, he bought season tickets to the San Francisco Giants. He's gone each year since. "I loved going to Dodger Stadium, but I'm with the Giants through and through," he says.

Still to come: A project with DreamWorks and a virtual world with celebrity musicians.

Advice: "Stay focused and stay true to your vision," Pole says. "Hire great talent and even better people. "

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tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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