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What great creativity needs

My first introduction to video gaming was in 1989. 23 years in the business means that I've seen first-hand some significant changes in the industry. I'm in a position now where I can share what I have mastered along the way both here and as a business mentor for the next generation of creative businesses - gaming or otherwise - through Nesta's mentoring programme.

Back in 1980, the company I was working for, San Serif, picked up the rights to this relatively unknown quantity called Nintendo. Serif at the time were riding on the success of Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary, two games that it held the manufacturing and marketing rights to from 1985 in all territories except the US and Canada.

I joined the company in 1986 and helped make the two products great successes across Europe - interestingly our key message at the time was that video gaming was only a flash in the pan and what was more important was folk getting around a table playing board games and socialising.

That worked to a point as we sold millions of games, won the Queens award for exports and generated lots of cash. So much cash that we could afford to take on the UK distribution rights for Nintendo.

Nintendo at the time was a failing brand having been treated as a toy by Mattel and never really securing the phenomenal success that it had enjoyed in Japan and North America. Dusty boxes of the Deluxe Edition would languish on the shelves of the only major stockist - Boots, (quite hard to believe in hindsight).

What I learned from an early stage however was that a good product would sell regardless but a good product marketed excellently would sell brilliantly. Lady fortune was around at the time in the shape of the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, (the word Ninja was banned in the UK) Much against Nintendo of America's wishes we bundled the Nintendo Entertainment System with Konami's TNHT and created the Mutant Machine. Sales soared 2,000% in the Christmas of 1990 and Nintendo was re-established successfully in the UK market.

We overtook the Master System as the number one console, then launched Gameboy, (on a budget of no more than £200k), and dominated the handheld sector, seeing off the Lynx and Game Gear.

SNES was launched in April 1992 but we realised that being one year after Sega's Megadrive would be a hard marketing challenge, and indeed it proved to be so. However, great titles were produced and proved to be extremely popular.

Among them was Super Streetfighter 2 from Capcom which we sold at an incredible retail price of £64.99! Consider that development costs were a fraction of today's behemoths.. No wonder Nintendo was the golden chalice!

Being part of the industry since 1989 and watching it change has been fascinating but no more so than the last three years where we have seen seismic change in the way consumers play and buy their games and the associated change in the way developers and publishers have to go to market.

Ironically the world of development has gone full circle where small, innovative teams or individuals can design games and bring them to market. I worked with the Darling brothers for many years at Codemasters and that same level of smart innovation has been re-born in the modern age of smart phones, tablets and browser games.

I would argue that large publishers and traditional console platform holders, (Sega included ), drove the market to levels of expensive development and sequelisation that took a lot of innovation out of the market. The new platforms have emancipated the developer and designer to create new and exciting interactive games, in a way similar to the days of the late 80s and 90s.

Now that we have this freedom to become super creative in an affordable way it has never been more important to ensure that the business surrounding the game is as effective and professional as it can be. I am neither a designer nor developer by trade nor am I an entrepreneur; I am a marketer and a salesman. I am in awe of the clever folk that make our entertainment, but what I have done through my career is take great products and make them successful if not famous by appropriate marketing, selling and strong business management.  

I've worked with games such as Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, NES, Gameboy, SNES, titles at Codemsters such as Colin McRae Rally, TOCA, Flashpoint and then again at Sega with Football Manager, Mario & Sonic and in each case we started small and grew the business. We were always honest about how good the quality was, (after all we all know you can't polish a turd) and tried to create the best possible commercial environment for the games to succeed.

Basic professional business principles were applied with relevant marketing that always put the consumer first.

As the new and established game markets become ever more crowded and competitive with limited platform gatekeepers the time for strong business management and innovative marketing is both now and critical. I know that this applies across the spectrum in the creative industry and that is why I was so excited to be invited to join Nesta's Creative Business Mentor Network, so that I can work with growing creative businesses which have their own business challenges to tackle.  

Through the programme I will be matched with a creative business and work with them over the next year. These programmes are important because they provide creative companies with a rare opportunity for one-to-one mentoring. I hope to bring practical advice to overcoming the challenges of running a creative business.

Through my work life I have helped smart, creative entrepreneurs sell their dream which has been a privilege and I want to share what I have learnt with new up and coming stars of the future. There is no doubt that Britain is one of the most creative countries on the planet - we can stand proudly toe to toe with anyone else However I'm not sure we can always say this about the business that surrounds such creativity, one only has to count the number of UK owned developers and publishers that remain in the video game business.

None the less, Britain is an engine room for creativity and through mentoring I hope I can assist in growing somebody's creative business so that they can become more successful - applications are still open and there is no charge to participate.


Mike Hayes