For many SEGA fans who grew up with the SEGA Genesis, Tom Kalinske was an integral figure that brought the company to the forefront of the video game industry. After stepping down as SEGA of America’s CEO in 1996, Kalinske pursued his interests in the edutainment field with LeapFrog and Knowledge Universe.
In addition to his work with LeapFrog and Knowledge Universe, Kalinske joined Marvel Heroes developer Gazillion as Chairman. Kalinske recently spoke with GamesIndustry.biz about his thoughts on the video game industry from the last 20 years.
“You can imagine being out of the industry for 20 years and then coming back in, the changes are unbelievable. I’ve got so much learning to do. I didn’t even know about things like Steam and Valve. But the great thing is a lot of this was started so long ago. Remember, we had mobile games long, long ago. We did mess around with VR, but never successfully. I cancelled the introduction of VR when I was at Sega because it made everyone sick, basically. I love what’s going on in AR. I’ve been a little bit part of eSports. So I’ve seen these things develop, and I’m so excited about what’s going on.”
You can thank Kalinske’s return to the video game industry to current Gazillion CEO Dave Dohrmann, who offered him a position in his company.
“We’d known each other strangely enough from our children’s little league baseball days, and we had tried to do a deal a few years ago with Nolan Bushnell to buy Atari back from the French [company that] owned it at the time. So that got me back thinking about the video game industry. So when Dave joined Gazillion, he invited me over and I was frankly knocked out by the quality of the Marvel Heroes game. To me it was a sensational game, and I then had my sons play it and they confirmed with me that they thought it was a sensational game. And I just thought it was an interesting company and wondered if I could help them in any way.”
“It reminded me a lot of when I joined Sega in the 1990s… They didn’t have that many products and we had to develop a lot quickly. We did so, and we had a unique strategy to go up against Nintendo. If I have any strength at all, it’s that I like unique strategies, and I’m hoping to help the company by helping them develop some unique strategies.”
Back in the 90s, Marvel and SEGA produced a number of great video games based on the Spider Man and X-Men series. Kalinske states that Marvel has changed dramatically since his days at SEGA of America.
“I’ve had a long experience with Marvel, and the way I’ve seen it evolve is in the past, video games were a bit of an afterthought to them and not as important as they are today,” Kalinske said. “In the early days, they were more concerned with comics and movies and other forms of entertainment. But I think that’s changed dramatically. They’re extremely careful, extremely thoughtful, and now a really great partner because they understand the importance of the game industry more than they did 20 years ago.”
“As a company, of course there’s a concern when you only have one product,” Kalinske acknowledged. “But if it’s a great product and you can build a company around that, it can make a lot of sense. And I think there’s a lot in the future that will come out of Gazillion, either more Marvel or in other areas.”
Kalinske is very hopeful about Gazillion, and believes that he can help turn it into something bigger.
“I wouldn’t have done this if I thought it was only going to be a small company,” Kalinske said. “I believe there’s an opportunity to build Gazillion into a very large company.”