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Former SEGA CEO Tom Kalinske discusses Nintendo, Pokémon GO, joining Gazillion, and more

During the 1990s, SEGA was on top of the world thanks to Tom Kalinske and his team who sported a take-no-prisoners attitude. His team’s marketing helped Sonic become the icon that he is today, which you can learn all about in Blake J. Harris’ book, Console Wars (Did I mention that Tom Kalinske and Blake Harris will be writing in our magazine, Mega Visions?).

Venture Beat recently spoke with Tom Kalinske at GamesBeat 2016 about a whole bunch of topics, which you can check out in the video above. We posted a portion of their interview, which you can check out below.

GamesBeat: If you could take us back, look back a little, what do you think were some of the most important accomplishments you had at Sega?

Tom Kalinske: After being out of the industry for 20 years, I think I’ve learned an awful lot in the last few days, so thanks for inviting me. At Sega, in 1990, when I joined the company, I think the most important thing I initially did was form the right team. Some of the people were already there. We brought a lot of people in. By the way, on diversity, six of our top 14 executives were women in 1991 in the video game industry. Think about that for a second.

We had a problem, though. Nintendo had 98 percent of the market. That’s a pretty big problem. They controlled retail. They controlled third parties. Third parties and retailers were afraid that if they helped Sega, they wouldn’t get their cartridges shipped or their hardware to fill shelf space. It was a difficult issue. We had to attack the problem in a different way.

We left Nintendo with what I would call the kids’ market, the 7-15 market, and we went after teens and college-age kids. We didn’t have the money Nintendo had, so we had to be clever in our advertising, do stuff like “Nintendon’t” and “Welcome to the next level.” We made fun of Nintendo in our ads, which they really appreciated. And eventually we started gaining on them.

We also did grass roots marketing. We had a college kid on a lot of campuses who was a good gamer. We’d give him Genesis hardware and then send him software. All we wanted back was for him to walk around campus and talk about how wonderful the Genesis and Sega was.

GamesBeat: Why did you rejoin the industry as Gazillion’s chairman?

Kalinske: Dave Dorman, the CEO of Gazillion now, and I — our children played Little League baseball together. I got to know him. You get pretty close to other parents in Little League. We started talking about the game industry. A few years ago Dave and Nolan Bushnell and I tried to buy a game company and get back into the business. We weren’t successful at that, but we stayed close to each other. When he became an investor in Gazillion, and then became CEO, he asked me to go on the board.

I’ve been on the board for almost a year. The current chairman had to go out of the role and so they asked me to come in as chairman. I was happy to do so, because it’s a great company with a great game and a great team, much like Sega in the early days.

GamesBeat: What do you think of Pokémon Go, then? If you were launching Sonic Go, how would you do that?

Kalinske: [laughs] That’s a great idea. I love Pokémon Go. John talked about it yesterday. It’s the perfect marriage of virtual reality and a great license. It’s a 20-year property that started as little collectible characters. Then it was a card game. Then it was a series of video games and television shows. All those characters — I think there’s 720 total now? Something like that. What an opportunity, to get up on your feet with your son or daughter and wander around and explore and find these things and collect them. Brag to your friends how many you’ve collected. It’s a marvelous product, a marvelous game. They haven’t even started trading yet. There’s a lot of opportunities for the future.

Needless to say — somebody yesterday mentioned it was worth $3 billion now. We at Alsop Louie would be very happy if that’s true.


[Via VentureBeat ]


Marcin Gulik

Been a gamer all my life. Studied Sociology and Criminology in college, and traveled for a bit. I like long walks on the beach and I like to listen to... (wait wrong site....) Sega Dreamcast and Shenmue all the way!

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