Vol. 3, issue 23 of the Spanish magazine Mega Force covered the 1994 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and interviewed two of Acclaim’s European executives, President Rod Cousens and Director of Marketing Larry Sparks. The duo discussed launching Acclaim’s Spanish division and shared insight about the plans for a company that was riding high on the success of Mortal Kombat 2 and its latest blockbuster NBA Jam.
Acclaim had only recently entered the Spanish market, having established a partnership with the Disney home video distribution company Buena Vista Video. Buena Vista had been operating in Spain since 1991 and was chosen by Acclaim, according to company representative Peter Vilota, because of its “extensive knowledge of video distribution channels, which we consider much more adequate for our needs than what traditional video game distributors offer.”
During C.E.S. in Las Vegas we had the opportunity to interview Rod Cousens, President of Acclaim Europe. In light of the upcoming release of NBA Jam for Mega Drive and Game Gear, we wanted to know more about this company that is being talked about more and more, particularly since the release of Mortal Kombat.
Mega Force: Hello. How are you?
Rod Cousens: Good morning.
Mega Force: Can you give us a brief history of Acclaim?
Rod Cousens: The company was started in 1987 by Greg Fishblack and Joe Scoroposki, two video game pioneers. Early on, it distributed Nintendo products, but it soon diversified its activity. We bought licenses, started development teams that were prepared to work on one product or another that fit well with market demand. For example, for NBA Jam, our development team was composted by people who were passionate about basketball. That’s the key to success!
Mega Force: What exactly, is your role within the company as president of Acclaim Europe?
Rod Cousens: my primary task is to coordinate the actions of our branches in Germany, France, Spain, and Great Britain. Sometimes, it’s not easy to do this job, as one has to be constantly listening to others and know the market well. The head of each country keeps me informed of market changes. This allows Acclaim to always be at the forefront in any country in Europe and is one of our advantages.
Mega Force: Most of the games sold by Acclaim are licensed titles. Why?
Rod Cousens: We’ve learned that games with well-known titles, like Terminator Alien 3, The Simpsons, etc., generally sell much better with the general public than a totally unknown game. At the counter in game stores, people look for a game that’s familiar to them, like one based on a movie, or with known animated characters.
Mega Force: Which license do you think is the best license Acclaim has?
Rod Cousens: Undoubtedly, it’s The Simpsons. These cartoon characters represent our mood, and their passing has provoked a mini-revolution within our company. Well, in the end, what we want is a revolution in the world of video games.
Mega Force: Don’t you think that the use of a license may demotivate development teams who know that because of the game’s title, its commercial success is practically guaranteed?
Rod Cousens: A good example is Terminator 2: Judgment Day. First of all, I think that it’s a good game; however, I agree with you. Spending money on a license does not imply quality. In any case, making a bad game has never been good business, even with the best license on the market. Acclaim’s development costs are higher all the time, which says a lot about the results we’ve had. Before, we could release an 8Mb game, but now we have to use 16Mb cartridges to get the kind of quality we require. We’re even working on two 24Mb games, a baseball simulation and an adaptation of a movie I can’t comment on right now.
Mega Force: How important is the European market for Acclaim?
Rod Cousens: Europe is becoming more important all the time, representing around 40% of our sales. Wherever we can, we’re going to forge a path, increasing the market with Eastern European countries.
Rod Cousens: Acclaim hopes to sell between 600,000 and 800,000 units in Europe. We expect it to be a best-seller. Our previous blockbuster was Mortal Kombat, with more than 1.3 million units sold.
Mega Force: What do you think lies in store for the future of video gaming?
Rod Cousens: This industry resembles the movie business more and more each day. Costs are higher all the time. I think only the most important companies will survive. We’ve created a new real-time motion capture system that will have applications with a level of realism never seen before. That’s the system of the future, and we expect much from it. We also believe that in two or three years, no one is going to be talking about cartridges but rather CD. All games will come on that new format.
Mega Force: Thanks and good luck!
Jaime Torroja Interview with Larry Sparks, Director of Marketing for Acclaim Europe
A few days ago, the company Acclaim was officially presented in our country by a new distributor, Buena Vista Home Video. With this in mind, the company’s European Director of Marketing, Larry Sparks, was in Madrid, and Mega Force had a conversation with him about the firm’s current projects.
Mega Force: During the presentation of your company and its projects for the Spanish market for the next few months, special emphasis was placed on two or three games. Why have you chosen precisely these games as the standard bearers for your company?
Larry Sparks: It’s because we consider them to be key. NBA Jam currently has no rival – it was number one on arcade lists for six months. It will be the star of our biggest campaign for 1994. We have Ryan Giggs Champion [Champions World Class Soccer], a soccer simulation game that’s endorsed by someone classified as the sixth best player in the world. We think it’s the most important soccer license of the year. Don’t forget that this summer is the U.S. Cup. The game has 32 teams, fast graphics, and offers great realism.
Finally, WWF Rage in the Cage for the Mega CD, which will also be presented in May, is based on the popularity of wrestling. In fact, at the end of May the WWF will be on tour in Madrid and Barcelona, and this is the best simulation of the sport there is.
Mega Force: Why as Buena Vista chosen as your distributor?
Larry Sparks: The principal reason is that we believe the current video game market has exceeded traditional channels, and we need other channels. We considered Buena Vista to be the Spanish company that best adapted to our needs.
Mega Force: You’ve also said that a video game business is like a movie studio. Can you explain why?
Larry Sparks: A video game is like a movie, and the parallelism between the development process of both is absolute. You need someone to control the process (like the director in a movie), a group of scriptwriters, characters, actors, etc.
Mega Force: Using licensed movie, comic, or television characters like Acclaim always does – doesn’t this imply a lack of creativity and originality?
Larry Sparks: Really, buying a license is merely a financial transaction. Later, you have to design and develop a game based on a movie or a character, but the fact is that you have to create a completely new game. It’s all about making something that’s profitable, and using a license only serves to let people know beforehand about what the game is about, but this only makes the road easier; the rest is pure creativity.
Mega Force: Speaking of originality, will your recent releases of Terminator and Alien be the last with the license?
Larry Sparks: No. Pretty soon, we’re going to release a game called Alien Trilogy that will be three games in one, first for the Mega CD and then for other formats. Regarding Terminator, I have to say that Schwarzenegger is working on the third installment in the series, and, of course, we’ll do something for that one.
Mega Force: Does your partnership with Buena Vista mean that in the near future you’ll be releasing games based on Disney characters?
Larry Sparks: The truth is that we’d like to. Disney also works with licenses, but at this time, they’ve awarded them to other publishers. Even so, we don’t rule out a future collaboration in case some of those licenses become available.
Larry Sparks: For the last few months of 1994, we’re preparing several important games, including Mortal Kombat 2, of course, and True Lies, based on the upcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger film. Another movie licensed game is based on a film called Stargate with Kurt Russell, one we’re sure will be a blockbuster. Finally, we have Itchy & Scratchy, with the stars of Bart Simpson’s favorite cartoon.
Mega Force: Finally, and regarding your mention of Mortal Kombat, are you concerned with the comments about the excessive violence in video games like it and how it can affect the development of children?
Larry Sparks: Yes, it concerns us. We’re responsible publishers, and to that effect, we follow the protocols set by Sega and Nintendo regarding this issue.