Game boy: Rob Cooper. Managing Director Northern Europe, Middle East and Export at Ubisoft talks about his role shifting the first of Nintendo’s handheld in the UK

Rob Cooper, MD for Northern Europe, Middle East and Export at Ubisoft

Rob Cooper, MD for Northern Europe, Middle East and Export at Ubisoft

Rob Cooper has had a lengthy and successful career in the British video game industry. Rob has worked in senior management positions at companies such as Bandai Namco, Codemasters, THQ International and, as he is currently, at Ubisoft. So it’s not much of a surprise that he’s been across some of the biggest developments in the country’s video games industry.

One of those developments was the emergence and sale of the first Gameboy’s in the UK. In this guest post, Rob explains how he ended up playing a significant role in getting the handheld, well, into the hands of consumers across the country.

It all started for me in May 1990.  I worked as National Account Manager for BASF selling audio and video tape and loved the job.

I was approached by a recruitment agency in the toy industry about a job that they wanted to talk to me about I wasn’t really interested.  I ignored the guy for three weeks during which I was getting married so had a few things going on.  He was very persistent and when I returned from honeymoon he asked me again if we could meet, which we did. 

We talked for a while and at the end he was very keen to tell me who the company was that were recruiting. He pulled out of his briefcase an A4 laminated logo of a company called Nintendo.  I remember at the time thinking who the heck is Nintendo – I had no idea.  I had a couple of more interviews with the then UK Nintendo distributor and accepted the position, my employer BASF thought I was completely crazy.  

At that time, the company who held the License for Nintendo was called Sans Serif Print Promotions based in Ipswich.   They also held the rights for Trivial Pursuit here in the UK and this ‘video games machine’ was sold in the toy industry at that time, hence the reason why Nintendo were with Sans Serif.  This is where it all started for me within the video games industry. 

My boss at the time was Mike Hayes (went on to Codemasters and Sega) also working there was Margaret Pearson responsible for the merchandising (Centresoft).  We were a small but very passionate group of people at the start of a very exciting period of our careers.  My job was National Sales Manager trudging around all retailers within the UK, meeting those who would listen, with a TV/video player in one hand and an NES machine in the other.  

Three weeks after arriving with San Serif, we went to the CES show in Chicago.  In those days video games representation was very small at the CES shows with only Nintendo and SEGA having major stands and all the publishers only had tiny booths. 1990 was the year that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arrived on to the scene and retailers and consumers went crazy for it, to the point where a young National Account Manager had to tell the Comet Buying Director we had not product to sell to him - that was an interesting fruity conversation! 

At that CES show in Chicago in 1990 it was also the first time UK retailers were presented with this new handheld device from Nintendo called the Gameboy.  This product had been launched in April 1989 in Japan and later that year in the US. It finally was launched in the UK on 28th September 1990.  My little claim to fame in this game’s world was that I sold the first 5000 Gameboy’s in the UK to Dixon’s, where the buying directors were Alan Dickinson and Mike Loizu, they were great guys and loved Nintendo products. 

It initially came with four main games, Super Mario Land, Alleyway, Tennis and the amazing game, Tetris (Worldwide sales to date of 35M units) which was bundled with virtually every black and white Gameboy sold.  The first 5000 went in the first weekend – it was an instant success.  We had a further 50,000 units that year in November and the demand continued to go through the roof. 

The original Gameboy was launched with one of the best TV campaigns ever called ‘How much fun can you handle-  So Let’s Do It’.  It was such a simple advert and yet so effective, worth watching.

The main reason why Gameboy was an immediate success was not only the portability of the device and the games that were created, it was also because the battery life was over 30 hours, which was significant and the main reason why it had so many consumer sales over competitor products.

Sans Serif couldn’t afford to keep the Nintendo licence due to the amazing success being achieved with the NES and the Gameboy so at the end of September the licence moved to the Japanese toy company, Bandai who were based in the UK in Fareham and who could fund the enormous growth that was happening.  

It was an amazing six months - changing jobs, joining an exciting industry, selling products that were new and innovative, and seeing this enormous success overnight - it all happened within such a short period of time. I have always considered myself incredibly fortunate to have worked in this industry, it was a risk moving jobs, but how good has it proved to be.

Follow the 30 Years of Play campaign on Twitter @30YearsOfPlay.