Mike Hayes is of course one of the few people to have been successful at SEGA and Nintendo – establishing Nintendo as a brand in the UK and then rejuvenating SEGA after their post-Mega Drive slump. He kindly dropped by Arcade Attack to share some gems…
Mike, your career is well-known and we thank you for your sterling efforts over the years but how did you get into the video game industry in the first place?
When I was at Serif Games in 1989. We had made much success with the launch of Trivial Pursuit and then Pictionary and we picked up this failing product called Nintendo (failing in the UK not in Japan or America). Mattel had launched it in 1987 as a toy and virtually the only distribution was Toys R Us and Boots! We had piles of cash so we took on the UK and Irish sales and distribution. Our big debut was bundling NES with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – the Mutant Machine. Sales increased 20x overnight.
You have worked for some of the biggest video game companies in the world. What was it like working for Nintendo?
At the time is was as near to being in Rock n Roll as you could. It was the big UK Nintendo vs SEGA battle. We were written about, talked about and we had huge advertising and promotion budgets. One commentator likened Nintendo to Coca Cola and SEGA to Pepsi. Many many stories of the rivalries. As a company however, Nintendo was and probably still is a very conservative business to be in, certainly compared to the party loving SEGA, Virgin et al. However unlike SEGA in the early 90s we made good profits and launched titles that would have much greater longevity.
Codemasters must have been a great company to work for. During your time at this company which games did you help market and promote?
TOCA, Colin McRae Rally, LMA Manager, Operation Flashpoint, Micro Machines, Brian Lara Cricket…and also ashamed to say Pop Idol, truly awful (don’t say that Mike! – Ed).
You became the CEO of SEGA Europe and SEGA of America. How does it make you feel that you were in charge of such an iconic and much-loved company?
Best years of my working life. We turned the company from a failed hardware company (despite the brilliance of Dreamcast) into a multi-platform software business and then one of the leading providers of digital content.
When you first started working for SEGA what issues did you instantly look to rectify and help lead the way to the re-birth of the company?
Forget the past. Software only. We hired the best from EA, Codies, SONY and so forth. Almost like a team of mercenaries. We built a good team and focussed on Nintendo, PlayStation and, critically, PC.
When working for SEGA which games did fans most want you and your team to work on? I assume Shenmue 3 was way up there!
Yes and no. Games like Shenmue were/are iconic but from 2004 onwards we were seeing a decline in the classic Japanese origin titles and we wanted to bring more western content to market – hence Total War, Football Manager, even putting Sonic with Mario and adding the Olympics “westernised” the game. But many were hankering after the great classic, believe me, it was discussed many times!
How do you feel now that Shenmue 3 has been announced and is in the works?
Awesome and refreshing! End of this year??
Er, yeah we think so! Do you think SEGA will ever look to relaunch any other much loved games from the SEGA library such as Streets of Rage or Golden Axe?
Only digitally. We constantly relooked these, one big project was to re-boot Crazy Taxi, spent six months on it then canned it (nooooooo!! – Ed). I believe SEGA have re-introduced these in the past as re-releases digitally.
You started at SEGA at a difficult time and you have rightly been credited for steadying the ship and moving the company forward. Do you consider your work at SEGA your proudest achievements within the games industry?
I do. We took the company from failure to $500m revenues. Bought several companies including Sports Interactive and Creative Assembly, sold over 25 million Mario and Sonic games, were one of the first on iOS with Super Monkey Ball, at one time were Steam’s top 3 customer. However, launching Gameboy is up there!
Do you think SEGA will ever launch a new console?
Never. Fool’s errand.
You have worked at both Nintendo and SEGA (not many people can say that!), how do the two companies compare in your view and which company is closer to your heart?
The SEGA of the 90s was very different to the SEGA I created. I had much more control within SEGA (rare to get a UK CEO looking after EMEA and American business). But I am a Nintendo gamer at heart, always was and always will be. Mario will always be my favourite (whatever the recent incarnations).
OK, so you mention Mario there, would you say you’re a fan of video games and if so, which other games do you love playing?
Because I have been out of the mainstream now since 2012 I play a lot less and am focussed on a lot of the digital games, VR and so forth. So I have become a casual gamer (God forbid) but I miss FIFA, COD, and anything with wheels in it…
As you just mentioned you no longer work in the video game industry – how would you look back at your stellar time in this industry?
With great fondness, (most of my pals are from the biz), joy and a sense of achievement. What a way to earn a living. Plus, I am not the talented one, I am just a business man. To be surrounded by the creative geniuses that I have worked with was special. As an investor in this market I still have that pleasure, Patrick O Luanaigh, James Brooksby etc.
If you could share a few drinks with a video game character, who would you choose and why?
You know who, the Italian guy!
We were expecting you to say Lara Croft but OK! Great to have you here Mike, we wish you all the best in your future endeavours!