Introducing the 100 most influential people working in the British games industry - 2017
She is today known as a game development champion, but Debbie Bestwick’s career began in retail.
“I’ve been in this industry since I was 17,” she explains. “I had a choice of summer jobs: one in a fruit and veg outlet and the other in a games indie store. Sadly, the fruit and veg sector missed out, because as a video gamer, there was only ever one choice.”
Bestwick was soon running the store and sold it to a larger chain. That larger chain merged with its sister company 17-Bit Software and Team17 was born.
For years Team17 was known as the developer behind Worms, yet it’s recently returned to publishing.
“Team17 came from publishing and we’ve found the transition back really rewarding,” says Bestwick. “We think first as a developer, and we understand what it’s like sitting both sides of the fence in negotiations.”
Bestwick credits Valve’s Gabe Newell and football manager Brian Clough as big inspirations, as well as Gremlin Graphics CEO Jenny Richards.
“She showed me how you went about just ‘doing the doing’ and she gained so much respect from an industry that was dominated by men. Gender aside, she succeeded on merit alone and that’s been something that has stuck with me.”
From winning ‘independent retailer of the year’ at just 18, to the MBE she received in 2016, Bestwick has collected numerous awards. Yet she says her proudest achievement is seeing the work of Team17’s development partners.
SVP of Commercial Publishing, Sega
John Clark began his career at BMG, and his first game as a sales person was Pandemonium 2, followed swiftly by a certain Grand Theft Auto.
He then spent eight years at Eidos before joining Sega in 2007.
“This is my 20th year in games, which I’m really proud of,” Clark says. “Being part of the transformation of Sega over the last five years has been incredible. The entire industry has experienced a total change and I feel lucky to have been at the heart of it with Sega.”
Clark moved from selling physical boxes to becoming a pioneer in digital, and credits his boss Jurgen Post for enabling him to help change the direction of the organisation.
“[Digital] has been liberating and makes you understand the needs of the consumer and the developer much more,” he explains. “It’s totally changed our business.”
Outside of Sega and his role on the UKIE Board, Clark is active with charities, including as a GamesAid trustee and a Special Effect VP.
“I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy so many great experiences in this industry and it doesn’t take much effort to divert my energies towards charities,” he says.
The most powerful man in games retail also has one of the hardest jobs. He took over GAME when it emerged from administration in 2012 and helped the business bounce back immediately. Despite losing a large proportion of its store estate, GAME retained its position as the UK’s biggest games retailer and, under Gibbs, the firm has gone public, acquired Multiplay, and launched several sub-brands.
It’s part of an effort to transform the business in a digital age, but Gibbs is more than up to the challenge, with a 30-year retail history including stints at WHSmith, HMV and GameStation.
“I have always enjoyed games, and when working for WHSmith I had a real passion for how we best presented them in the stores,” he says. “I moved into a sales development role, travelling the country and implementing ‘Multimedia’ departments in 100 stores, which included games. Further down the line I had the opportunity to become a buyer and jumped at the chance. Being part of launching PSone and Tomb Raider merged a career and passion for games.”
Territory Marketing Director, Europe, Blizzard
George Georgiou is one of the UK’s most experienced marketing directors, with over 20 years in the business.
Following roles at Gremlin and Global Interactive Gaming (plus a brief stint for Wembley), he joined Vivendi in 2002 and would eventually lead the UK business as general manager. After the merger with Activision, Georgiou remained with the company on the Blizzard side, initially as director of marketing for the UK.
He has overseen the launches of World of Warcraft and all of its expansions, and he played a pivotal role in the launch of Overwatch and all recent Blizzard IP.
UK Country Manager, EA
Shaun Campbell has just enjoyed one of his best years at EA. He has seen the publisher score two massive hits with FIFA 17 and Battlefield 1, become one of the world’s most admired companies (according to Forbes), and also top Metacritic’s rankings for quality.
Campbell joined EA Australia as a sales director in 2003. He had previously worked in fast moving consumer goods, and EA was starting to push into mass market retailers.
“What attracted me was the pace of the industry; how business models were changing, how advances in technology meant we could do more both within the games and in marketing,” he says. “We’re also in the entertainment business, so it was about having fun.”
Then over two years ago he joined EA UK as country manager. “The biggest thing I’ve had to come to terms with is the sheer size of the UK industry – we talk about FIFA in millions of units sold rather than hundreds of thousands,” he says. “The UK is also at the cutting edge of the changes we’re seeing in the industry around how we take our games to market, how we engage with the community and players, and how we work with partners.”
European MD, Zenimax
Former Virgin exec Sean Brennan has spent nearly 10 years with Bethesda, and during that time he has expanded its European business from just a handful of people to publishing offices in London, Paris, Eindhoven, Frankfurt, Sydney and Hong Kong.
In addition, studios have been added in Lyon (Arkane Studios), Uppsala (Machine Games), and Frankfurt (id Software), and he has overseen deals throughout all territories where Bethesda does not have an office.
“Given the development talent we have internally the job has been a joy and a source of pride,” he says. “We have grown rapidly for sure, but not at the expense of cutting corners.”
Brennan has worked on the launches of Doom, Dishonored, Skyrim and more, and he’s been most inspired by the works of Bethesda Games Studios and its Fallout and Elder Scrolls releases.
“From the perspective of creativity and deliverability, my biggest inspiration has been Todd Howard at BGS. And philosophically it’s Aneurin Bevan: ‘We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run down’.”
Stuart Dinsey joined the games industry in 1986 after deferring a place at Leicester University to see if he could make it in the media.
He took a research job at ad agency McCann-Erickson and spent his evenings making his own newspapers and writing gig reviews.
“A trainee journalist job popped up at something called Computer Trade Weekly,” he says. “I was interviewed by its 24 year-old editor Greg Ingham and deputy Simon Harvey. I dived into the blossoming British games industry and was editor by 21. I never made it to uni.”
Dinsey left CTW in 1998 to form MCV and Intent Media. Over the course of the next 15 years, he launched numerous trade titles (including Develop), bought some others (including Music Week), and built a company with a £10m turnover. In 2012 he sold Intent Media, but remained in the games industry as a UKIE board member and chairman of publisher Curve.
“Coming out of Intent Media was emotionally challenging,” Dinsey says.
“It had been my life for so long. Software publishing is very different, not least because of its unpredictability, and digital publishing means a daily focus on the retail platforms and discovery. But Curve is a cracking company, and I enjoy working with Jason Perkins, Simon Byron and the rest of the team. Being on the UKIE board also gives me an insight into the wider business, similar to the old days on MCV and Develop.”
UK Marketing Director, Xbox
Harvey Eagle was a music industry talent scout before making the switch to video games in 1999.
“Much as I loved the music business, my time as an A&R man was coming to an end and the music industry was in crisis,” he says. “I’m a big believer that you should choose your work around something you are passionate about. As a teenager I’d spent many hours on my beloved Atari. I also believed that the games business would be fun and was poised for rapid growth. It didn’t disappoint.”
Following a stint at Hasbro, he discovered that Microsoft was making a console. He contacted Xbox’s European boss Sandy Duncan directly in 2000 and has helped launch every Xbox device.
“Each console lifecycle is different and with each Xbox launch we’ve had to overcome challenges, which makes success all the more rewarding,” he says. “The Xbox brand is part of my DNA. That first Halo game will always have a special place in my heart.”
Eagle has been leading the UK marketing team for the past four years.
UK Managing Director, PlayStation
Warwick Light is one of those Sony executives that have been with PlayStation since the very beginning.
He worked in the New Zealand arm of Sony Pictures when it was sub-distributing Sega games. He loved games and ran that department, so when PlayStation got started he naturally made the transition. Beginning in sales, he would eventually take control of numerous PlayStation offices and territories globally, and in 2015 he moved to lead the UK.
“The UK is pacey and exciting,” he says. “It’s a diverse country with very dynamic manufacturer, publisher and retail platforms; you have to be really on your game.”
Light has a reputation for his close relationships with third parties, and he says his proudest achievement was working with one unnamed company to restructure its business. “We turned million dollar losses into million dollar profit within a year,” he explains. “We made some really tough decisions but they all paid off as staff became more accountable, motivated and happier than ever before.”
Director, UK Corporate Affairs, Ubisoft
Giselle Stewart “happily fell into games” after completing an MBA, and her experience managing various teams helped her secure an influential position at Ubisoft.
Based in Newcastle at the firm’s Reflections studio, Stewart not only pushes for greater quality in Ubisoft’s games but also strong digital skills on local, regional and national levels. She works tirelessly to establish Ubisoft as the government’s ‘go to’ source for advice on policies that could improve the skillset of the UK talent pool – and her efforts even attracted the attention of Buckingham Palace.
“I was honoured to be awarded an OBE for services to the industry for promoting skills, and more than a little humbled at the achievements of others who got awards at the same time,” she says.
“The industry must step further into the education space to inspire young people. There are plenty of industry professionals who have stories to tell and advice to give, so making them accessible to teachers and young people would be a great start. Or we should set up code clubs – the more kids that programme at school, the better.”
Head of Global Sales and Marketing, PlayStation
Jim Ryan joined the industry “many moons ago”, or 1994 to be precise, and has been a devoted employee of PlayStation. He has steadily risen through the ranks at the console giant, and now leads sales and marketing globally.
“It’s a really interesting challenge – trying to strike the right balance between building on PlayStation’s regional strengths right around the world, while at the same time looking to grow the business in a more efficient, coordinated and global manner.”
He’s also now a public face for the business as the head of PlayStation Europe, which he says he enjoys, although he misses spending time on the show floor at events like E3.
Ryan has been at the company through the rise of PS1 and the dominance of PS2, but it was 2013’s launch of PS4 that ranks as his favourite moment in the business so far.
“They’re all good, although 2013 was especially nice as PS4 represented a very welcome return to form for PlayStation, and one that is continuing in leaps and bounds.”
VP of Publishing, 2K Games
Murray Pannell is an advertising veteran, who made the switch to games in 1999 and has never looked back. “After five years working in advertising I suddenly realised I knew more about the games industry than I did about anything else,” he says. “So I thought I’d try and turn my hobby into a full-time job. I was lucky that video games were becoming part of mainstream entertainment at exactly that time.”
Pannell’s most high profile roles included senior marketing positions at Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Ubisoft and Sony, and he counts his biggest achievements as working on the launches of both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 4.
“Despite the fact that Grand Theft Auto and FIFA have always been top of the charts, nothing ever remains the same,” he says. “New games, new formats, new companies, new technologies, new business models, new media, new consumers. There’s always something exciting to learn just around the corner.”
Pannell is now VP of publishing for 2K Games in Europe and offers this advice for anyone that wants to get into games publishing: “Remember who your consumers are. They are more than likely not you.”
ID@Xbox Regional Lead, Microsoft
Having played games from a young age, you would think a career in the industry would automatically appeal to Agostino Simonetta, but the indie champion tells us he had something different in mind before he was swayed by “positive peer pressure.”
“My plan was to become a philosophy teacher,” he says. “Immediately after school, I became friends with Marc D’Souza – now executive producer at Unit 9 in London – and Christian Cantamessa – lead designer of the first Red Dead Redemption. I joined them in a quest to turn our common passion for games into a successful career. Nearly 20 years have now passed and I am glad I decided to change my plans.”
After holding producer roles at THQ, Sega and Climax, Simonetta has spent the past 10 years working with the independent development community, first at PlayStation and more recently managing Microsoft’s ID@Xbox programme in Europe.
“I am strongly convinced that this is the best time ever to be an independent developer,” he says. “Digital distribution, openness of the platforms and easy to use development tools have removed, or at least dramatically lowered, the barriers to entry.”
MD Northern Europe, Ubisoft
“I started in games in 1990 at San Serif in Ipswich,” begins Rob Cooper. “It held the rights to Trivial Pursuit and it is there I met [Nintendo UK boss] Mike Hayes and Margaret Pearson.”
That led Cooper to a career first at Bandai and then to Nintendo. He also had stints at Codemasters and THQ before joining Ubisoft’s UK team - where he’s remained for 17 years.
“[Ubisoft CEO] Yves Guillemot is such an inspirational man, and has created a company of passion, loyalty and amazing drive. To be part of this has been wonderful,” he says.
“Individually my proudest moment is selling the first 5,000 Game Boys in the UK market to Dixons in September 1990, and creating success with great brands, in particular Just Dance and Assassins Creed.”
He continues: “It is easy to forget how fortunate we all are to be part of this industry. Sometimes I do think, ‘How did this happen to me?’ My goal is to help young people get experience either at a Ubisoft studio or commercial office.”
UK Sales and Marketing Director,
Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Spencer Crossley knew little about games when he applied for a marketing role he spotted in his local newspaper.
When he arrived at the new job, he was intrigued by these people that turned up to the office at 3:30pm every day.
“It transpired that they were key programmers and artists and went on to develop some of the greatest games ever,” he says. “The company was Mindscape International and the owner, the godfather of the industry, Geoff Heath decided he would take a punt on me.”
Indeed, his 25-year career has seen him work with some legends. “Geoff, Jim Mackonochie, Chris Deering, David Reeves, Tim Christian and Dominic Wheatley, to name just a few. All larger than life characters, all totally different in their style and personality, but all possessing incredible business acumen.”
Today, Crossley works on Warner Bros’ games and has been instrumental in establishing it as a major UK publisher. He loves the games business and encourages others to get involved. “It’s a wonderful, eclectic industry full of the brightest commercial minds and some of the most astonishing creative talent.”
Games Commissioner, Channel 4
The man who now leads the games arm of Channel 4 - which has worked on titles based on The Snowman and Made In Chelsea - began his career with a SAM Coupé computer.
The machine had no software, so Macdonald programmed a simple disc-based magazine that he sold at shows. This allowed him to meet games programmers, and so he started publishing those.
Macdonald’s career highlights range from his time working alongside Lemmings and GTA creator Dave Jones - “his creativity constantly amazed me” - to his team winning an Emmy with Reverse The Odds, a game built to raise awareness for Stand Up To Cancer.
“I had no idea a game could even win an Emmy,” he says. “It’s one of my few accomplishments that my relatives can relate to.”
Now he wants to bridge the worlds of video games and TV, so that both industries can learn from one another.
“At the moment, each side generally looks down on the other with ignorant nonsense like ‘games are just for kids’ or ‘TV is dead’,” he says.
“TV companies could learn a lot about understanding user behaviours and adapting to new technologies, while games still have a lot to learn about character, narrative and drama. There are some amazing narrative games coming through, but they’re still too few and far between.”
VP Third Party Publisher and Developer Relations,
“My first foray in the games industry was answering an ad in the Manchester Evening News,” begins PlayStation’s Michael Pattison. “Moments before I was about to accept a job on a Graduate Management training scheme with a blue chip company.”
“The lure of working for Ocean Software was too good an opportunity to turn down. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Pattison was an influential marketer who spent almost seven years at THQ and then the same length of time at Capcom. In the latter role he led the marketing teams for the US and Europe, and acted as one of the public faces for the company in the West.
That was before changing direction in 2013 and joining Sony, with a remit of strengthening ties between PlayStation and third party businesses.
“The opportunity to see things from the other side has hopefully led to a wider and better understanding of the business, but also enables me to better support our third parties and their content,” Pattison says.
Pattison counts his first boss Simon Alty, his former THQ manager Ian Curran and ex-Capcom Europe boss David Reeves as the people who have most influenced his career.
European Marketing & PR Director, Bethesda
Daley Thompson’s Decathlon is the game that brought Sarah Seaby into the video games industry. Her constant efforts to defeat her brother at the game - who used to suggest that girls didn’t work in the games industry - helped her develop a love for the medium. And so when she spotted a job ad for Interplay in industry trade title CTW, she applied.
During her career, she survived the drinking culture of Virgin Interactive, launched major franchises such as Baldur’s Gate, GTA III, Fallout 4 and Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games, and even oversaw the first ever Skyrim concert in 2016. She’s also overcome redundancy twice - first at Take-Two and then at Gamecock - to establish herself as a crucial leader within Bethesda.
“I’m lucky to have worked on some of the best brands and games and with some of the best people who have become great friends,” she tells us.“I’m really excited about how the industry is moving in new directions, with the recent launch of VR and a new console from Nintendo. It creates both challenges and opportunities, especially coming out of a very interesting and different Q4. There’s the challenge of adapting to changing consumer behaviour and trends, but there’s also the opportunity to personally learn more as the industry evolves.”
Seaby is also an active member within the industry community, supporting the wider business and was once the chairperson of UK charity GamesAid.
Commercial Director, CentreSoft
Margaret Pearson is one of the most influential people working within UK games retail and an industry veteran in every sense of the word.
She began her career in this industry 30 years ago working for Nintendo. She then moved to Philips Media, and when that company was bought by LeisureSoft, Pearson found herself in the world of video games distribution.
In 1999 she joined CentreSoft and has since helped launch three PlayStation consoles, secured the contracts for some of the biggest names in games, worked on the launches of numerous AAA projects such as FIFA and Call of Duty, and picked up countless awards for her and her team’s work.
Activision, VP UK and Iberia
After building a strong reputation in sales roles at Gillette, Roy Stackhouse stepped into the video games industry at Activision in 2006.
After working his way up through various sales positions to commercial director, he went on to lead the UK business and now looks after Spain and Portugal, too.
During those ten years, Stackhouse has helped grow Call of Duty and Guitar Hero, as well as establishing other leading IP such as Destiny and Skylanders.
His role involves territory strategy and direction for the markets he manages, and he also has direct input into the wider EU and international strategy. He also represents the games industry as an active member of the UKIE board.