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Seven Squared’s Simon Kay discusses the appeal of classic gaming brands – and how some of his range benefits the Safe In Our World charity.
Simon, thanks for making the time. Can you give us a brief introduction and history to Seven Squared?
For a long time I’d observed merchandising around computer games and thought that they don’t really do the industry – and the story of it – justice. Having grown up as a Atari/ZX Spectrum/Amiga/Vic20/C64 player, it had to start there.
The other motivation was around mental health and how playing games had not only been a wonderful escape from life’s tribulations but an amazing experience with friends. That’s another core reason why we do this: to encourage a conversation around mental health through our memories.
You focus on iconic computer games and characters. What quantifies something as iconic in this sector?
The pathway to being an icon is both universal and individual. The reason you connect with something and remember it can be personal. That could be a game’s packaging, it could be a logo or it could also be the time you spent trying to get by certain levels with a particular character. The list is quite long. Suffice to say, the inspiration is broad and it’s a story that’s both individual and community based.
I know you are keen to work with the original owners and developers of the games you feature. I imagine this has been tough at times. Can you give us an insight into the rights clearance process?
Luckily I’ve been involved in licensing within the computer game’s business for over 25 years – on top of my younger playing years – so there was a lot of knowledge of who and where to start with. Consolidation of ownership within the business has made others harder to get.
For example, when you’re developing a story that should be told but you get restricted by major corporations who now own true icons, that’s difficult. To the point that we’ve had to leave some behind for now. But we will continue to write other chapters as the journey continues.
Expanding on that, are there any games out there you would like to license but haven’t been able to find the owners for?
We started telling our retrogaming story with home computing icons from our tween years in Speedball and Xenon thanks to Mike Montgomery. That was easy as I knew him from years ago. However, we wanted to make sure we told the arcade story as well as socially those elements of the journey went hand in hand. Industry consolidation has meant certain iconic brands have ended up being owned by organisations such as Warner and Microsoft and it’s not always that easy to get to them in the way we’d like to, based on our story and lifecycle phase.
How do you approach designing your products? Are most of your designs logo-driven?
Logo plays are quite easy. They are what they are and they stand out alone. Others are inspired by packaging, loading screens, characters, assets and even backdrops. When you have your own memories – and those of the retro gaming community – as inspiration, it really helps with design direction.
On logos, what makes for a good logo for a gaming brand?
History, story and connection. Game logos used to be front and centre and probably much more prominent than they are today. Small garage-based developers meant logos would resonate in a more gritty and relatable way than probably they do today. You felt a connection perhaps more than now.
“The reason you connect with something is personal. It could be a game’s packaging, logo or the time you spent trying to get by certain levels with a particular character.”
Thinking about your experience of licensing retro game brands, are there lessons that today’s game developers could learn from your experience?
Definitely. Gaming brands and design teams are hugely relatable, but their stories just aren’t what they used to be. It’ll be games that are remembered more than a developer’s brand, which I think is a shame. The connection to the talent that created these memories is very important and it’s missing today.
So in light of that, my advice to developers would be: make sure you share your story. Get the community to understand you and what inspired what you create and you as a business. There’s an emotion and connectivity to the whole thing and that’s what inspires story and design. Obviously, the usual elements of protecting your IP and nurturing your relationship with your audience is significant also.
A number of the products you sell benefit the Safe In Our World charity. Can you tell us a little bit about the charity, its work and your motivation for helping them?
Safe In our World is the perfect charity connection. The conversation around mental health both in the video games industry and the community has evolved greatly in the short time SIOW has been around. To be helping raise funds for both their industry and community work is the perfect accompaniment. More information on their work can be found at www.safeinourworld.org.
A great partner. What’s next for Seven Squared? What’s in your pipeline?
What we’ve really enjoyed lately is collaborations that enable us to tell more of the story through strategic partnerships. We’re small and almost perfectly formed with a brand respected in the retrogaming community, but there’s so much more to do.
Storywise, we have some amazing Atari designs and we’re bringing more classics from California Games to MicroProse Soccer for the World Cup to the story. One of our favourites last year was with EA when we managed to design six moments from our journey with their games in support of Safe In Our World. More are welcome!
How do you see licensing and gaming developing over the next few years. It seems gaming brands are a core part of the licensing mix these days. Is that trend set to continue?
Definitely. Simply put: there is no better sector. I remember many years ago talking to industry veterans from other sectors, like music, where I’d say that gaming would envelop all their industries and take over as the predominant global force – and it has!
The way that stories, moments and memories in gaming transition from the real world to the virtual – and now the Metaverse worlds combine with multiple ways to wear and share your journey – it’ll only grow again. Retrogaming never ends. The journey continues for all that are in it.
Finally if you had to recommend three retro games to a teenager, what would they be and why?
California Games, Speedball and Sensible Soccer. They give a little bit of everything that makes games great and where many a story started. I’d even mention Skool Daze. Sandbox games probably wouldn’t exist without it!
Fab. Thanks again Simon. And folks can check out your collections over at www.sevensqua.red.
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