In the late 80s I was at Codemasters in charge of marketing. Our products consisted of audio cassettes containing games for 8 bit computers that sold for £1.99, then £2.99. At this price we had to sell massive numbers of units to have a viable business.
These games were usually written by one person with input from an artist on the graphics. The programmers often came from the Darling brothers’ social circle from when they lived in Somerset. This was the case with the Oliver Twins who, unusually, worked together on their games. With this, and by hard graft, they had a prodigous output.
From the beginning they really understood what made a game work and thus sell. So it was no suprise when they came up with a game with an egg shaped cartoon character called Dizzy. His adventures and gentle humour made this an instant number one hit.
With a marketing budget of just above zero we had to do all sorts to build the brand (because, it turned out, that is what we were doing). For instance the Olivers made a large stuffed toy of the Dizzy character. We arranged for one of the game magazines to “kidnap” this in a story that got us lots of column inches over several issues.
The success was so great that the Olivers wrote a sequel, Treasure Island Dizzy. But more than that they built a game engine which made future iterations a much quicker and easier job. The new game was massive, going to and staying at number one whilst helping to keep sales of the original game going. We had a brand.
And what a brand. Of the 60 number ones that Codemasters has achieved (no mean feat), 12 different ones had the word “Dizzy” in their title. In IP terms this was a truly massive brand success and it involved the physical shipping of very many millions of units. In fact over the late 80s and early 90s it was probably the strongest single computer game brand in Britain.
Then the Olivers and the Darlings fell out. It doesn’t matter now how or why this happened. What matters is that it killed Dizzy. Dead. The problem is that the Olivers owned the copyright and the Darlings owned the trademark. So it was a stalemate.
The Darlings went off to make a fortune from the Game Genie then another one from the Playstation whilst the Olivers grafted away, as always, to build a great games development company, Blitz. This has brought them the success that their talent and application deserve.
A decade later I was back full time at Codemasters and obviously was interested in trying to rescue the great brand that I had helped to build. So I chatted to the Olivers , who I had always got on well with (it is difficult not to) and I chatted to the Darlings, who I also got on well with, about how to get Dizzy going again. And eventually we got to sit round a table together. And we hammered out a solution which the lawyers made into a workable agreement. All this made me very happy. As were the Olivers because they really love this character.
Now Dizzy had always been 2D so the Olivers went off and created a demo of how a game would work in 3D. Then the product planning committee at Codemasters met and decided not to do it. After all the work and effort that had gone into making it possible. I was somewhat less than a happy bunny. Their reasons were that after a decade everyone had forgotten Dizzy and that the brand was dead. But a big gap didn’t do Prince of Persia much harm. Another reason was that though Dizzy was well known in the UK and reasonably known in Europe it was unknown in the USA. My answer to this is that the UK is a very solid platform to build off and Dizzy is a great brand that will work anywhere.
So from my perspective Codemasters made mistakes twice with this brand. The original falling out with the Olivers prevented Dizzy from developing into a massive global brand that would have made everyone involved substantially richer. The rejection by product planning denied Codemasters the potential to build a global brand that over the last few years would have brought in substantial and much needed profit.
But it still may happen. Dizzy is still out there waiting to be rescued. All it takes is someone with a little enterprise to go and buy the rights off Rod Cousens and it could be game on. 12 number ones is not a fluke, Dizzy is a great brand.
So did you enjoy this little tale? Please comment with anything you want to add.