Death of a brand

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.


  1. Great story. I used to love Dizzy. Still do, in fact. I remember getting Treasure Island Dizzy on the Spectrum and it blew my mind. I would love to see him appear again. Maybe they could get see about releasing the Dizzy back catalogue onto Xbox Live Arcade or PSN? It would be cheap to do and would advertise the brand again. Then, once everyone realises how great the games were, BAM! A brand new Dizzy title gets unveiled?

  2. I loved Dizzy, the entire series, and still regular play the games via emulators. However, despite your heart-felt story, I truly believe his time has been and gone, and can’t genuinely imagine today’s bald-space-marine-addicted gamers trusting the antics of an egg.

    I’d buy it, of course, but then I hate 3rd-person generic shoot-em-ups, and adore adventure, colour and soul.

  3. That’s what they should do – release the originals over Live and PSN. I’d buy ’em.

  4. Dizzy has always been awesome. Having watched the 3D demo, the tone and humour and animation was all just right. This game needs to be made, and yes HD edition sof the original Dizzy games over Xbox Live Arcade would indeed be awesome…

  5. Hum… Buying the rights… Hum…. *puts hand in wallet*
    Now.. THERES an idea…

  6. I find this eggstremly interesting reading something like this. (sorry for the pun :P)

    It was about 1993 when I first discovered Dizzy, I was about 6 then when I was given the Spectrum for my birthday, years later I stared collecting a few Dizzy games and stuff, discovered the fansite, and now I’m finding myself standing with other fans helping Dizzy get the ruturn he deserves.

  7. When I told any of my friends I worked for Codies, “When is the next Dizzy coming out?” was always the first thing they asked!

  8. I dont think that dizzy should be resereggted in 3D.
    Its going to lose alot of its charm, and the characters movement-animations arent going to look right however you try.
    Releasing a HD version of the originals would be THE way to go, although i dont think new gamers would be so willing to give it a chance, unless it was the prettier amiga version.
    So my opinion is re-release Treasure island dizzy (amiga version) for xbox live (or wii,psn) or perhaps fantastic dizzy (megadrive).
    Sure to kick off dizzys comeback.
    I may have to consider a public stunt of national television proportions to start the ball rolling.. 😀

  9. Suggest we need to get Capcom to buy the rights for a HD Remix from Backbone or whoever. Look at the sales success of the dead franchises Ultimate Ghosts and Goblins (good) and Commando WolfOTB (Great) and 1942 (Poor). Could bang out an emulated original or two at a discount price in the months leading up to the release. PSN and XBLA need quality content and Dizzy could be another piece of that?

  10. What a brilliant read that was. I was very young at the time i started playing, i’d assume i was 5 when the first Dizzy game was on an Amstrad Action demo tape, the first game i’d ever played. It’s brilliant to read things like this and Retro Gamer to see just how big a deal these games actually were.

    Being that young, i wouldn’t have my head in a magazine, all gaming was to me was me and whatever games we’d bought at Tesco or Asda on a Friday night (i remember being over the moon with seeing the egg on a pirate ship that one Friday night!) so i wouldn’t have taken an interest on how things worked behind the scenes.

    I doubt you’ll read this since it’s such an old topic now, but thanks for posting it Bruce!

    As it stands right now, i’d rather the brand wasn’t relaunched to be honest. It’s only going to shit on the leggacy (sorry) that the series has left behind. Without wanting to brown nose too much, but the guys working hard on new titles using Dizzyage are doing an amazing job keeping things alive as it is.

  11. Thanks for that Bruce! 🙂

    It’s actually a bit of a thrill to think I can post this for you to read (if you do read it that is). My friends and I grew up with Dizzy 20 years ago, and he’s still kind of sacred to me, even now.

    Spectrum games were a massive part of my childhood, but in a rich sea of faceless titles, the Dizzy games really stand out in my memory like a landmark. Dizzy games had personality, continuity, familiar characters. And I think above all else they were just great games (the 8 bit versions in particular). Clearly, a lot of love and attention went into them, and that really came across when you played them.

    Thank you Bruce for all your involvement in this great franchise, and for all your efforts in championing it and trying to bring it back.

    Here are five things I think would be important if you’re bringing Dizzy back in a new game…

    1. If I could pick just one thing about the original Dizzy games that I thought was important for a remake, I would say it was the black backgrounds. I’m not sure why but I thought those black backgrounds were really atmospheric, and that was lost on the Amiga version with the bright blue sky. So I think any new Dizzy title should be set either at night, or in a world where “the sunlight has been stolen” or whatever.

    2. I think another really important aspect is the personality and the humour, and the returning Yolk Folk should be funnier than ever (Monkey Island funny), maybe with a few new characters. I think cut scenes are a must. Funny, quirky cut-scenes that make this game stand out. (After all, Dizzy was strikingly original back in 1986.) The game should introduce the characters, and Dizzy’s world, as though this is brand new (because most people will never have heard of him before).

    3. I also don’t think the play areas should be too “big”; I think it works better when you have a smaller-scale, more intimate level; more like an area you can “hang out” in, rather than just walking through. With a lot of care and attention put into decorating a small area to look really great, rather than loads of repeating backgrounds.

    4. I think any new Dizzy game should have plenty of length. I’d like to see a Dizzy game with the scope of some of the Mario games, in terms of hours to complete. Possibly many different sub-games making up one big game?

    5. As for the visual style, I don’t think Dizzy should ever be very realistic. The game should look a bit quirky and stylised, because at the end of the day this is an egg with boxing gloves, which is quite an abstract concept. So I think the graphics should be a little more abstract and quirky – not taking themselves too seriously, like the game as a whole.

    I’ll never forget Dizzy, and fingers crossed he will one day be famous again!

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