The ground floor of an anonymous Slough industrial estate building, shared
with companies that sell construction and mining equipment, is not where you
would expect to find the UK branch of a multi-billion pound company that
operates in one of the most exciting and competitive markets there is.
But this is precisely where we find the headquarters of video games and
hardware distributor Nintendo UK and its finance director Tom Pearce.
The anonymity of the office is a deliberate security ploy, in case
unscrupulous characters believe there is valuable kit stored there they could
get their grubby mitts on (there isn’t, by the way). The subletting of a floor
in another company’s building, however, is purely down to the size of the
operation. Nintendo UK only employs about 20 staff, despite the company being
responsible for sales of around ¤150m (£100m) and being by far the largest
market in Europe for the Japanese giant. The operation is heavily supported by
the European headquarters in Germany.
The small number of people working in such a large market means that Pearce,
33 this month, enjoys a far closer working relationship with the sales and
marketing department of the company than many other finance directors will ever
But as a CIMA-qualified accountant, experiencing broader business skills is
exactly what he wants and is prepared for.
A team of 20 may seem small for such a large brand, but it is luxury compared
with the seven staff who started Nintendo UK, when Pearce was cherry picked from
T.H.E Games in 2001, the then exclusive UK distributor of Nintendo games.
‘At that time the finance function was just myself,’ Pearce says. ‘Initially,
the fact that I was operating on my own it was quite a daunting task, but I did
have a lot of support from my European colleagues. I saw it more as a challenge.
I’ve got a clean sheet of paper, let’s build the department as I see fit, but
using Europe as a very good support function.
‘That first year at Nintendo UK was probably the most exciting part of my
career, because it was, in effect, like starting a company from scratch.’
Despite his dismissals of being a hardcore gamer, his passion for the
industry is strong, no doubt honed during marathon sessions of Super Mario Kart
while studying at Brighton University.
His close relationship with the other parts of the business means he prefers
to talk about the company as a whole rather than detailing the minutiae of the
The computer games industry has always been fiercely competitive, and while
rival console makers have come and gone, Nintendo has always been a major
player. It is fair to say that the corporation played a huge part in making
computer games the titanic industry it is.
That’s not to say it hasn’t had its tough times. The emergence of Sony’s
PlayStation in the 1990s saw the company lose its crown as console king.
More recently, Microsoft has made a major thrust into console gaming with the
Xbox, and stole a march on its competitors with the release of its next
generation console, the Xbox 360, over a year before Nintendo and Sony had rival
products ready for market.
Nintendo finally released the Wii console just before Christmas but demand is
so high that the hardware is still virtually impossible for customers to get
their hands on. In Sony’s case, Europe is still impatiently waiting for the
launch of the much anticipated PlayStation 3 in March.
In the lucrative handheld console market, however, Nintendo has long held top
positions. The legendary Game Boy crushingly dominated in the 1990s, while today
its DS lite is performing well against strong competition from Sony’s PSP.
In fact, 2006 and 2007 look like promising times for Nintendo, with demand
for both of its new platforms keeping company finances rosy.
‘The market is absolutely cut-throat, but for the past two years we have been
riding the crest of a wave, where historically we’ve not really penetrated the
console market as properly as we’ve wanted.’
And this progress has been made by not slavishly following the route of its
competitors and simply building new kit with faster processors to churn out
better graphics. Although graphical advancements are still a feature, Nintendo
has instead invested more time in revolutionising the gaming experience for
The DS lite has touchscreens and uses a stylus to let the gamer interact more
closely with the on-screen action. The Wii takes this to another level with its
remote controller that the user must swing, thrust or manoeuvre to direct their
Pearce believes these two products are transforming the gaming landscape,
moving it away from being the sole realm of the geeky male teen, who must have
the latest game immediately and will play it on his own in his bedroom for hours
‘Throughout the years, a lot of people have said they have the piece of
software or hardware that’s going to bring gaming into the mass market, but it
hasn’t properly materialised,’ says Pearce.
‘With DS and Wii, we’ve really done that. Over Christmas, I had shown my
parents, my aunty and uncle the Wii console. Typically, they would never have
been interested, but once I showed it to them and they got playing it, they
absolutely loved it.
‘We’re moving into a much bigger proportion of the population: mums, dads and
a more female audience. We’re getting them into video games because they’re easy
to play, are intuitive and people can play with their friends. We’ve just got to
keep that going.’
Pearce knows all too well that while things may be going swimmingly at the
moment, the landscape can shift dramatically in a short space of time.
The launch of the PS3 will undoubtedly be a major challenge, despite the
different markets the consoles are catering for. But, frankly, Pearce wouldn’t
have it any other way.
‘Things change daily in this business,’ he says. ‘It will only take one of
the competition to do something dramatic, like bring out a new product that
perhaps you didn’t expect, and your whole strategy has to change. I find that
quite a buzz.’
If it’s change he’s after, he’s certainly in the right industry.
Seventh Generation Heaven
Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 represent the seventh
generation of consoles.
First Generation 1972-1975
Main consoles: Coleco Telstar; Magnavox Odyssey 100
Notable games: PONG
Second Generation 1976-1984
Main Consoles: Atari 2600; Coleco Vision; Fairchild Channel F;
Magnavox Odyssey 2; Mattel Intellivision; Sega SG-1000
Notable games: Donkey Kong; Pac-Man; Space Invaders
Main Consoles: Atari7800; Nintendo Entertainment System; Sega
Notable games: Alex Kidd in Miracle World; Super Mario Bros; Tetris
Fourth Generation 1987-1996
Main Consoles: Sega Mega Drive; Super Nintendo Entertainment
Notable games: Mario Kart; Sonic the Hedgehog; Street Fighter
Fifth Generation 1993-1998
Main Consoles: Nintendo 64; Sega Saturn; Sony PlayStation
Notable games: GoldenEye; Gran Turismo; Tekken; Tomb Raider; wipEout
Sixth Generation 1998-
Main Consoles: Microsoft Xbox; Nintendo Game Cube; Sega
Dreamcast; PlayStation 2
Notable Games: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas; Halo; Super Smash Bros,
Seventh Generation 2005-
Main Consoles: Microsoft Xbox 360; Nintendo Wii; PlayStation 3
Notable games: Gears of War; Dead Rising ; Lost Planet: Extreme
Condition; Wii Sports; The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
WIN A WII
Young Professional, Accountancy Age’s digital magazine for
part and recently qualified accountants, has got its hands on some serious
gaming kit – courtesy of Nintendo UK. Lucky readers could get their hands on a
revolutionary Wii console, which is still virtually impossible to find in the
shops, or a handheld DS lite with accompanying brain training game.
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