1988 was an important year.
The Iran-Iraq War ended. The English Pound Note ceased to be legal tender, and laws are changed to allow pubs to stay open all day. Bruce Willis dropped Alan Rickman off a building in Die Hard. Jessie J was born.
And in Wimbledon, three men formed a service company called The Producers.
One of those men, Andy Payne, is still there today as chairman and managing director of what is now known as the Mastertronic Group, one of the UK’s longest-serving publishers and distributors.
Over the past 25 years, the company has built a reputation for supplying retail with a steady stream of best-sellers – particularly in the budget PC sector.
The team and its members may have changed over the years, but Payne insists that the company’s priorities have not.
“We always stood for value for money and outstanding customer service,” he tells MCV.
“Throughout the history of our company – starting with The Producers back in 1988 – we have prided ourselves in offering value for money at all times and the best service. Customers always want that so if we keep that at the forefront of our thinking, we should do okay.
“We have employed around 50 people a year on average for 25 years and have seen our team grow. Some have even gone on to build their own businesses.
“We are like a family and I would never want us to lose that feel. There is an amazing bond of loyalty at Mastertronic – long may that continue.”
In addition to distribution deals, Mastertronic’s bread and butter for decades have been PC titles.
Some of its biggest hits include the original SimCity in 1995. The Producers distributed 2.5m units of Maxis’ city builder across Europe, with another 1.5m units distributed years later for the Sold Out label.
"Our team is like a family and I never want us to
lose that. There's an amazing bond of loyalty."
Andy Payne, Mastertronic
Originally a separate company, Sold Out eventually became a staple pillar of Mastertronic as a major budget games label, alongside the likes of simulator specialists Just Flight and Just Trains, Great Indie Games, MAD and Future Publishing collaboration PC Gamer Presents.
Each label has total sales ranging from thousands to millions – no small feat given how shelf space for PC games has shrunk over the years. And Mastertronic has “stuck to its guns”, as Payne puts it: rather than shying away from the PC market, it has adapted to build download services.
“PC has never been dead in our book,” says Payne. “We’ve seen all this before. Back in 2003 our retail partners told us that gamers didn’t want simulations so they would not stock as many as they used to. So we worked out how to sell our Just Flight and Just Trains titles by download.
“It took us a year, but in early 2004 we sold our first download. The rest is history. Now over 80 per cent of our sims business is done by download across 190 different countries.
“When our value-price boxed PC ranges faced the same squeeze on retail space, we were already equipped to sell our games by download. We launched Get Games, a business that is growing at a phenomenal rate. “We also widened our reach and developed, published and sold games for us and our partners on all console formats. Retail wanted console games, we delivered.”
Embracing console certainly paid off. Mastertronic has had a string of hits, typified by City Interactive’s Sniper: Ghost Warrior in 2010. The Xbox 360, PS3 and PC shooter sold 360,000 units – impressive in a market dominated by Call of Duty.
It is titles such as Sniper and SimCity, plus its download ventures, that have helped Mastertronic grow over the past 25 years. Before the team begins work on the next 25 years, Payne plans to mark this anniversary in style.
“We are closing the company down for a couple of days in June and taking the whole team away somewhere,” he says.
“Typically the actual location is not yet nailed, but we will do that very soon. Before June I hope.”
You can read our full celebration of Mastertronic's 25th Anniversary in the latest issue of MCV.