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INTERVIEW: Lee Kirton

Ben Parfitt
INTERVIEW: Lee Kirton

You were recently promoted to marketing director at Namco Bandai. Can you give us some background on the career path that led you there?

I started out in the games industry back in 1997 at GT Interactive. I worked as a PR assistant, helping
to launch key franchises such as Driver, Duke Nukem, Abe’s Odyssey and Unreal.

In 2000, Infogrames purchased the company and I was promoted to PR manager working on titles such as Hogs of War, Driver 2 and UEFA Challenge.

When the company acquired the Atari name back in 2003, I was dividing my time between a European head of communications role, working on Warner Bros titles, and a UK PR manager role, working on titles such as V Rally, Enter the Matrix, Unreal Tournament, Stunt Man and Test Drive Unlimited.

I am now focusing on developing strategic marketing and PR campaigns for the UK and exploring new product opportunities for third party publishers, with the ultimate goal of helping Namco Bandai to become a Top Five publisher.

That’s a really tough target, and shows the ambition of the company. What sort of timescale would you put on it and do you think it can be done organically or would it have to involve acquisition?

We can’t go into too much detail about new titles and new business but we are working to a three-to-five year plan. We currently have strong relationships with third parties in Europe on the distribution side and we’re working closely with developers, discussing new projects.

You seem a genuine games fan first and foremost – of all games – not just your portfolio. How important do you think that is for what you do and how you do it?

I am very passionate about video games and the entertainment industry as a whole. As a kid, I played a lot of games and even had a go at trying to code them. To be passionate about gaming and entertainment, as well as the industry you work in, is incredibly important to help in the success of this business. I know in my mind the kind of quality of game, trailers, screenshots, music, graphics and marketing that consumers want to see.

I am fortunate to love Namco Bandai games as well as those from other publishers which gives me an overall view on key USPs, and what makes a great game.

Looking back at 2010, perhaps the NBP product that the industry was most interested in was Enslaved. The perception was that as a piece of new IP it was a brilliant concept, extremely well executed and marketed – and yet it didn’t do the numbers that A) you guys were after and B) it deserved. What’s the view internally? And what lessons do you think have been learned about launching new IP – apart from the fact that it’s tough?

Enslaved was an important title for Namco Bandai and the company worked extremely hard to ensure it was a success. It didn’t perform as well as we hoped it would but we’re very proud of how it was received by both the media and the consumers who have experienced it. It’s always going to be tough launching new IP in a crowded marketplace and alongside some established and extremely successful franchises.

But the game was fantastic. The studio, Ninja Theory, is incredibly talented and we are continuing to look at new opportunities for the title.

What might those new opportunities be? Have you green-lit a sequel?

I can’t discuss where we are in terms of a sequel. We’re looking at reviews and feedback from the press and because of the gameplay and quality that Enslaved delivered, we see it as a great catalogue title going forward.

What other products would you pick out from the last 12 months as having either succeeded commercially or having achieved something strategically important for the company?

Tekken remains a very important franchise for Namco Bandai and Tekken 6 demonstrated that the fighting game is still a very important genre within the industry.

Namco and Capcom recently announced Street Fighter X Tekken and Tekken X Street Fighter, which are incredibly exciting titles with massive fanbases and we will be communicating more news on both of these titles in the near future.

Ben 10 is an incredibly important franchise to Namco Bandai and continues to perform well, especially for the UK market.

Another key launch for Namco Bandai in 2010 was Demon’s Souls. We planned a specific strategy to launch the title as one SKU, Black Phantom Edition, as a limited release at the same retail price as a standard version. Fans went crazy for this and it sold out. We then went to market with a standard version of the game.

Strategically, 2010 was probably the year in which you got all the upheaval out of the way, with the D3P and Atari deals properly bedded-in. Going into 2011, does it feel like a structurally more settled and secure company?

We are incredibly focused as a global organisation as to what our objectives and goals are – with the chief one to become a Top Five publisher. We have a great relationship with Atari and our third party publishers, and look forward to developing existing franchises and creating new titles to compete in the Western marketplace.

It’s an extremely exciting time for Namco Bandai. Not only do we have some great titles releasing this year and next, but we always have a great team of creative, talented individuals working hard to deliver on our goals. It’s always worth noting that Namco Bandai is a very ambitious company willing to take risks whilst evaluating new opportunities in the market and maximising its existing IP and extensive back catalogue.

You start the year in style with Test Drive Unlimited 2. Remind us of the original’s success – and what are your hopes for the sequel?

Test Drive Unlimited was ahead of its time when it launched in 2006. It was the first time a driving game offered an MMO universe on a console without subscription.

The concept of driving round a fully interactive island allowing players to build their lifestyle was just amazing. Test Drive Unlimited 2 offers two islands, Ibiza and Oahu, is a whole lot bigger, looks fantastic and really captures the spirit of the original game.

It also features a new handling model which can be adjusted depending on the player and it also features a more robust social element making it easier to meet your friends.

The media we’ve shown it to see it as a virtual driving playground with incredibly massive potential. We do too. The install base of the Xbox 360 has grown considerably since 2006 and for the first time we’re bringing the title to the PS3.

What plans do you have for 3DS and NGP?

We have not discussed any plans for NGP yet, but are supporting 3DS with Ridge Racer 3DS as a flagship title for the launch period.

[BIO]

Name:

Lee Kirton
Current Job:
Marketing Director at Namco Bandai Partners  
Employment History:
2003 – 2010 Head of UK PR at Namco Bandai Partners
2002 – 2003 Head of Communications at Infogrames UK
2001 – 2002 PR Manager at Infogrames UK
1998 - 2001 PR Executive,  at GT Interactive
1997 - 1998 Receptionist and Customer Services at GT Interactive

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