Leaders

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Nurturing gaming talent with the Brand Director of SEGA Searchlight - #GettingToKnow

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Those of you not too familiar with the gaming industry might picture game development as the effort of a large team of programmers and artists, all working on a monumental interactive experience. Yes, that happens. But sometimes, it is just the dream of three talented folks working from a converted garage.

That is where Rowan Tafler, Brand Director of SEGA Searchlight, comes in. Searchlight is a division of SEGA that partners with external development teams to support, nurture and help bring their games to market. Whether they are industry veterans, an established studio with a new IP or a bunch of young, talented indies with a vision, Rowan's job is to establish relationships with the most talented developers out there, helping them grown and bring their game vision to life. Of course he grows attached to them all. Of course we think he's doing an amazing job regardless.

Today we are Getting to Know an incredibly empathic leader and professional from the gaming industry, one who keeps all the talented game studios he's worked with extremely close to the heart, and who will probably keep dreaming of a Scott Pilgrim LEGO set for quite a lot more time.

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Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?

I’m the Brand Director for SEGA Searchlight, our incubation programme that’s all about supporting, nurturing and helping studios to bring their game visions to market.  Those studios could be industry veterans looking to create something new, an established setup looking for help developing their IP or just three smart folk working out of their garage with nothing more than a brilliant idea. We’re always thinking about the long term, as our eventual goal is to acquire the best studios and bring them into the SEGA family.  

I’m lucky enough to work with incredibly talented developers to help them craft their message and reach the perfect audience. So much of it is about building relationships – you need to truly understand the game’s vision to find a compelling way to communicate it and the best days are when I can help teams make that happen.  

Communication is a key priority for me, most days.  We offer a bespoke range of services to our partners, so I need to make sure that all the internal and external teams are aligned and focused on the right goals – I’m never far from a Trello board or an Excel spreadsheet. That said, if there’s one silver lining to all the changes in work this year, it’s been easier to carve out time for deep, focused work and really push the boundaries of what’s possible. That, and being able to have lunch with the kids when they’re home-schooling.

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

Balancing work life and family life. I joined SEGA three months before my youngest was born and it was a huge culture shock to no longer be able to take conference calls at any time of the evening (not unless the US office wanted to listen to CBeebies Bedtime Stories). I’m lucky enough to be in a culture where personal lives are supported and I make sure my team’s life outside of work is as valued as their office time.

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What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I grew up in a family of actors and dancers. I think that gave me the confidence to speak in front of a crowd (seriously, you don’t know tough until you’ve done Panto season in the Copthorne Village Hall) but more importantly, it taught me about how listening, trust and collaboration builds incredibly strong bonds between people. Whether you’re standing on a stage in front of 200 people, launching a new game at a show or getting ready to release it to the public for the first time, that’s when a team comes together.

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

I’m incredibly proud of bringing the Two Point Studios team into the SEGA fold. It was a really special moment to be working with them right from the start, helping them define their brand and building a team that would help them to connect with their audience.

And the flipside of that is that… once they’re up and running? Once the team’s in place? Once they’re knocking it out of the park? I move onto the next project. You always get attached but the job is about bringing new things in. It’s very hard to let go but you have to trust the team. After all, that’s the whole point of the exercise – to create something that outlasts you.

Doesn’t mean I don’t miss ‘em.

What is one top marketing tip you learned on the job?

I learned from Alien: Isolation that sometimes you just have to show the thing. It was the most innovative survival horror game in a generation, and we agonised over how to introduce it, how to tell the story, how to get across the unpredictable and terrifying nature of the Alien. In the end we decided to say as little as possible before locking press in a dark room with the game and noise-cancelling headphones. Every single journalist came out of that room with a different story and they couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.

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Which individuals and/or brands do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

Inspirations? I only recently discovered that The Designers Republic were responsible for all the PWEI artwork back in the day, so I’m immediately transported back to mid-90s indie discos with sticky floors whenever I see their stuff. Oh, and Mo Salah obviously.

How has COVID-19 affected you?

Well, when the kids were being home-schooled it was a lot harder to sneak a Kit Kat when nobody was watching.

What is your biggest hope for your brand in 2021?

To keep meeting great studios and helping them achieve their dreams.

What is your one piece of advice to aspiring marketers?

Show your working! Write down as much as you can, whether that’s a useful article or a lesson you’ve learned from your own projects. If you habitually keep a note of things that inspire you, you’ll never fear a blank page.

How do you recharge away from the office?

Like everyone, I’m very bad at getting offline! When I get a chance to get away from glowing rectangles I’ll either be covering the kitchen table with a board game or going for a long walk in Richmond Park. 

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What’s your one big dream for the future of brands?

That LEGO finally bring out the Scott Pilgrim set I’ve been bugging them about for years.

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

The resurgence of newsletters is utterly glorious right now, but I feel like it never really went away if you knew where to look. Matt Locke’s Storythings newsletter has brought me inspiration every Friday for almost a decade; Joost van Dreunen’s SuperJoost is a piercingly smart look at the games industry; Dan Hon’s Things That Have Caught My Attention looks at tech and society in a human, honest way. I’ve just rediscovered Alex Morris’ Stratscaps too – his Strategy and Planning Scrapbook is essential reading for anyone interested in strategy, briefing creative agencies or finding compelling insights.

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