MAKING A CAREER
OF HAVING FUN
Copyright 2001 www.tombraiderchronicles.com
[ November 27th 2001 ]
Shah loves playing games. More importantly, he
knows why other people love playing games; he
understands why a kid will go and blow all his
birthday money on that one special game. Such
empathy is pretty crucial when you're trying to
convince the Dreamcast generation to play games
on the tiny, greyscale screen of a mobile phone.
But with a background rooted in games marketing,
Shah is up for the challenge.
a long way from his role in the birth of Lara
Croft to pushing text-based mobile quiz games,
but Shah reckons the world is ready for wireless
gaming. As head of gaming at Orange, he's one
of the key driving forces behind the operator's
vision of transforming itself from a mere pipe
provider to a vendor of a complete lifestyle services
package. In addition to building relationships
with third-party content providers, Shah is leading
the development of Orange's in-house games development
original plan was to be a journalist. Having loved
gaming since the days when "my mum was always
pulling me out of arcades", it was obvious a gaming
magazine would hold the greatest attraction, and
Shah was already writing games stories for Future
Publishing while still at college. Working the
door of a bar - a Future watering hole - in Bath,
Shah became even closer to the publishing house
and ended up as editorial assistant on gaming
magazine Ultimate Future Games.
six months I was really bored and started trying
to convince people we should do covermounts, because
no-one was really marketing games magazines then,"
he says. "I phoned every games company and filled
the cellar with boxes of kit I'd blagged. We did
the biggest ever give-away for Christmas and the
issue flew out the door." Such enthusiasm meant
Shah was already building a name for himself in
the gaming industry. His next move proved "one
of the biggest learning experiences of my life".
1990 and Eidos had just launched. Shah had attracted
the attention of marketing director Larry Sparks,
who poached him as a marketing executive. He then
had the good fortune to be promoted to project
manager on a small game called Tomb Raider. The
experience was "like a rocket", according to Shah.
The unprecedented success of the game saw him
gaining a wider industry role, raising his profile,
presenting at Sony events and doing regular review
slots on TV's Live and Kicking.
was a crazy time: 26 years old and running around
everywhere," remembers Shah. "But I was always
going back to Bath at the weekends to play rugby.
My home is very important to me. I come from a
very real background and that has always kept
time later Eidos started going though a few changes
that Shah wasn't too happy with, so he jumped
at the chance to move to Microprose when approached
by marketing manager Chris Meredith. Shah became
a project manager on Team 17 games like Worms
2. "I remember turning up for meetings in a huge
foam worm outfit and having to try and convince
the shop manager that I really was the Eidos project
manager," he laughs.
Shah picked up skills he's now finding vital in
his efforts to build Orange's mobile gaming portfolio:
"I learned how to build relationship skills. You
have a developer and a publisher and both want
to get the best from their products."
he describes as a lack of real product saw Microprose
get swallowed up by GT Interactive, at which time
Shah decided he was ready for "something totally
different". He left to set up a restaurant and
catering marketing company called As You Like
It. This is a time of his life that Shah is reluctant
to talk about. Working with old friends, he quite
fairly feels this was a very personal period,
a time out from his more public exposure in the
next step was another slight departure from his
career norm: moving to games hardware manufacturer
Saitek. "The company was moving to become a peripherals
manufacturer, so I was able to bring my games
knowledge to bear on the role," he says. "This
was a useful time because it gave me good experience
of hardware issues - obviously very important
when you're working in mobile gaming."
Shah was then approached by Orange to head its
new gaming division, he was more than sceptical.
"I was like, telecoms? That's definitely not for
me. I'd come from the Playstation era, so it felt
like moving back to Donkey Kong," he remembers.
"When I saw Orange's vision of these lifeservices,
however, I saw that the culture was there. It
just needed people like me and Ian Henderson,
who now heads up Orange's music division, to come
in and make it work."
UP FOR WAP
challenge Shah faced in his new role will be familiar
to anyone involved in the mobile entertainment
industry: ingrained scepticism. The debacle over
the launch of WAP, for which Orange itself holds
no small portion of the blame, meant that Shah
was facing an uphill battle over the perceptions
of both consumers and the industry as a whole.
is still so sceptical, but WAP is here and it
works and it delivers - as long as you can give
people those killer apps," he says in frustration.
"Colour TV didn't just come along and go bang!
We had to put up with black-and-white Bush sets
does get a bit fed up with the constant carping
over WAP - no surprise given it's his job to evangelise
the protocol for Orange. But his long experience
in the games marketing industry has also given
him the pragmatism that's so desperately needed
to play the waiting game that the wireless entertainment
industry entails, and to just concentrate on meeting
the needs of consumers. "Throughout my career
the one thing that's helped me most is being realistic,"
he says. "If little Billy only has GBP30 to spend
on one game, what's going to make him pick up
your product? You always need to concentrate on
what Billy wants."
for someone at the cutting edge of the wireless
entertainment industry, Shah virtually refuses
to talk about the possibilities of 3G. Sure, he's
thinking about it and he's got plenty of ideas.
But his mantra is to deliver what's possible here
and now. Such concentration on delivering a killer
consumer experience with the tools to hand is
surely one of the key attributes necessary for
the development of the wireless entertainment
industry. That and a love of gaming, of course
still a kid at heart," he says. "In fact, I'd
rather be playing games than sitting here."