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The Sydney Morning Herald

'COWBOYS' RIDING HIGH ON BACK OF A GAME IDEA

Author: By BOB BEALE
Date: 21/02/1994
Words: 795
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Page: 2
Brett Clements is a great fidget whose near-constant motion is sounded out by the heavy clink of the flashing metal bracelets on his right arm.

He wears designer sunglasses, drives a shiny red 1959 Corvette and, like his quieter and steadier sidekick, Phillip Tanner, has swept-back hair, a wide studded belt and slightly battered cowboy boots.

Mr Clements and Mr Tanner took the whimsical name for their Crows Nest company, A Couple 'A Cowboys, from a dismissive insult by a former boss when they left jobs as presenters on the television show Wonder World in 1984 to follow their creative leanings.

They probably are not whom the Federal Government had in mind when it urged Australian businesses to get out into the global marketplace and bring home export dollars.

Yet their rare teamwork, willingness to take risks and creative genius for pushing a good idea to its commercial outer limits have helped the nation's balance of payments at least as much as the efforts of many of their more conventional counterparts.

Mr Clements and Mr Tanner are the brains behind Nightmare, the world's first interactive video board game.

Nightmare grew from the two Cowboys' earlier ventures with normal board games - including Oz Quiz and The Idiot Box - and their desire to make a horror feature film.

They married the two by creating a ghoulish video "host", known as the Gatekeeper, for a horror-based board game - simple, but a revolutionary idea in the games market.

Three sequels have followed, featuring more classic horror characters -zombies, witches, vampires and the like.

Nightmare was released in September 1991. Sometime over the past Christmas period the Cowboys got their 2 millionth paying customer.

They don't know where in the world, or in which of seven languages, the landmark copy was sold.

But simple arithmetic suggests that at an average retail price of about $50(more in Australia, less in some other markets) this novel game and its sequels have already racked up sales in the order of $100 million.

Under the alternate name Atmosfear, it has just topped the best-seller list in Britain, compact disc versions will be released in Chicago in July, the electronic games giant Nintendo is bringing out a Super NES version, and a television show based on the game is planned for Britain, the United States and Canada.

Little wonder the distributor, Roadshow Entertainment, boasts that within five years Nightmare and its offspring will have financially pipped Australia's most successful film, Crocodile Dundee.

Mr Clements, a self-described "techno-baby", says the comparison with Crocodile Dundee is noteworthy because film faces a fundamental challenge from new information technology, especially interactive CD, or CDI.

People "at home with their TV sets and videos won't know what hit them when CDI arrives", he said.

The nature of the Sydney media market meant that he was exposed early in his career to computers in print journalism and to new video technology in television, and he and Mr Tanner have kept abreast of advances in their field ever since.

Sydney itself, with its wealth of creative talents, rich blend of cultures, global communication links and relaxed attitudes to innovation and new technology, had helped to make their success possible, Mr Tanner said.

"It's a vital city - a city where people don't just talk, they do," he said. "Everything that goes out across the world on Nightmare is done by people who live here in Sydney."

The pair's insistence on selffinancing and keeping total control over their product - right down to poster designs and advertising jingles - has taught them the value of a dollar as well. "We're refugees from the 1980s," Mr Clements said.

In the 1990s, they show no sign of slowing on their trailblazing ways.

 
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