MastertronicMastertronic was formed by three people: Martin Alper, Frank Herman and Alan Sharam. They all had experience of video distribution. They also had some financial backing from another small group of investors. The company's first premises were in the back of Alan Sharam's offices (he was also a surveyor at the time) in George St, London W1. They used to make up packages of 100 tapes ("dealer packs") and send them out to newsagents, toy shops, motorway service stations, just about anyone who would take them. At that time (1984) the mainstream retailers refused to take budget games because they had had bad experiences in the past. Mastertronic eventually won them over by showing that new games would regularly be produced to replace old stock and by producing games that sold well. Another key figure at the time was an ex-professional cricketer batsman (Nottinghamshire) Richard Bielby who ran a distribution network servicing a large number of small retailers.
Martin Alper, who had the most marketing flair, went to the USA in 1986 to set up Mastertronic Inc. The UK company was managed by Frank Herman, whilst Alan Sharam increasingly specialised in sales and logistics (warehousing, packaging, controlling production schedules). After the Sega takeover Frank Herman became deputy Managing Director of Sega Europe and Alan Sharam was Managing Director of Sega UK. Martin Alper became resident in the US and continued to work for Virgin Interactive, which was soon taken over by Blockbuster Video.
None of the directors knew anything about games. They used to boast that they never played them. When programmers came in with demos, someone would have to load the games for the directors, plug in the joysticks etc. Mastertronic never employed programmers directly (unlike for instance Virgin Games who had a staff of six) but bought everything from outside, either directly from the authors or from other games publishers. In their heyday they were deluged with games from enthusiastic amateurs and managed to publish quite a few of them. All game authors were paid royalties four times a year.
Early in 1987, Mastertronic bought the European part of Melbourne House and the Melbourne House name.
Around the summer of 1987 Virgin Group bought the 45% of shares held by the investor group mentioned above. The remaining 55% was held by Alper (25%), Herman (20%) and Sharam (10%) and they sold out in 1988 in a highly complex deal which required their continuing involvement in the business and achievement of profit and cashflow targets.
Much of the early output was supplied by just two producers - the Darling brothers who of course formed Codemasters as soon as they could break their contract with Mastertronic, and Mr Chip Software who continued to do games for us for some time.
Frank Herman spotted in early 1987 that Sega had no UK distributor for the Master System range. Mastertronic sold everything they could get that year and were then appointed as distributors in France and Germany as well, and thus Sega Europe was born. Branson undoubtedly wanted to buy Mastertronic in order to get into the Sega business. By 1991 nearly all Mastertronic's turnover, and certainly all the profit, came from Sega business. As a result nearly all the staff moved over to Sega when they bought the business in 1991. Only a handful of Virgin games programmers stayed with the publishing side of Mastertronic (quickly renamed Virgin Interactive Entertainment) where they continued handling the non-consols games part of the business. By that time the budget games business was dying and nobody cared about it. In any case the competition had become intense as everyone was now recycling their old full price games as budget games.
The average sale between 1984 and 1987 was about 40000 units, easily enough to be able to pay the programmer, music writers etc about £4 - 5000 and also make a nice profit. The games may have sold at £1.99 but the retailer and VAT would take over £1 of that. Mastertronic's top selling game at 147000 units was Ghostbusters, but that was not an adventure.
Most of the above description written by Anthony Guter who was financial controller for Mastertronic from 1985 to 1991.
Mastertronic might not have been an official distributor of Infocom games, but they acted as a wholesaler of full price software to some major UK retailers like Toys'R'Us and Woolworths.
Mastertronic also published games on the labels M.A.D. (Mastertronics Added Dimension, sold for £2.99 instead of the ordinary price of £1.99), Tronix (label used for more adult games), Bulldog Software ("The Best of Brittish"), Ricochet (budget re-releases of games made by other companies) and Mastervision. They are currently owned by Titus.
There are inofficial sites about Mastertronic:
Se-Kaa of AssiahType: Character graphics Written 1984 by Clive Wilson and Les Hogarth.
Notes: Divided into two parts. Inlay covers by Words and Pictures Ltd.
The Quest for the Holy GrailType: Drawn graphics Written 1984 by Dream Software Ltd (Chris Newcombe).
Comments: Pathetic and extremely humourless game based on the Python
movie. Awful parser, very slow graphics and way, way too easy.
For more information, see Dream Software Ltd
ZzzzType: Character graphics Written 1985 by Clive Wilson and Les Hogarth.
Notes: Inlay cover by Words and Pictures Ltd.
Demon's Tomb: The AwakeningType: Graphics Written 1989 by Silhouette Software.
Notes: You first play an archeologist who must save his findings and then his teenage son who must find out what's going on before an ancient evil rises.
Comments: Good graphics and good parser
Shades of Grey
KentillaType: Drawn graphics/Music Written 1985 or 1986.
Kobyashi NaruWritten by Clive Wilson.
Play it Again SamType: Bitmap graphics Written 1986 by Rubberchip.
Sinbad and the Golden ShipType: Character graphics Written 1986 by Roy Carnell and Stuart Galloway.
VenomType: Character graphics Written 1988 by Clive Wilson and Les Hogarth.
MajikType: Character graphics Written 1988 by Clive Wilson and Les Hogarth.
Adventureland was created by Hans Persson and is now maintained by Stefan Meier.
If you find any errors or have information that is missing, please let me know