DOUBLE PLAY COMBINATION
Will Xonox Video Games Be K-Tel's "Greatest Hits"?
by Jim Gorzelany
(Appeared in the March 1984 issue of "Video Games" Magazine)
K-Tel International, Inc,. the successful purveyor of such "greatest
hits" record albums as, Summer Fun, Heavy Metal, and 25 Original Polka
Favorites, is going electronic. Through its newly-formed Xonox
division, the company is flexing its mammoth marketing muscle in what
is, for them, a new entertainment frontier -- video game software.
In order to be able to stand out in an already-crowded marketplace,
K-Tel/Xonox has introduced a unique line of "double-ender" game
cartridges in a variety of software formats. Each release offers two
completely-different 8K games, mounted at opposite ends of the
cartridge, for about the same price as a single-game cart,
To get a better idea of just what we might be able to expect from
this new entery into the home game sweepstakes, Video Games
interviewed the two K-Tel executives responsible for the creation and
development of the Xonox product line -- Mickey Elfenbein, K-Tel
Executive Vice-President, and Donald M. Thompson, Director of Product
Development for the company's Consumer Electronics Division.
The video-game software market is currently flooded with products and
well-established companies are in trouble financially due to slumping
sales. Why, then, has K-Tel/Xonox chosen to enter the marketplace at
Well, we saw that the selling of video games aligns itself perfectly
with the marketing efforts of our business -- selling record albums.
The product development function is a bit different, but we have an
already-established distribution system that's ideally suited to
reach our customer base for game software. The consumers of both
products are very similar, from age category to the methods and kinds
of promotions which can reach this audience. Even the life cycles of
the products are nearly identical.
Xonox is a multi-national type of product that is both mass-
producible and mass-marketable. There are sufficient profit margins
built into the products that allow us to do our kind of extensive
marketing. For example, we will spend about $2 million to promote
each game release. Our whole marketing concept with regard to both
records and video games is to produce selective, youth-oriented
products, and do a big job on each of them, rather than market a
whole bunch of small products and do a small job on each of them.
What is the reasoning behind the "double-ender" video game cartridge?
Our whole concept here is to offer the consumer a good price/value
relationship. We think that each of these games is good enough to be
marketed as an individual product. However, in order to break
through from a merchandising point-of-view, we have decided to market
two products together instead of one. This offers the consumer some-
thing that is truly unique. Like we say in our commercials, "Twice
the fun for the price of one."
Was the double-ender format the only way you could have successfully
fit two games into one cartridge?
There may be some new-generation computer chips out there that would
allow us to have 16K of memory on one board, but we've elected to put
16K on two boards, 8K each. In this way, we can produce a product
that features one game on each end and, basically, looks like what it
is--a cartridge containing two video games.
How were the two games in each cartridge matched? What criteria did
you use to decide which combinations to create?
Many of our decisions were based on market research. By talking to
potential customers we found out which of our games they woluld most
like to see as being the matched-up products. Conceptually, what we
have done is direct the two ends of a cartridge toward a relatively-
similar target audience. We aren't selling a product that might
appeal to a five-year-old on one side, and a 20-year-old on the
other. We want both ends of the cartridge to be compatible yet also
to be different enough from each other in terms of the ways the games
Let me give you an example. Chuck Norris, Superkicks has a military
aspect about it and features a great deal of male appeal. The same
can be said for Artillery Duel on the other end. There are
differences within the games, including the skills on how each are
played, but the themes have common threads between them. In
addition, the paces of both games are different, so that one actually
serves as a "relaxer" after the other. This isn't to suggest that
the intensity of one is much stronger than the other, but rather that
we're drawing on different skills or player response. There's a
planned compatibility between both games in the cartridge. This
makes it desirable to turn over and play the game on the other end of
the cartridge, and vice versa.
In talking about development of your games, there has been obviously
been a great deal of thought and attention into many details, did you
manage to pull together a team of designers here in Minneapolis,
No. Actually, the designers aren't located here in the Upper
Midwest. We have people in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston,
Dallas, Chicago, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Long Island, and Boston
working on the products.
In every case we work with design houses, rather than individuals.
Each house usually has its own internal graphics expert, design
expert, programming expert, and so on. We're not just going to one
persona nd saying, "Here's an idea--do a game for us."
Generally we first produce a script and storyboard based on the
capabilities of the game idea. Then it's time to sit down with the
programmers we're working with and start a dialogue. We also test
the game ideas with kids, getting their reactions to the scripts
before anything gets to a circuit board. Then, we fine tune the
product in a kind of "round robin" manner--going back and forth
between us, the designers, and the kids who test the games.
How are you treating your game designers in terms of name
We credit them in the instruction booklets, but not on the cover of
the box or anything else as such.
There's a great deal of input from a variety of people in the
development of our products. Yet, the programmer has a certain
amount of responsitility with regard to a game, but it's not his
initial creation. It's a combination of talents. So the progammers
do get credit, but it's not blown out of proportion.
You're encouraging the players to read the instruction booklets
before playing each game. Why the emphasis?
In the early 2K games, such as Pong, you picked up the game and could
master it before you even know what it was all about. They weren't
complex games. Now, we have brought a higher level of sophistication
for Atari 2600 games, as well as the efforts we're producting in
other formats. This means that, in order to really get into one of
our games and play it as it should be played, you'll need to read the
instructions first. Otherwise you'll die too quickly. When you have
five to eight screens in each product, you're going to need some
basic information regarding action and objectives.
Two of your first games--Chuck Norris, Superkicks, and Thundarr the
Barbarian are based on licensed characters. Will this approach to
getting recognizable themes be emphasized in the future?
We will always look for licenses that make some sense, both
creatively and financially. When we find them, we'll certainly go
after them. However, what we will avoid are licenses that, in
themselves, have no relevance as far as the creation of a video game
You mean characters such as "Kool Aid Man" and "Strawberry
Right, it doesn't make any sense.
First, to make a game around Strawberry Shortcake really requires
some ingenuity. Second, the target audience for the video game must
be the same as the target audience of the licensed character. The
Strawberry Shortcake character is aimed at an age group that is
totally different from the typical age group of kids who play video
Now, on the other hand, the Thundarr the Barbarian character itself
fits into a storyline that is ideally suited to a video game. The
same for Chuck Norris. In addition, go into a junior high school and
most kids know who Chuck Norris and Thundarr the Barbarian are.
However, licensed characters aren't going to be the sole emphasis of
our product development.
How difficult was it for you to obtain these two licensing
The Chuck Norris people were terrific to work with. They recognized
that the product would do well, we would do well, and that they would
do well. Chuck approved our storyboard, helped us with research, saw
the game about 50 percent of the way and approved what we were doing.
Ruby-Spears, who owns Thundarr the Barbarian was easier to work with
in this particular project than they have been with regard to other
characters. For a while, there were hordes of peopleafter these same
two licenses. It was a case of supply-and-demand. The people who
marketed these two characters to us may have asked for more money
than they would have been able to do otherwise, based on the demand.
What about the arcades? Are you pursuing arcade game licenses?
Yes we are, and we would be very happy to license our products to the
arcade game manufacturers.
Actually, we ARE looking to license some of our games to the arcade
people. We are also looking to license the games to outside software
manufacturers who can produce versions of our products in other
formats. For example, Spike's Peak/Ghost Manor will be released in a
number of formats other than the ones we are manufacturing ourselves
(Atari 2600, Colecovision, VIC-20, and Commodore 64). The games will
probably be available for the Apple, Atari computers, 5200 and the
new IBM "Peanut." These formats would not be cost-effective for us
to produce ourselves, so we license the games to third-party software
companies who can reach that part of the market and show profit in
What about the other way around--producing home versions of
successful arcade titles?
Yes, we would be interested in acquiring arcade-games licenses. Once
again, however, they would have to meet the two criteria we have in
this area. Obviously, if they are successful arcade games,
this would meet one of the criteria. However, the financial part--
the potential return on investment--may not be sufficient to warrant
what is being paid for successful arcade-game licenses these days.
What is in the horizon for Xonox and what can we look for in the
We'll continue to concentrate on entertainment kinds of products.
We'll follow the market in terms of creating software that best
serves the established audiences. By continuing to release games in
a number of formats, we can produce a limited number of releases and
yet do a big job on each of them.
And again, we're following closely the record business. We release
records, 8-tracks, and cassettes, just as we are releasing Atari,
Coleco, and Commodore versions of each of our video games.
Our plan is not to be on the leading edge--to provide new hardware or
create a market. Our plan is to be an early follower of consumer
preferences in game and computer systems in order to provide software
that best serves the marketplace.
Typed by Keita Iida