Darren Jobling, Director of Business Development, Eutechnyx
The Jobling brothers never thought their computer games hobby would become a career. But now their company Eutechnyx is one of the biggest independents in its field. John Hill met chief operating officer Darren Jobling.
MANY children would kill to be in the business of developing games, travelling the world making deals and helping to produce the next great driving titles.
Darren Jobling has been doing that sort of job for two decades, but it wasn’t the Eutechnyx chief operating officer’s first choice.
He says: “I always wanted to be a dentist. I just fancied it really. I did some work experience with a couple of dentists, but I’ve also always been someone who’s enjoyed doing deals. I used to buy cars and do them up. Even today nothing gives me greater pleasure than selling an old car on eBay.”
It was that love of business that brought Darren back up to the North East in 1990 to join his brother Brian’s growing games enterprise. Eutechnyx is the world’s leading independent racing game developer, employing more than 180 people in Gateshead, China and the USA and bringing in plaudits for games such as Ferrari Challenge and Big Mutha Truckers. The youngest of four brothers, Brian launched his computer game business from his bedroom in Low Fell in his teens. Darren remembers giving his brother a lift in his Vauxhall Viva to a weekly computer club in Blandford Square.
He said: “I used to do the graphics for him in the early days. We’d come home from school and start programming.
“We never really saw it as something that had any longevity. It was something Brian was doing because it was fun and an intellectual challenge. He did it for the same reason that he would pull apart the TV.
“He once played with a Commodore 64 when our parents were out. When they came back, he said: ‘I don’t want to worry you, but the fire brigade have just left’. He’d set fire to his bedroom messing around with it.
“My father was a great believer in getting a degree, but Brian said he would set up a company until the computer thing died down and then go back and study. We’re still here 23 years later.”
Darren was always a keen guitarist. In his teens, he spent the summer season as a redcoat at Butlins in Skegness, playing music and helping out with glamorous granny competitions and kids’ fancy dress.
He says: “It was a good grounding in the nature of the Great British public. You used to get 10,000 people there every single week. It gives you that understanding of people from all walks of life. People like what they like, and it’s not an educational thing.”
While Brian was setting up Zeppelin Games in 1987 with investment from his father and eldest brother, Darren was studying at Manchester Metropolitan University, playing four or five gigs a week with a rhythm and blues band.
He says: “You get that great team spirit, that feeling of you against the world. You can’t beat that feeling of playing together on stage.”
After university, he joined a graduate sales and marketing programme at Air Products in Surrey.
He says: “I was pretty mercenary. I looked around to see which graduate training programme paid the most money. I turned up on my first day at my high-flying job and they gave me 120 MOT applications for trailers and told me to fill them out.
“I did about 12 months, working on European sales and marketing. What people don’t realise about sales is that it’s as much of a listening process as it is a talking process. People might not want what you’re selling but if you talk to them about what they do want, you can adapt your product.”
Darren was working at Air offices in Manchester and Cheshire when a phone chat with his brother sent him on a new path.
He says: “Brian called me when Zeppelin had brought out Kenny Dalglish Soccer Manager, which was going great guns. Up until that point he was doing his thing and I was doing mine. Suddenly it hit me like a lightning bolt. Plus, I was really bored.
“I came on board and applied the sales and marketing skills I’d learned at Air to Zeppelin Games. When I joined, 10% of the business was exports and within two years it was 80% export.”
In its three-year history, Zeppelin produced about 350 games, including shoot ‘em up Zybex and Jocky Wilson’s Darts Challenge. The brothers had been keen to break into America for a while, but experienced teething troubles on their arrival.
He recalls: “What we didn’t realise is that we didn’t speak American. You’d think you’d had a great meeting, but what they’d actually been saying was ‘no thank you’.
“Americans don’t want to hear that you can give them a better game for half the price. They want to hear you’re the best in the world at what you do and they can’t afford you.”