She’s a gun-slinging, ass-kicking cyberbabe, with a sprinter’s
thighs and more silicon than the cast of Baywatch. He’s a fast-talking,
hype-seeking marketer. Together, Lara Croft - heroine of Tomb Raider -
and Larry Sparks - worldwide marketing director of its publisher, Eidos
Interactive - have made Tomb Raider the most successful video game
Published in November last year, the game has sold 2.7 million units
worldwide and Lara Croft has become a cultural icon, a virtual Spice
She’s toured with U2, modelled cyberfashions for top designers, launched
her own merchandise, appeared on the cover of The Face and Melody Maker
and is to star in a feature film next year. She’s also got her own
dedicated Web site and a single Internet search produces around 80,000
references to her name. But forget the anoraks - the suits are also keen
to indulge in a bit of cybercrumpet.
The sequel, Tomb Raider II, was in such demand that Eidos had to
postpone the release date in order to boost in-store stock levels. The
game finally hit the streets last week and immediately broke all sales
records. In its first week, 85,000 copies have been sold, smashing Final
Fantasy VII’s record of 33,000 units.
Understandably, Sparks is proud of the game’s success, but is conscious
that its launch came when consumers were tuned in to the idea of female
heroines. ’When we launched Tomb Raider, we knew it would be successful,
but had no idea it would be quite this big. Luck, as well as a carefully
contrived marketing strategy, had a lot to do with it. We couldn’t have
launched the first female action hero at a better time. People couldn’t
get enough of Girl Power,’ says Sparks.
But Sparks did not rely on The Spice Girl’s Girl Power phenomenon
He made the game larger than life, taking it outside the gaming
fraternity, by ensuring that all the right people - namely the
glitterati - got to play it, thereby giving it the ultimate street cred.
Sony PlayStations and copies of Tomb Raider were left where celebrities
had to wait for a long time, such as the green room at Top of the Pops,
and hotel suites used by football and rugby teams.
The result was not always positive, laughs Sparks. Liverpool goalkeeper
David James admitted that his poor performance against Manchester United
last April was a result of him staying up all night playing Tomb
Sparks puts his success in marketing Lara down to his ability to keep in
touch with what is happening at ground level in youth culture. He gives
the impression of being more of a Del Boy than a man of theory. He has a
knack of providing the game-playing public with what they want.
While at US software publisher Acclaim, Sparks was responsible for
launching the first fighting game, Mortal Kombat, which received
overwhelmingly bad publicity because of its violent nature. ’I think of
myself as a street marketer. I understand what people want,’ he
Though he insists that many women are grateful to see a powerful female
character taking the starring role, he is more new lad than new man and
ruins his attempt at political correctness by adding: ’She’s a beautiful
silicon babe, but what’s more beautiful is that you can switch her off
when you’ve had enough.’
Even Eidos’ rivals admit that Lara Croft has been chiefly responsible
for giving the gaming industry mass-market appeal. ’Sparks is a highly
creative and unusual marketer. He pushes both people and ideas to the
limit. Lara Croft has been so popular because it has been sold through
sex. I didn’t think that would succeed, but for that I admire him,’ says
Simon Butler, general manager at rival games publisher BMG.
Sparks, however, is not ashamed of exploiting Lara’s cyberbabe qualities
- a man’s idea of the perfect woman, as critics point out. ’It was the
way to get her out there in mainstream media. It ensured we got
Lara-mania,’ says Sparks.
He is confident that Tomb Raider’s popularity will not suffer a downturn
similar to that suffered by The Spice Girls, but some industry observers
are not so sure. ’Our industry is characterised by products of short
shelf life. You can add new elements to games, but people are looking
for an exponential change,’ says David Wilson, head of European PR at
games publisher Electronic Arts.
Sparks, of course, disagrees. ’Lara will join the classic superheroes,
such as Batman, and will only experience overkill if I let her. I have
no intention of doing that,’ he says.
Business systems analyst, P&O Containers
Marketing manager UK, then European marketing manager, Activision
UK marketing manager, Medusa Pictures
European marketing director, Acclaim
1996 - present
Worldwide marketing director, Eidos Interactive.
This article was first published on Marketing