Bruce Everiss has been involved with the British home computer industry since its conception in the late 1970s. He was the founder of influential computer outlet Microdigital, and has worked at Imagine and Codemasters. In this interview from 2001, he talks about his experiences.
What was your first contact with computers?
During my accountancy training in the mid seventies, after which I set up and ran a computerised book-keeping company, Datapool Services, in Liverpool, which to the best of my knowledge is still going.
How did Microdigital begin?
I was reading Computing and Computer Weekly and they had occasional references to the S100 bus machines and then Apple. Then along came NASCOM. So I begged, borrowed and stole so I could rent a shop. We opened in July 1979.
How was the response from the public in the early days?
There was an immediate response from the amateur radio fraternity and from academics. ETI magazine was the main consumer title then Personal Computer World started. There was a huge upsurge in interest.
You were relatively young when Microdigital started. Was it at all daunting or did it feel like an adventure?
I hadn't known that life could be so good. Every day was challenging and exciting. It is amazing how much happened in such a short time.
In the late Seventies, when the shop first opened, the likes of the ZX81 was still in the future. What sort of equipment were you selling in those days?
Apples, NASCOM, S100 machines, then Science of Cambridge SC/MP 2, HP 85 and Commodore PET. We sold mountains of books as everyone had a thirst for knowledge. We had a repair service for home kit builders and ran a magazine: Liverpool Software Gazette.
At the time did it feel like you were part of an industry that was going places or did the home computer boom come as a surprise?
Knowing the potential I was always wanting things to happen more quickly!
Microdigital was associated with many 'names' that later found success on the Spectrum. Can you name a few?
Paul Fullwood has his company in Silicon Valley, Andrew Sinclair is working on Bluetooth, Eugene Evans is still in the industry in America, Mark Butler went on to work at Bug Byte and then founded Imagine, Carl Phillips went to Microsoft, Tim Best has been working in and around the industry, Graham Jones is having a very successful management career, Roy Stringer worked in the industry for many years and sadly recently died of cancer.
Do you feel your shop was one of the reasons Liverpool became the centre of the software industry?
Yes, not just the people who worked there but also the customers. To have one of the first computer stores ever, in Liverpool, stocked with everything then available, had to be a big influence.
How did the Microdigital story come to an end?
The growth of the company became difficult for me to manage with so little experience. One of my customers, Alan Sterling, was a director of Lasky's, the hi-fi chain and they made me an offer I couldn't refuse.We set up stores within stores nationally for them and then integrated into their mainstream.
Where did you work between Microdigital and Imagine?
I went to Felix Dennis with the idea of a trade magazine, he asked me to do a business plan. The result was Microscope, which is still going 19 years later. I worked as a consultant for Bug Byte software and amongst other things persuaded them to do 4 colour advertising and packaging which was an industry first! Also started to do a little journalism.
When you first joined Imagine was there genuine confidence in what you were trying to achieve, or were you aware of problems straight away?
We knew that we were going places. Some at the time called it arrogance and maybe they were right. On the inside it was just hard graft and constant success. Once again so much happened in such a short time. We doubled turnover every month and were by far the biggest British computer games company.
By the end of 1983, Imagine was hitting the headlines with stories of Eugene Evans's £35K salary and the promise of 'mega games'. Do you regret all the hype or was it part of the Imagine philosophy?
Absolutely no regrets. We had to bring computer games to a wider audience and the cult of personality was a tool we used. We received coverage in a far wider range of media as a result. This was part of my job running marketing.
There was talk of factions at Imagine, with Dave Lawson and Ian Hetherington on one side, and yourself and Mark Butler on the other. Was this really the case?
Nonsense, we all got on very well indeed. At the end there was some acrimony but you would expect that under the circumstances.
Did you ever feel the Mega Games were a realistic proposition?
They were seen as a way round piracy - put some of the code on a ROM. They were not the reason for the end of Imagine.
Was there a key decision or event that finally sealed Imagine's fate?
There were two main problems with Imagine. Firstly, the cost base became too high too many staff and very expensive office accommodation. Secondly, development stopped producing product to sell. They expected the existing catalogue to sell for ever. This was against a background of more and more capable competition (Ultimate, US Gold) and the huge piracy that you get towards the end of a games platform's life. The Marshall Cavendish project and the Mega Games were side issues that did not help.
At the time it appeared as though you were left to pilot a rudderless ship. Was there a lack of support or guidance at this crucial time?
I think it was very difficult for anyone to accept reality - for a star to shine so bright and fall so fast. It was impossible to take corrective action as the whole mentality and decision making process was founded on continuous success.
Once the winding-up order had come, it must have been chaos. What were the Imagine offices like in those final days?
Because of the acrimony and the inability to act constructively I resigned before the winding up.
Do you have any regrets about that time?
Only that I stayed too long at Imagine. Once the writing was on the wall I should have taken my then-intact reputation elsewhere. Loyalty did not serve me well.
What have you being doing since Imagine?
I joined Codemasters for a year right at the beginning, once again doing all the marketing. Codemasters became the biggest British software house by unit volume in it's first year trading so it was a a bit like the same again as Imagine. The difference is that Codemasters was and is far better managed and act positively in difficult times. I then set up All Formats Computer Fairs which I still own and run today. For nearly a year I have been back at Codemasters as Head of Communications running PR in all the world's markets.
My thanks to Bruce for the interview.