Chris van der Kuyl is one of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs working across the technology, media, gaming, and entertainment sectors. Chris is most notably co-founder and chairman of multiple award-winning games developer 4J Studios, best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles. He and fellow co-founder Paddy Burns launched Chroma Ventures, the investment arm of 4J Studios, in 2021.
Chris is chairman of Puny Astronaut, TVSquared, Stormcloud Games and Parsley Box and sits on the boards of Blippar, Ace Aquatec, and ADV Holdings. He is also a non-executive director of the Ballie Gifford US Growth Trust. Alongside his commercial roles, he was the founding chairman of Entrepreneurial Scotland and is currently a member of multiple advisory and local charity boards. Elected as one of the youngest Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2013, Chris was also formally recognized for his contribution to technology in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020, becoming a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE).
You have been in the games industry for some time. And you have seen many trends come and go. From the beginning of your carrier to today: What has changed most positively in the industry and what bothers you about the current situation?
There has never been a time before where the player and the creators are so closely linked. This has been amazing for the industry as great ideas now have no barrier to getting in the players hands. I do worry about some monetization models though. The freemium and loot box style marketplaces are right on the edge of encouraging the same addictive behaviour as gambling.
Which key learnings in marketing can other industries draw from the games industry?
For me, other industries should pay attention to how the games industry listens to its consumers and then gives them what they want. Because of the relatively low cost of indie development, it’s great to see companies take risks with products which are more than likely to fail as this results in far more and far faster innovation. It would be great to see that in other industries.
Who are your role models in the industry? Is there anybody? And if so why?
Too many to list here. I have been fortunate to work with a huge variety of amazing leaders in the industry. I would probably single out the late Robert Altman from Zenimax/Bethesda who was the epitome of a thoughtful, quiet, determined, principled and amazingly creative entrepreneur who took Zenimax from being an almost .com bust business to exiting to Microsoft for $7.5bn whilst enabling creators like Todd Howard to create masterpieces like Skyrim. Now that’s an amazing tightrope to walk.
How did the marketing & promotion of games change in recent years? Where are we headed in games marketing in the next years to come?
The advent of content creators and streamers on YouTube has been the biggest change in how games are brought to market. The media and retail channels of old are almost irrelevant these days and I believe that the power of well-respected and -followed content creators will have an even bigger impact.
Which social media channels do you see as key for the games industry?
In short, almost all of them. Games is the biggest entertainment industry on the planet, so we pervade every form of social media. Platforms like Discord, Twitch and Bunch are starting to show the power of games focused social media though and it will be interesting to watch how they develop in years to come.
About the current trend on creators and influencer marketing: The trend towards more micro and macro influencers with a smaller reach and less fans, but more authenticity and engagement: How can the games industry leverage that trend in your opinion?
In my experience I really doubt the value of paid influencer marketing. The real value comes from engaging influencers who don’t need ‘placement fees’ as their viewers believe and understand the authenticity of those kinds of recommendations and reviews. The industry needs to not be lazy and try and throw money at the problem. That very rarely works.
The media landscape has changed massively in the last ten years. However, PR is still one of the most important communications tools in the games sector. Where do you see PR in the next five years, what will the challenges be?
PR and communications will always be crucial, but it is essential that great professionals in this area don’t get lazy and rely on the channels of the past. The biggest challenge for anyone in this sector in the next five years is to stay relevant and understand where the audience is going for information, recommendations and games-based media. The audience is growing every year just not always in the same place.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your job were you particularly proud of?
Out of many many career highlights I would have to pick being part of the team responsible for bringing Minecraft to games consoles.
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