Gaming legend Bernie Stolar passed away

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Video game legend Bernie Stolar, former president of Sega of America, has died at age 75, friends said.

Stolar became famous. I met him when he was president and chief operating officer of Sega of America, where he helped lead the development and launch of the Sega Dreamcast. He was one of the more blunt and honest – as well as memorable – executives I’ve met in the gaming industry.

Prior to that, Stolar was the first executive vice president and founding member of Sony Computer Entertainment America. He helped put together original games for the launch of the original PlayStation. At Sony, he signed game franchises including Crash Bandicoot, Ridge Racer, Oddworld Inhabitants, Spyro The Dragon and Battle Arena Toshinden. But he gave up that job.

“I loved working for Sony,” Stolar told me in an interview. “I really did it. But when the opportunity arose to go to Sega and help rebuild the company and come up with new hardware, I was very interested in doing it. I wouldn’t have left Sony if I hadn’t also lived in fear of getting fired along with everyone else.”

I talked to him about that in 2015.

“In 1994 I did, yes. Unfortunately, Steve (Race) was fired by Jeff Sagansky, who ran Sony Computer Entertainment America after others were fired. That changed the whole complex of the company because Mr. Maruyama, who was the lead board member of PlayStation in Japan, came to restructure the whole company. Everyone else was there to hire.”

He added: “What happened then was I was worried. Everyone got fired. I felt like I was the last man standing. I was offered the job to become president of Sega of America after Tom Kalinske had left.”

At Sega of America, Stolar wasted no time.

“When I got to Sega, I immediately said, ‘We have to kill Saturn. We have to stop Saturn and start building the new technology.’ That’s what I did. I brought in a new team of people and cleaned the house. There were about 300 employees and I reduced the company to 90 employees to start rebuilding,” Stolar said.

Stolar helped develop and launch the Dreamcast. One of Stolar’s best moves at the time was acquiring Visual Concepts for Sega of America and creating 2K Sports.

The Dreamcast did well in the US, but lost to the Sony PlayStation 2 worldwide.

“I took the Sega position based on conversations with Hayao Nakayama, who was then chairman of the company,” Stolar said. “We would set up and implement a new hardware system that would do online multiplayer games. That became Dreamcast. I led that upstairs. Unfortunately, in late 1999, Nakayama was killed by Mr. Pushed Okawa out of the company, and when he was pushed out, I also got into a fight with Japan. I was also pushed out.”

He joined Mattel in 1999. He saw some success selling Barbie video games during the tenure of Mattel CEO Jill Barad, who had acquired The Learning Company.

“It was the right decision for Mattel to get into the software business,” Stolar said. “They just bought the wrong company. She didn’t realize that she was buying a company with a high turnover but no profit. When I joined the company, they were losing a million dollars a day. Then the board asked me to leave the company, which I did.”

In late 2005, Stolar became a consultant and director of Adscape Media, later selling that company to Google for $23 million. During that time, he became the games evangelist at Google and he hoped to get them into the games business.

“There was no interest in games at Google at the time,” Stolar said. “I went to the CEO, Eric Schmidt, and said, ‘Why don’t we put ads in all these games and give them away online for free?’ He said, “We’re not in the gaming business.” I said, “We’re not going into the gaming business. We’re not developing games. We take games from publishers and stream them through our online network.” He wouldn’t do it. That’s when I knew I had to leave the company. I started helping them evangelize, but I knew there was no future for me.”

After that, Stolar switched to startups. He led companies such as GetFugu, Zoom Platform, the Jordan Freeman Group and CogniToys. When I did the interview in 2015, Stolar was 68 when he took on the role at CogniToys.

In that 2015 interview, I reminded Stolar that comedian Martin Short once joked on a game award show that Bernie had worked for every company in the game industry.

“For me it’s about the team and the product. If you don’t have the right team, you’re not going to win,” Stolar replied. “If you look at what I’ve done at Sega, I basically fired all the senior sales and marketing people and brought in a whole new team. I brought in Peter Moore, who had worked with me at Reebok. When I brought Peter in, Hayao Nakayama said to me, “Why am I hiring a shoe salesman?” I said, ‘I don’t care. I believe he understands how to build a brand. I want to rebuild this brand because right now we are showing the consumer that we are losing. We have to show them that we are a winning company. He finally agreed with me, so Peter got the job.”

Towards the end of our 2015 interview, Stolar said, “I’ve been doing this since 1980. I love this job. I love it because I get to work with young and passionate people. I’m one of the old grey-haired guys in the industry, but it’s great to work with all this young talent.”

Stolar joked that he could be the grandfather of the CEOs he advised. I asked Stolar how long he would work.

“Put it this way. I’ve talked to two people about this, Sumner Redstone and Rupert Murdoch,” he said. “They’re both in their eighties. They’re both multimillionaires. told me, ‘When you retire, you die.’ I believe that. My father, when he sold his liquor store and stopped working, died three months later. I’m not going to stop.”

A funeral service will be held Sunday at 11 a.m. Pacific time at the Home of Peace Cemetery in Los Angeles.

“I’ll miss you Bernie – I’ve always appreciated you for drawing me to AdscapeMedia,” Jay Randy Gordon said in a message to GamesBeat. “Next time I play golf, I’ll toast you to the clubhouse, remembering some of your New York expressions, like, ‘F’em if they can’t to a joke.'”

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