A bundle of dreams

Go on, guess whose brainwave this was!

Engineers aside, former managing director of Commodore’s trendsetting UK division, David Pleasance, did as much – if not more – than anyone to elevate the Amiga to the dizzying heights of earning the world’s most popular 16-bit computer trophy… that’s a metaphorical trophy I should add; there was no trophy. A shocking miscarriage of justice I know!

Entering the business as a humble salesman, he went on to lead the sales and marketing team, and within a decade rose through the ranks to MD, curtailed a hair’s breadth away from orchestrating the management buyout – along with Colin Proudfoot – that would have saved the Amiga brand from falling into the grubby mitts of a parade of soulless corporate vultures. The deal turned sour at the 11th hour through no fault of his own, and the rest is his… has been eradicated from my grey matter by way of ECT.

One of David’s most significant achievements was popularising the concept of the home computer ‘pack’; a means of marrying desirable hardware and software in themed retail bundles to offer the consumer a more rounded value for money experience upon purchasing a new system. As cheesy and glib as it sounds in today’s irreverent, cynical milieu, he genuinely believed it when he declared, “we don’t sell computers – we sell dreams”.

These illustrious bundles were first introduced to sell the Commodore 64, though without a doubt the most successful was the Amiga 500 ‘Batman pack’, which included the title game to tie in with the 1989 smash hit movie, in addition to the classic Taito arcade conversion, New Zealand Story, highly regarded flight simulator, F/A-18 Interceptor, and the leading graphics design tool, Deluxe Paint II.

Amiga Format breaks the tidings of comfort and joy in issue 4 (November 1989)

Before the headlining Batman game was complete, David approached Ocean’s development director, Gary Bracey, to forge a deal which would ensure the Ocean brand and the Batman license would forever be synonymous with the Amiga. His intention was to convince Gary to grant him the exclusive rights to sell his game alongside the Commodore hardware for two months, whilst primarily only committing to purchase 10,000 units. Somehow – possibly invoking black magic persuasion techniques – David secured a deal that Ocean wouldn’t regret for a second – they went on to sell many times more units than they ever dreamed possible.

Amiga Format anticipated a promising future for our beloved machine
(issue 5, December 1989)

David’s careful selections were designed to be aspirational in that you were encouraged to explore the potential offered by creative, productivity software. You might initially have been entranced by the current zeitgeisty movie license game, yet propelled through experimentation to become a digital artist, musician or writer. He nudged the tools under your fingertips, the rest was up to you.

…well that, or it was a cunning way to convince parents to part with £400 of their hard-earn cash under the misguided illusion that they were investing in an education facilitation device. In light of the number of kids my age who grew up to become comprehensively IT-literate employees, perhaps they weren’t led down the garden path after all.

Thanks to a prominent TV promotional campaign voiced by everyone’s favourite loveable toff, Stephen Fry, that dangled the chance to win one of ten Amiga 500 Batman packs, and through negotiating deals with all the UK’s major high street retailers, David ensured the system enjoyed maximum exposure, and found its way under 186,000 Christmas trees in 1989. The first affordable Amiga home computer went on to shift 6 million units worldwide!

Many inventive twists on the concept followed and some retailers – Silica for example – even got on board by creating their own bundles. David went on to reprise this marketing miracle in the US, creating a number of new region-specific bundles for the A1200 in the process.

Who did what now? Amiga Format covers Steve’s sidewards
career move in issue 37 (August 1992)

What’s interesting is the way David’s conjuring tricks were reported in the Amiga press at the time. Very often the credit would be attributed to his boss, MD Steve Franklin, who in fact only begrudgingly flashed the green light that allowed him to run with his plan on the proviso that he’d be shown the door if the Batarang misfired.

Not known for his ability to win friends and influence people, Steve, when he first accepted the top-flight position opted to sack all the business systems staff except for the man responsible for the educational ventures, and David, because he knew too much and couldn’t easily be replaced overnight with one of his own flunkies.

Despite Commodore’s untimely demise, David’s career went from strength to strength, and reassuringly, he remains to this day a driving force in Amiga’s ongoing legacy.

You can also catch him reminiscing on the launch of the CD32, and the caped crusader’s dalliance with the Amiga in the recently unveiled ‘From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years‘ documentary.

Leave a Reply