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Intellivision’s Passion Project Keeps Team Together

The Santa Ana-based office of Intellivision Entertainment LLC looks nostalgic for a good reason.

Chief Executive Tommy Tallarico remembers his childhood when he played with Intellivision’s original console and pretended to be a video game designer along with his younger brother.

Thus, his 15,000-square-foot office holds its own game room full of vintage and modern arcade games, even pinball machines from the 1920s “for inspiration if nothing else,” Tallarico said.

About 90% of the collection belongs to Tallarico himself, along with rare memorabilia from the company’s innovative history.

Tallarico—a 32-year veteran of the gaming industry who has worked on more than 300 game titles that have sold 200 million units resulting in more than $10 billion in sales—doesn’t see Intellivision as just another step in his career.

Intellivision is “a true passion project,” he told the Business Journal.  

“To have a 32-year career in a tough industry, always having to reinvent yourself, there’s something to be said about … never giving up.”

That passion has translated into the company making it onto the Business Journal’s list of Best Places to Work this year, ranking No. 31 among the small employer category in OC, which includes companies with less than 50 U.S. employees.

Console Innovator

Intellivision, which began in 1979, gained prominence for developing the first 16-bit game console a full two generations before it became the industry standard. It was the first video game console to have a built-in pause feature on the controller and the first to offer a directional thumb pad. New York Yankee legend Mickey Mantle was its spokesman for the PlayCable product released in 1981.
 
Tallarico, who has worked on some of the industry’s most popular games such as Guitar Hero and Advent Rising, relaunched Intellivision in 2018, acquiring the name from a few of the company’s original members.

He noticed a growing trend of solitary playing and “where games had become so difficult and complicated and complex.”

Tallarico saw an opportunity to cater to families to play together.

Hence, the company in September is launching a home video game console called Amico, which is designed to bring multiple players together on an entertainment system with simple features and controllers.

“Isn’t it true that your fondest memories of playing video games are when you played together in the same room with a group of people?” the company says on its website. “Using technology, creativity and unrivaled passion, our team is on a mission to bring family and friends together again.”

All the console’s games are rated E for everyone, with a goal of attracting both gamers and non-gamers alike. Tallarico has inked distribution deals with Amazon, Walmart and GameStop; it’s also established partnerships with MLB, Hot Wheels, Sesame Street and others.

It has already pre-sold 100,000 Amico units, resulting in more than $25 million dollars in sales.

Office Vibe

To create a primarily family-friendly console in the ever-evolving industry of gaming, the organization has strived to create a family-centered work environment.

The company, with 39 members in Orange County, prioritizes personal values and self-motivation in team members to combine efforts without heavy management. He puts an emphasis on hiring people who are going to find their own ideas and act on them.

“We go through great lengths in the interview process to make sure that the people who are joining our group are as passionate as we are,” Tallarico commented.

The team is also full of advisers and video game veterans to help support their fellow innovators and game makers, with three of them having started at the company back in 1981. This allows the company to encourage creativity and in-house growth while keeping true to its legacy.

No Turnover

The company reported no voluntary turnover from the most recent fiscal year—a rarity in the gaming industry, where employee churn is common—and to the company’s surprise, Intelllivision found itself still hiring amid the pandemic.

“It was actually a great benefit for us because I always try to see the positive side to things, but because a lot of talented people were out on the market, and so we were able to be the beneficiary of that,” Tallarico said.

After a year of delaying the launch of the company’s first product, Tallarico remembers the different problems that arose, such as the irony of trying to complete a platform that requires in-person interaction during nationwide quarantine. With the pandemic ebbing, his team finally got together in person for the first time a couple of weeks ago, old and new co-workers alike.

Transparency and communication became a vital part of weekly team meetings, along with personal sacrifices made by those at the top to ensure the employees’ safety and security during an unstable year, he said.

Tallarico is looking at another 30 hires while still in pre-launch, but he is determined to keep the company on the smaller side of things, saying 80 to 100 employees is ideal for maintaining the company culture.

A 10-year plan remains in place for Intellivision’s future as the long-awaited Amico is set to be released.

“That’s when the fun really begins,” Tallarico said. 

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