Tips from the Top: Currys PC World’s head of gaming Nick Hayden

Tips from the Top: Currys PC World’s head of gaming Nick Hayden

? The button-bashing guru, 46, on the joy of playing video games before anyone else and gaming with grandparents in lockdown

You must have been part of the first generation of kids to play home video games.

Yes, when I was about six my brother, father and I used to play TV games like golf but then we graduated to Atari and the Sega Mega Drive. We spent hours playing Space Invaders on that Atari, and my brother and I spent two years trying to conquer the world of Gran Turismo. My mother didn’t mind — she was probably more annoyed with my father, who bought the consoles. Today we still see parents buying Scalextric for their children when it’s more for them.

Did you see your future in it?

At school I wanted to be a pro surfer. Everybody has a passion and everyone wants to do something they’re passionate about and I have two passions in life — surfing and gaming. But I lacked the skill to become a pro surfer.

At least you had gaming to fall back on…

My parents are in retail and I’ve spent most of my career in the same field. I started working on the shop floor of a store in Covent Garden, flat-packing jeans, then worked my way into merchandising, building ranges for Primark and WHSmith and crunching numbers. Ten years ago I joined Currys PC World as a laptop buyer on the basis they would teach me tech and I would teach them buying. Three years ago I became head of gaming.

Lockdown love: Fortnite

What’s an average day like?

We analyse what customers are buying, find out what products are coming in and test the new games. We get our hands on them way before the public and that’s probably the most exciting thing. There are ten of us and no one is playing the same game on the same platform, which mixes it up and gives a great pool of opinion to draw from. Once that’s done we have to make decisions — is it the right kind of product? Is it targeted at our customer base? How many do we buy?

What effect has coronavirus had?

We’re working from home and instead of a regular team night out at a pub in Acton, the team meets online playing Call Of Duty. We can chat, there’s banter, you can keep in touch and stay highly engaged, everyone’s having fun, and although some are beginners and others very good players, that doesn’t matter.

Any games particularly good at keeping people connected during lockdown?

Online multiplayer games have become colossal and you can see it on all the online forums. Counter-Strike, for example, has just broken its record for the number of online players around the world at one given time. Meanwhile multiplayer games from Fortnite to Minecraft are linking people and gobbling up the hours in isolation. Due to the lack of sporting events, people are also turning to footie games.

Is there a game younger people can play with their grandparents?

It depends on older people’s attitude to gaming and how au fait they are with technology. Nintendo Switch is a much easier entrance to gaming for older people and there are several great titles including all the old ones for the more nostalgic among us.

And your lowest point?

Being made redundant just over a decade ago was a low. I’d been working for a jewellery company in South Africa, which meant I couldn’t have been in a worse place when the financial crisis of 2008 hit, Lehman Brothers closed and the stock market crashed. My English wife — I’m South African by birth, my father is Irish and my mother English — packed us all up and put us on a plane to Britain, and that’s how I arrived at Currys PC World.

Mistakes, you’ve made a few?

The biggest was sitting in a role I thought was adding value to my career but it wasn’t actually doing me any justice. It was about 15 years ago and I stayed there way too long.

If you had to choose just one game to play for the rest of your life, what would it be?

The Total War franchise. I’ve been playing it since the beginning and each game focuses on a specific part of history — the building of the Roman Empire, Napoleon, the invasion of the Vikings… so not only is it strategic, it teaches you a lot about history.

You fly around the world for game launches… are they as glamorous as movie premieres?

If you ever go to a gaming event, you’ll see real fan-boys and lots of Red Bull and coffee. They do like to show their enthusiasm, especially when a game’s gone dormant for a while and comes back. They happily stand on tables and celebrate as if they’ve just been told they’re having a baby! A new twist on an old game is their utopia.

Has the pandemic changed the face of gaming forever?

Yes. Covid-19, self-isolation and lockdown has been one of the most stressful things for anyone to deal with and I’m not exempt. But there are some silver linings for a lot of people. We’re spending more time with our families and doing things we’d traditionally neglected. I’m spending more time talking to my parents over a screen and face to face with my kids, rather than on the phone, which will hopefully continue once lockdown is over. But if there was ever a time for gaming to be standing tall and talking positive, it’s now. So many people are finding a haven in gaming and realising how it can help people who are isolated for any reason, at any time.

Top tip

‘Have a selective part of gaming that’s your real passion and you can discuss in detail to help you stand out’

The facts

Salary: Expect to start in gaming retail on around £20,000, rising with experience

Regular hours? Yes, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, is standard

Short and sweet advice: Expect your gaming skills to be tested at interview

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