Lawyer makes up the rules of the game

Meet the legal pioneer who has helped steer the gaming industry since its infancy

Working in the gaming industry is usually a dream reserved for teenagers with sore thumbs and the time to devote 200 hours to the latest game. But as technology and the popularity of gaming has advanced, so has the need for other skills and professions.

Robert Bond, for example, is a lawyer working on the most popular franchises in gaming, an industry worth £1.93bn in the UK alone.

Thirty years ago video games barely registered on anyone’s radar. But Mr Bond, a lawyer at Speechly Bircham, stumbled upon it in its infancy.

Growing up in the West Midlands to parents who were both dentists, it was assumed he would choose the medical profession. But he admits: “I couldn’t stand science at school.” At 14 he decided to become a lawyer.

After qualifying from what is now the University of Wolverhampton in 1979, he moved to Burton upon Trent to work in corporate and commercial law. But his career took a surprising turn shortly afterwards, thanks to his 19-year-old neighbour.

“He used to keep me awake at night, making very strange sounds, and one morning I said ‘Malcolm, what are you doing?’. He told me he was building a computer game, a variation on Space Invaders.” Mr Bond helped him set up a company, and in 1980 they secured a large deal to roll out the game.

From here, he worked with a gaming company called Domark, whose first game, Eureka!, was written by Ian Livingstone, the man behind Dungeons and Dragons. Eureka! was an adventure game, and at the end of each level the gamer would find one digit of a telephone number. The first person to complete the game and call the number would win £50,000.

“The phone number was an answering machine in my home,” Mr Bond says. “It was nine months before a little voice said ‘my name is Matthew Woodley, I am 10 years old and I claim the prize’. It threw us, because we hadn’t worked out what we’d do if a child won.”

Mr Bond set up a trust fund and from then on the young Matthew tested Domark’s game ideas. He went on to become a director of the company and later a senior director at Electronic Arts.

Domark began to work with names that were, or have since become, global franchises, not least of which was Mr Bond’s namesake, James Bond.

“It was good fun because they always had a premier of the films at Pinewood Studios. So I’d go and they would stop me at the gate and ask my name. My middle name is James, after my grandfather. So I would say ‘Bond, Robert James Bond’.”

Through this work, he met Jeremy Heath-Smith, who was working on a game called Chuck Rock. “Jeremy said that one day he reckoned we would make a film based on a game. His next game was Tomb Raider.”

This became one of the most exciting projects for Mr Bond, as not only did the legal side need to focus on employment law, intellectual property rights and licensing arrangements, it extended to contracts with film studios and merchandising rights – even to contracting agencies who employed girls to dress up as the game’s heroine, Lara Croft, at trade events.

In the mid-1990s there were few lawyers in the field and it was a relatively closed global network. There were opportunities to help create ground-breaking new laws, as well as becoming involved in the most high-profile of projects, including the Lord of the Rings franchise and Second Life, the online social media network that features users as “avatars”.

Mr Bond worked for several law firms before joining Speechly Bircham in 2006. But throughout his career he has found one of the toughest issues to be applying law to technology that is always several steps ahead: “When you finish a piece of work, you will be the expert, because there isn’t anyone else who’s done it. It’s exciting, yes. But you really have to use your lawyerly skills and live life on the edge.”

However, it was during his work on Second Life that he encountered the seedier side of the internet and gaming. “Some of the things I had to deal with were less than savoury, and it was here I got the idea for ‘I in Online’, which is a corporate social responsibility project I started at Speechly Bircham in 2009.”

The award-winning project involves experts going into schools and teaching children how to manage their reputation and privacy online. It has become so successful it now advises the UK’s Information Commission, which offers guidance on data protection, and the US Federal Trade Commission, along with companies including Sky, Disney and Facebook, on understanding the importance of the internet, showing them how to engage with children responsibly, while continuing to garner the marketing information they need for their business.

By working with Heart of the City, a CSR organisation, Mr Bond has also ensured his own colleagues at every level are given the opportunity to make a difference in their local communities.

The CSR policy Mr Bond devised is not limited to technological awareness – it encompasses offering legal advice to pensioners, giving away old law books, and school reading schemes. He believes it is only a matter of time until CSR becomes compulsory, as important as HR and IT.

“It’s a very inclusive, sharing area of business and soon it will stop being innovative. When talking about CSR to interns, they already look at you as if there was any choice,” he says.

Regarding social media and the workplace, Mr Bond believes every business should have its own social media policy. Advising employees on how to use online networking effectively can prevent repercussions for themselves and the company.

“You’ve got a generation that has no notion of discretion, that will tweet every thought. So you have people walking into your workplace who won’t know the notion of keeping something quiet. And we’re starting to see evidence of this already.”Secret CV

Your first big break?

My next-door neighbour inventing a computer game.Any mentors?

My first senior partner Derek Auden, who taught me that if there isn’t an answer, you’re going to have to make it up. And for that you need a brain, something to write with and something to put it down on.Interests outside work?

Keeping fit, gardening and my Morgan sports car. Also sailing. One grandfather was private secretary to Sir Thomas Lipton, and took part in the America’s Cup, which Lipton started. Sailing is in the family.If you could do any other job?

Chat show host. It’s the Clive Anderson-type role I see myself in.

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