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Tom Abramson helped Sega of America climb to the top of the videogame world by keeping its users guessing.

"The life cycle for games is getting shorter all the time, and the appetite for new games, products and promotions is more intense than ever," says Mr. Abramson, 34, VP-marketing of promotions and Sega Sports. "You constantly have to feed the program with new ideas."

Continually surprising everyone from competitors to retailers, Sega makes unexpected product announcements and tries to be first with everything from the hottest sports celebrities to the fastest new technology.

This strategy is led by Mr. Abramson, who has two young boys and, he says, "gets inside kids' heads" by listening closely to the teen-age culture through every available medium.

"I read underground videogame fan magazines, watch MTV and Saturday morning TV, play games, talk to skateboarders.*.*. It's a 24-hour-a-day job."

The trend-watching has paid off. In late 1993, Sega overtook Nintendo and has been the undisputed ruler of cool in the $6 billion 16-bit videogame industry, where being first and fastest with technology is all-important.

Mr. Abramson helped conceive a nationwide tournament ended in a final face-off at San Francisco's Alcatraz prison last year, telecast live on cable's MTV.

Other of his more innovative projects include a grassroots marketing program paying college students to organize on-campus Sega events; a sponsorship of a nationally syndicated sports talk radio program wih 5.5 million national listeners; a cable TV Sega Channel and a new CompuServe online service.

Under Mr. Abramson, the company has also aligned with other major advertisers for promotions, including a Planters LifeSavers line of Sonic 3 candies, a Cherry Coke/Sega Shuttle promotional tour and offers for Sega products in Ralston cereals.

Expect the unexpected from Mr. Abramson this year. "You can never get to feeling safe in this market, because it changes just about every six hours," he says.

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