As goes Psychonauts, so goes Majesco

The other day I linked to Chris Morris’ piece on CNN/Money about Majesco’s troubles. The more I saw the piece linked at other blogs, the more I thought: Would we care about Majesco if not for Psychonauts? And since, as I said in the previous post, Psychonauts wasn’t actually a Majesco decision but a late pickup after Microsoft dropped it, should we care? One great publishing decision can’t make up for otherwise poor games and business decisions.

But there’s something else to this story, and it ties into the issue of gaming press as PR, Dan Hsu’s paeans to integrity, and all that. Psychonauts was released for the PlayStation 2 on June 21 last year (it had already been released for the Xbox), the same day Destroy All Humans came out. I remember seeing them both and thinking, oh, two quirky games about aliens/weird people who sort of look like aliens. I had gotten review copies of both after they were released, and I remember noting to myself that I should make sure to try out at least Psychonauts since that was getting good reviews while Destroy All Humans was getting average reviews.

I also remember seeing Destroy All Humans ads plastered all over EB Games and a bunch of magazines, including nongame magazines. I feel like it was on the cover of at least one gaming mag, but can’t remember for sure. But I don’t remember seeing anything beyond the reviews for Psychonauts. Most of this is obviously Majesco’s doing. That’s not to blame the company; it might not have made sense to have an advertising blitz like Destroy all Humans had. Majesco’s ad budget, however, doesn’t explain why gaming magazines didn’t push Psychonauts more. For all the recent laments about Majesco and Psychonauts, where were the Raz covers in July, the Second Looks in August? I know cover real estate is precious and a delicate situation — in any entertainment magazine, not just video game mags — but you’d have thought by all the retroactive love that someone would have tried to give a great, unheralded game a boost somehow.

I realize also that good press can only go so far; critically acclaimed movies tank at the box office all the time. Moreover, the gaming mags have given lots of space to God of War and Shadow of the Colossus, which didn’t come with blockbuster or franchise credentials. Still, I’d love for Hsu or other magazine editors to explain more just how they decide on coverage and cover stories. I have no reason to think the game magazines are any different from, say, Entertainment Weekly or even Cosmo in this regard. But there’s more to integrity than just refusing overt pay-for-play.

— January 26, 2006

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