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solid marketing system, great distribution and pretty decent
games. In a time where the concept of controlling images on
your TV seemed more like science fiction, people couldn't tell
the difference between a microchip and a potato chip and
what sort of "joy" one could get with a "stick" other than the

large tree branch one took to beat their sibling with while - Dan Mahlendorf
playing "Star Wars" in the back yard-fledgling game compa-
I'm going to be blunt, the kind of blunt that comes from years nies put on the boxing gloves and came out fighting in great
of making my way through the trenches of gaming consumer- '70's commercial style.
ism, and is delivered with the tone of one of those "back in my Magnavox: A Game Odyssey
day" speeches. Today's video game advertising is neu-
tered. Sure we get bombarded with TV ads when the next big Magnavox started the home video game business with the
game hits. We see our favorite gaming sites "skinned" to Odyssey but by 1978 the company was playing catch up
push the latest title a publisher paid big money to flash when it released that system's successor, the Odys-
about. And, of course, there are the "guerilla" or "viral" adver- sey2. With the Fairchild Video Entertainment System (which
tisements injected into our communication systems, pretend- was the first cartridge based system) and the new and in-
ing to be the actual thoughts of John Q. Gamer in an attempt creasingly popular Video Computer System (VCS) from Atari,
to build up a title or, for the conspiracy theorists in the audi- Magnavox had to make their new system known by selling it
ence, to break down a competing product. But the hype hard. The system itself looked like a miniature computer with
machine of old has been scrapped, recycled and replaced its 49-key membrane keyboard and with the home computer
with gargantuan hype factories whose influences are starting market just starting to grow, why not use that approach to sell
to rival that of Nike in throttling the product excitement dial up the system to parents as more than just a video game?
to the proverbial eleven. If we go back to the conspiracy
angle for a moment one could probably say that "negative One of the earliest Odyssey2 print ads from 1979, asks the
press" for controversial titles is planned. Depending on the reader to "give the ultimate computer video game. Odys-
product , the "bad" publicity is almost a guarantee of gobs of sey2". The ad goes on to showcase the system's
sales or at least increased interest in the offending company's "sophisticated 49 character alpha-numeric keyboard", which
product. I have no doubt that there is more advertising today was one of its principal selling points during its life
than ever before. However there is one thing you almost span. We're told that the system has over thirty games to
never see broadcasted in the mass media outlets: a console play with a variety of genres like arcade, sports, etc. Finally
company openly talking down or bashing the competition. the ad states that the system came with three games and
hand controls, informing us that Odyssey2 "gives [us] more
Have you seen a Sony rep take a swing at Microsoft on than other video's the ultimate game. The ultimate
TV? Or how about the house that Gates built putting a two gift." and finally finishes the pitch with the fact that Magnavox
page spread in Gamepro about how Xbox Live Arcade was the originator of the home video game.
trounces the Playstation Network? Sure, those who read
gaming sites or magazines might come across interviews with The keyboard, as mentioned before, was one of Magnavox's
developers who give their two tokens worth of dislike for a biggest selling points for the system. One angle used was
certain console or PR people that may openly thumb their that the keyboard "is the key to greater challenge in video
noses at the competition. But if there's any negative slinging games". Their "Master Strategy" game line is probably the
at a "professional" level it's usually by the game journalists best example with Quest for the Rings being the most known
giving their opinion. Those thoughts, however, typically come and popular. A mat is placed on the keyboard that depicts
in a form that the general public may never see. Any real what key does what. Using a separate table top game board,
bashing one hears about comes from the gamers who chat one of the players (called "The Ringmaster", not unlike Dun-
up message boards to support their side of the current geon & Dragons' "Dungeon Master") determines where the
"console war". All in all it's essentially a truce of sorts in the treasures, monsters, etc. go and then plugs that info into the
21st century: everyone doing their thing, gathering their audi- Odyssey2. The other two players then tackle the Ringmas-
ences while trying to make a buck. ter's tasks trying to get the treasure. Other titles in the Odys-
sey's library would sometimes use the keyboard to change
It wasn’t always this nice. There were at least a couple of the way a game was played. Pick Axe Pete, a game that
times in the history of video games where marketing depart- borrows a lot from Donkey Kong, allows you to adjust the
ments stripped off their three piece suits, donned combat mazes using the keyboard to increase the difficulty (or as one
fatigues and charged headlong into advertising battle to fight commercial puts it "more menacing").
for the consumer's dollar by beating down the opposi-
tion. Whether it be comparisons on product superiority, how Another selling point Maganvox brought to the table was the
many titles a particular console had over others or what ex- accessory called "The Voice". Like Mattel's Intellivoice, The
clusive titles a system had, the marketing departments pulled Voice could speak to the player if the game was programmed
few punches. Probably the first real "confrontation", at least for it. One bit of difference was that games used The Voice to
one of the more famous, was when Atari was at the top of the produce some pretty neat sound effects. In the game Smith-
hill with their Video Computer System, aka the 2600. While (Continued on page 7)
not the first with a cartridge system, Atari was able to solidify
their position as the premier home game company thanks to a
5 | Video Game Trader Magazine | #8 |
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