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Exploring EA’s Failed Reality-Bending Game, Majestic

Turning Gamers To Real-World Detectives

By Austin BerryPublished 2 years ago 5 min read
Exploring EA’s Failed Reality-Bending Game, Majestic
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

In the early 2000s, the now video-game-giant EA regularly broke barriers in the gaming industry. And by barriers, I mean the fourth wall. That was the main gameplay mechanic for Majestic, released on July 24, 2001, developed by Anim-X (put a pin in that, by the way) while designed and published by Electronic Arts. With the tagline “It plays you”, it sounds like a generic bait line that warrants people to wander by it in the store, do a double take, and shell out the money just out of curiosity. Yet, this tagline was making a never-before-seen promise that the game would be pulled into our world, rather than the player being pulled into theirs.

What is Majestic?

To understand the main gameplay of Majestic, we first must talk about ARGs, or Alternate Reality Games. Basically, it is a game, usually filled with mystery, that requires players to search in the real world outside of the game to solve puzzles and advance with the game’s story. I, for one, absolutely love ARGs (even though I’m not clever enough to play along with one). When hearing about Majestic, my mind went wild with the possibilities it housed when it came to stumping players and making them feel like they were a part of something bigger than a simple video game. So how did this game work?

Majestic’s Main Game Mechanic

The plot of the game revolved around the fake game company Anim-X being sabotaged by a shadowy organization, after they find themselves unknowingly stumbling upon a secret they should not have known about, resulting in their studio being burned to the ground. Yeah, remember when I said Anim-X was the developer of Majestic? Doesn’t exist. Anyway, players would then receive an actual email from Electronic Arts that apologized for the game’s delay, and send them a link to a real news site, The Portland Chronicle, to update them on the game’s status. From there, the player finds out that there are still remaining Anim-X employees that survived the supposed purge, and players must help them uncover who is behind this conspiracy while receiving emails, phone calls, even faxes to help them. The game was also interesting in the sense that the game was not like usual video games now, where you pay the full price, play through the game in a couple days and see the credits roll. No, the game was split into episodes, which the first one is free for people to get into, and the rest of the game is only accessible if the player signs up for EA’s Platinum Service, which back then cost around $10 per month. Players who paid this would gain access to the entire season, 5 episodes per season, which players could only get through a certain amount before the game locked them out of it for about a day, letting them continue the next.

The Disappointing Failure

So with such a cool premise, why did this ultimately fail commercially and critically? Well, when you start to really look at the facts and the structure of the game, you might start to understand why. Let’s begin at the main core mechanic of the game, not being able to play through the game all at once, instead having to take the game day by day, while researching different websites, answering automated phone calls, and receiving emails and faxes. For people that don’t have time to play the game casually, or better yet don’t want to wait days on end to progress, this was very hard to get into. The game was very precise when it came to timing, as when the game states that it will send you a fax or give you a call the next day at a certain time, that is when it will do it. If the player wasn’t free to receive time-sensitive messages like that, it can throw off the whole experience for them. Either that, or players will grow bored or uninterested in the game when realizing that it gives them a limit to how much they play it before having to take a day-long break before it allows them to progress a little more.

Something else that might be linked to the game’s failure was the puzzles it gave players. Although the premise of having to do outside research to progress sounds like something that may stump the average gamer, it turns out the puzzles were criticized for being ridiculously easy. Not only that, but the game also had the “Allies” concept, that matched the player with others that are at the same level/progress point as they are, allowing them to contact each other for help and work together to solve the next mystery. Sounds cool, but if the puzzles aren’t challenging, and you have an entire team of people working with you, players will get through the game faster than they should be. Ironically enough, the player base was also a big reason why the game failed. The first pilot episode, which to remind you was free, started with a good 800,000 players. However, as the game went on, it dropped to 70,000, then freefalled to a staggering 10,000 or more players. I believe this could be because of the paywall the game created, where players had to subscribe to the EA Platinum Service to continue. EA even shipped bundles of this game that included the subscription in it to entice players, yet even those sold terribly. Yikes.

Could Majestic Have Been Saved?

I personally think a game like this can work, you just have to be cautious about it. I admire researching outside the game’s limits for extra lore or puzzle solutions, as well as getting contacted through means like email, but there have to be lines that the game can’t cross. Although phone calls are an interesting game mechanic, people don’t want to be bothered by calls that aren’t important, especially when you don’t have time to pick up a call about a video game when you’re at work. Keep it to contact that can be accessed anytime, such as emails, or even during the era of social media, upload content that houses solutions that communities must piece together to solve the next part. And don’t make players wait for the chance to progress, let them play at their own pace.

The one problem I can see arising from a game like this is keeping the solution readily available for people years down the line that weren’t able to get their hands on the game when it first released. Usually ARGs have websites with servers that need to be actively paid for to keep up for the players to find. When the ARG is solved or people have lost interest in it, or even when funds run low, the servers will usually shut down, leaving late players stranded without the next vital piece. I can’t think of a solution as of now, yet there has to be some way to keep the mystery alive while providing late players with the original source of the puzzle.

Majestic is such an interesting experiment of gaming to me, and I am truly disappointed that other major gaming companies don’t put the time and energy into ARGs to keep the player base guessing and invested in the world the game has created. Even if EA decides to try and reboot Majestic, they have a good foundation to rebuild it on. I just hope they have learned from their mistakes and are able to deliver on a project that will go down in history as one of the most unique games ever.

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Austin Berry

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    Austin BerryWritten by Austin Berry

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