The news section of Megazone issue 11, dated December 1990, starts with a glorified press release. It states that over 100,000 Sega Master Systems have been sold in Australia and that things are going gangbusters.
What it fails to mention is that the magazine’s publisher is OziSoft. Which also happens to be the local distributor of Sega products.
The cover of that same issue featured the new King’s Quest 5 game for PC alongside a glowing preview across several pages. Coincidentally, King’s Quest is another one of OziSoft’s local releases.
Growing up, I didn’t know any of that. Because a 12-year-old kid doesn’t really know or care about licensing, distribution, or ‘corporate synergy’.
Looking back at Megazone with the benefit of hindsight it’s clear that the lines between journalism and marketing were often blurred.
That’s a view that Stuart Clarke agrees with. And he should know, given he was the editor from 1992 to 1993.
Want to edit a magazine?
“I had played a lot of games when I was young, on Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 mainly, but that was the limit of my games experience when I started at Megazone,” explains Stuart.
What he may have lacked in video game experience, he made up for it with professional credentials and one helpful contact in the industry. As he tells it, “I was doing a Media Communications degree at Sydney University of Technology. A friend who was a year or two ahead of me was the Megazone editor. [When he left the role] he suggested I apply and I got the gig.”
As far as first jobs go, editing a gaming magazine is right up there, and Megazone was particularly auspicious. It was Australia’s only multi-format gaming magazine and the go-to source for local gaming news. But as Stuart would quickly learn, it was also a marketing tool for his employer.
You’ve reached the Sega helpline
Brian ‘Since Spacies’ history with Megazone goes back a little further. He got his start in the industry contributing reviews to the magazine’s precursor, MegaComp, which ran for four issues before being acquired by OziSoft and relaunched.
As he explains, “MegaComp was trying to be a thing, but just couldn’t get it kicking along. OziSoft came through and bought the [magazine]. They changed the name to Megazone and slowly transitioned it from a mix of local and overseas content to entirely Aussie.”
A local magazine requires local content, and when OziSoft started looking around for new contributors they didn’t have to go far. As they quickly realised, the Sega helpline staff they employed as part of their local operation were an untapped resource. Which is where they found Brian.
“My first job was working on the Sega helpline. Reviewing games wasn’t supposed to be part of the job, but they eventually said, ‘We have a magazine, and we’re looking for someone to write articles, would you be keen to do that?’ I had already written reviews for MegaComp and had a zine called Sega Times, so I said, ‘Sure, sign me up’.”
Nintendo? Never heard of it
The relaunched magazine soon found an audience and became a useful channel to promote OziSoft games. Which was all good and well until things went Super Sonic (pun intended).
“OziSoft didn’t appreciate how big the Sega distribution would be,” says Brian. “They were really successful at establishing distribution links, and rolling out Commodore 64, Amiga, and PC software locally. So they looked at this new console, the Sega Master System, as another opportunity. Maybe at first they thought it would just be something to dabble in and make them some extra money on the side, but it ended up taking over their whole operation, it was that big.”
Sega wasn’t the only console manufacturer in town, and looking back at Megazone, it is notoriously devoid of Nintendo coverage. This is probably a good time to mention that Nintendo products in Australia were distributed by Mattel, a toy company and OziSoft rival.
“I don’t think there was a deliberate attempt to not cover Nintendo,” says Brian, “it was just that we couldn’t get access to their products, they wouldn’t give it to us. Maybe they feared we were going to give [their games] a negative score or something like that. Mattel here in Australia were really just asleep at the wheel.”
Whatever was going on behind the scenes, Nintendo played second fiddle to Sega in the early '90s, and the lack of coverage in Australia’s main gaming magazine didn’t help their situation.
What it did do was make OziSoft very rich. With the local rights to both the Master System and the Mega Drive plus the reach offered by a national magazine, these were the glory years, and the money was pouring in.
This didn’t go unnoticed, and the company officially changed its name to Sega OziSoft in 1992 when Sega bought a controlling share in the local company.
Simpsons drama and Sonic sales
So how independent was Megazone given it was owned by Sega’s local distributor?
“It was not at all independent in terms of what games were covered,” explains Stuart. “Almost all those gamers were distributed by Sega OziSoft. But we could review and score the games without oversight from management. It definitely felt like marketing in many ways and I could never control the content in the way I subsequently did at Hyper.”
Brian’s recollections are a little different. “We were never told, ‘Don’t be harsh on this game’, or anything like that. But one of my reviews did get significantly edited - Bart vs the Space Mutants on MegaDrive - and I was super pissed with that decision.”
“I really bagged the crap out of that game,” says Brian, “but if you dig online and find the review it’s me saying, ‘It’s not that bad, give it a try, it’s okay, you’ll have any okay time’, and I didn’t write any of that. The parts where I was critical were changed and softened. I think my review is printed as 91% (83% actually - Ed), or something horrendously high, I probably would have given it a 30-40%.”
This sounds like the sort of thing that would whip Twitter into a frenzy if it were to happen today. But never mind all that, it’s a footnote in history. The more relevant story is that Megazone had hit its stride by 1992. As Stuart recalls, “The period I was Megazone editor was when Sonic and the Mega Drive really blew up. Our circulation was growing really fast and I think one or two issues were advertised on late-night TV which earned some massive sales.”
What had started as a glorified catalogue in 1989 had become both a significant operation and resource drain by 1993. Sega was now the major stakeholder in Sega OziSoft, and with several different platforms to market and sell - including the Master System, Mega Drive, Mega CD, and upcoming 32X - a monthly magazine was increasingly viewed as a distraction from the main event.
Sometime in 1993, a decision was made to sell the magazine to another publisher, and while details are scarce, Mason Stewart eventually stepped up as a buyer. At the time their roster of publications included Playboy, Smash Hits, and several sports magazines.
“Sega Ozisoft took the opportunity to sell Megazone to a professional magazine publisher,” explains Stuart. “But I wasn't keen to work there [Mason Stewart] on a mag like Megazone, so gratefully accepted being made redundant.”
That decision would have far-reaching consequences, as a few weeks after he left Megazone Stuart received a call from Phil Keir, owner of Next Media and the local publisher of Rolling Stone.
“He rang me at home one night to ask a few questions,” says Staurt. “Before I knew it he had asked me to set up a brand new games magazine – one that I created and controlled completely. So after a few nano-seconds of thought I said, ‘okay then'.”
1993 to infinity
That new magazine would become Hyper, and provided Stuart with a clean slate and a chance to right the wrongs he had seen at Megazone. “I only had a few 'demands' when approached to do a games magazine. The main one was to be multi-format so we could cover all good games as well as comment on the industry wars (Sega vs Nintendo, etc). I also wanted a broader audience than the pre-teen boys who read Megazone. I wanted over-18s to not be embarrassed reading a games magazine.”
While Hyper flourished, the newly renamed Sega Megazone went the opposite route. Relaunched in 1994 with a focus on a younger, Sega-specific audience, the magazine missed the boat on the next generation of consoles just as they were popping up on the horizon. While Hyper was covering the upcoming PlayStation, Nintendo Ultra 64, and Sega Saturn (as well as the computer gaming scene), Sega Megazone was left with the unenviable task of covering the ageing and convoluted roster of Sega consoles and add-ons.
Sega Megazone folded in 1995, bringing the magazine’s run to an end after 56 issues. That cleared the path for Hyper, which would go on to run for another 27 years.
While Megazone went out with a whimper, its final issue barely noticed, the magazine’s legacy, and its influence on Australian gaming can’t be underestimated. It made Sega a household name, sold a generation of kids on the Master System, and helped OziSoft outgun and outsell Nintendo when the 16-bit generation arrived on our shores.
For better or worse, the conflicted nature of Megazone shaped a generation of kids. Even if we didn’t know it at the time.
Sign in or become a SUPERJUMP member to join the conversation.