Ring Around the Rebrand

So after I wrote that last post, I got a curious and decided I wanted to compare the Mystique versions of their games to the PlayAround ones. But strangely, even when you download it with Gigolo as per the PlayAround cart pair and no matter where you download it from, Bachelor Party always has Mystique branding. I wanted to know if this was an oversight in production or if everyone just redistributes the one copy of the ROM so I went a-lookin’.

I never found the answer to that particular question, but I did find another interesting theory.

In this thread on AtariAge, user Rom Hunter suggests that Mystique wasn’t bought out so much as just changed their name to evade the controversy of Custer’s Revenge. Hints at this lie in Mystique carts that include the “Swedish Erotica” as well as American Multiple Industries branding (AMI was the creator and manufacturer of the games, and was founded by Stewart Kester and Joel Martin) where other Mystique carts lack “Swedish Erotica” and carry JHM branding, which was later seen on PlayAround carts. Rom Hunter posts a news clipping supporting the idea that Mystique did not, in fact, go out of business, but instead rebranded themselves.

In another thread, though, Rom Hunter is looking for the exact opposite of what I was: Bachelor Party or Beat ‘Em and Eat ‘Em ROM’s dumped from PlayAround carts with Mystique branding on the playscreen. Where I started to wonder if maybe PlayAround just forgot to recode the branding in Bachelor Party, Rom Hunter grew suspicious when another user, JerryG, posted about a PlayAround demo cart he purchased at a flea market. The demo doesn’t do anything except scroll through multi-colored PlayAround logos and little drawings of people in different sex positions, but when user Nukey Shay looked at the source code, he found it contained an unused Mystique logo as well, suggesting that Mystique and PlayAround may be more closely linked than is let on.

After confirming with cart owner Rick Weis that the games on his PlayAround carts have PlayAround branding, Rom Hunter posited his theory: that Mystique only changed its name to PlayAround and that the JHM on the branding stands for Joel H. Martin, “the man behind Mystique” and one half of AMI’s founding partners.

User rolenta, who apparently met Joel Martin once and wrote a book on the history of videogames, suggests a slightly less conspiratorial answer that accounts for the utter lack of redesign on the boxart and the plain use of the same font style for the company name that PlayAround probably would have changed if they were actually just a rebrand trying to escape their past:

“In Phoenix, I wrote:

“American Multiple Industries wound up selling its rights to the games to another company, Playaround. This company released Beat ‘Em & Eat ‘Em and Bachelor Party along with three other titles but decided against selling Custer’s Revenge.”

I believe Joel H Martin (who I met at CES in 1982–after the name was changed), bought the company (with the help of investors) from AMI. What probably wasn’t included in the sale was the Mystique name and the Swedish Erotica license.”

This is an interesting detail in the story because it means that PlayAround, not being a new entity per se, didn’t necessarily bring a new idea to Mystique’s games in making female versions so much as just that they may have had that idea previously and just didn’t pursue it until after the sale. Perhaps in response to criticism from women’s groups? Who knows.

One other fun fact re: Mystique/PlayAround, apparently the double-ender carts came in relatively fancy cases! Inside the box itself was what looks like a vinyl “book” case for the cart. Classy!

Less classy was the fact that it was seemingly quite common for one or the other side of a cart not to work even from the factory and out of the box.

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July 2021