Console Wars-Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris, Published in 2014, 558pgs
(Spoilers ahead. Though this is probably all public record.)
There was a time where you had Nintendo fans and Sega fans. Me, I was a Nintendo fan. I had the NES and played it, but to be fair, I don’t remember having too many games. First couple Mario Bros., Exictebike, a real cool hockey game, and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Eventually we got the Super Nintendo, and I loved it. EarthBound is my all time favorite game. Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Legend of Zelda and so much more. But Sega was cool. My uncle had it and even the Sega CD. I dug Sonic CD, Eternal Champions was cool, and I actually liked the Madden games. So that is why I picked up this book. About this time when Sega came in with guns firing and gave Nintendo a run for its money.
The book is really from the perspective of Tom Kalinske, former President of Sega of America. Coming from his amazing work in Mattel toys revitalizing Barbie and spearheading Masters of the Universe. He became CEO but office politics lead him to step down and sometime later was recruited by Sega to takeover their American operation. Basically walking in with little knowledge of video games and unaware of the upward battle Sega had against Nintendo. Nintendo controlled 90% of the business and were pretty ruthless in how they operated. Kalinske and his team had to figure out how to put the Genesis in stories that refuse to piss off Nintendo, find games that competed, and also market this product to people who only knew Nintendo.
This book starts out a bit tough. It’s written as prose and the writer admits to reconstructing dialogue and filling in blanks. Basically taking liberties. I’ve read a few reviews saying how badly its written, mostly focused on the dialogue. I can see why but I really dug the book’s look at video game history and the marketing battle going on. The first hundred or so pages was a little slow for sure but I thought it picked up pretty well going into the second part SONIC vs MARIO. My understanding of what put Sega out of business as a console manufacturer was completely wrong. I never knew that there was an internal battle between Sega of America and Sega of Japan. One in which the American branch was penetrating the market and the home business was struggling and refused to cooperate fully with the American branch. How Nintendo and Sega basically pushed Sony to create the Playstation solo after years of spurning the developers there. The way Kalinske and his team worked tirelessly to win go from 5% to 55% marketshare. The backgrounds of the consoles and the people involved are fascinating.
That said, one of the things that irked me as a Nintendo fan is the lack of viewpoint from there. Nintendo is first introduced through background on several main players to get the reader up to speed along with Kalinske. After that they pop up sporadically as centerpieces of chapters. Most of the time Nintendo is seen from an outsider perspective. I do wish there was more background on some of the video games. They talk more about Sonic for obvious reasons but I would’ve loved more background on other games from Sega and Nintendo. Also, its too long.
Overall, I really liked the book. I liked that era of video games back when I cared about video games. Check it out.