In the early 1990s, as the world began to relax from the Cold War, there was a battle brewing in video games. A war that was not fought on the battlefield, but rather in the trenches of your living room between Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog. As video games grew in popularity, it was only a matter of time until a full blown “console war” erupted, pitting arcade archenemies Nintendo and SEGA against each other.
In Blake J. Harris' new book, Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and a Battle That Defined a Generation, you are taken on a journey of the video game industry’s two dominate leaders and their clashes for market dominance. Harris paints the picture of Nintendo as the savior of gaming, as well as the controlling leader of the industry. In contrast, SEGA is the new kid on the block ready to make a name for itself by any means necessary in order to carve out a piece of the video game pie.
Harris reconstructed the story from nearly 200 interviews. Very detail focused, each tidbit of information is worth reading because of how much the industry changed as a whole. The story is mostly told from the perspective of Tom Kalinske, SEGA's then CEO, and how he took on the Nintendo juggernaut. Using experience he gained from reviving Barbie for Mattel, Kalinske was not afraid to stand toe to toe with the market leader and focused on creating a lasting image.
The insights Harris provides in the book feel like you've unearthed some hidden gem or unlocked a hidden level in a video game. Learning how the name Sonic the Hedgehog was chosen, rather than Mr. Needlemouse, or why they decided against the very successful Wieden+Kennedy PR firm in favor of the Goodby, Berlin & Silvertein “Welcome to the Next Level” campaign puts cultural icons and defining attitudes into perspective.
As innovative and edgy as SEGA was, Harris portrays Nintendo as the slow but steady competitor in the video game war. Nintendo single handily resurrected the video game market after the crash from the Atari. By explaining how they controlled not only developers on it’s platforms but also distributors and supplies to their retailers, the book offers great insight on how Nintendo’s dominance was necessary to maintain control over its products.
The books does very well at explaining the different tactics each company used. SEGA created an image for itself as being the cool and hip item to own, going as far as labeling Nintendo as a kid's toy. Nintendo, sticking to it’s motto “the name of the game is the game,” did not care to have the most gruesome or controversial games on the market, but rather the better quality games.
Finally, Harris’s book explains the relationship each company had toward each other, in addition to the relationship each had with developers. Although Kalinske and Lincoln, Nintendo of America’s VP, had many battles with one another, they were able to put business aside in order to create the ESRB for the industry to move forward. Many of Nintendo’s problems today with third party developers stem from their control over the industry at it’s infancy. By catering to the creators of the games and giving retail stores another option, SEGA was able to begin the era of a multiple console generation.
Yes, you are a gamer and you come to this site to read about games to play. However, that doesn't mean you should let this book pass by. Console Wars tells an insightful story of how the video game market grew from a niche industry into one that is worth billions of dollars. Harris’ book delves into information on how SEGA rose to dominance only to come crashing down, how Nintendo was able to survive through the quality of it’s games, and how the industry could only progress with competition from other companies. This may be the only time I say it, but “Read On Gamers!”