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Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation Hardcover – May 13, 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 289 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ben Mezrich
Ben Mezrich, bestselling author of Bringing Down the House and Straight Flush, Reviews Console Wars

OK, full disclosure: I spent most of my twenties obsessed with GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64; I’ve got enough old videogame cartridges to build a medium-sized cartridge castle in my living room; and I’ve spent hours arguing the relative merits of Playstation versus Xbox. But Console Wars had me hooked from the first page. Written as narrative nonfiction, the story zings along at a breakneck pace. Compiling a massive amount of research into a well-executed dramatic arc, Harris tells the David vs. Goliath story of Sega’s epic battle against the gaming behemoth Nintendo. I especially enjoyed reading about the development of Sega’s mascot – and would-be Mario-killer – Sonic, the frenetic, frenzied little hedgehog that eventually shifted the balance between the two companies, changed the gaming landscape forever. The character of Tom Kalinske, the brilliant business guru (who’d resurrected Barbie, turning a back-of-the-closet, anachronistic doll into a contemporary, billion-dollar phenomenon) tapped to transform Sega from a small-scale Japanese arcade game outfit into a global competitor, is deftly drawn; from the very beginning, he faces a herculean task, not the least of which is his need to bridge the cultural chasm between American consumers and Japanese managers. Infighting, corporate greed, scrappy genius vs. antiquated business models – Console Wars has it all. A thoroughly good read!

From Booklist

*Starred Review* At the dawn of the 1990s, Nintendo was the Goliath of the video-game industry. The company’s strictures on third-party development and its policy of understocking retailers contributed to the stranglehold on the market. But Tom Kalinske, who had rejuvenated Barbie and created He-Man for Mattel, was about to change that as the president and CEO of Sega. Like the pixels that together create a larger picture, Harris presents the various elements of the business in vivid color, from research and development to marketing, to show how Sega went from a joke to a market leader in just a few years. Along the way, Harris reveals the forces behind such decisions as Nintendo changing red blood to gray sweat in Mortal Kombat; the origin story of the nickname for Sonic’s sidekick, Tails; and even how Mario was supposed to be a certain spinach-guzzling sailor, in a manner that will engage both Gen X gamers and business-minded readers. Harris defines the players immediately, honing in on their most notable characteristics, and puts the reader in the thick of the meetings and deal-making with a confidence stemming from hundreds of interviews. Pegged for both documentary and feature-film adaptations, Console Wars is remarkably detailed and fast paced, pitting speedy Sonic against more-of-the-same Mario in a blow-by-blow account of the battle for supremacy in the burgeoning video-game industry. --Bridget Thoreson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: It Books (May 13, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062276697
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062276698
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (289 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Console Wars largely chronicles the period between 1989 and 1995, when Sega battled Nintendo for dominance in the home console market, ending as Sony displaces Sega in the 32-bit era as Nintendo's main competitor. In a sense, it does serve as a sort of sequel to David Sheff's gold-standard account in "Game Over" of the rise of Nintendo in the 80's, which left off at the point where Sega's Genesis had just started to get a serious foothold in the market. However, the styles in which the two authors approach their subjects are very different, and it's interesting to compare them.
Sheff's Game Over contained very little conversational dialogue. He wrote his book like a reporter: documenting scenes and incidents by describing the people and particulars involved, the content of what they said, and the effect of their interactions. His book was full of individual quotes, but the large majority of them were presented matter-of-factly as accounts made by the subject either directly to the author in interview, or to another source of record which Sheff was citing. In-scene "dialogue" was used sparingly, and mostly limited to short lines that reflected exactly what was known by the subject or other observers to have been said, or something very close to it. This gave Sheff's book a journalistic crackle, keeping the pace moving, the flow of information constant, and the level of authorial distance removed enough that the reader always maintained a panoramic view of the bigger picture, and didn't get bogged down in superfluous, artificial detail.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed the book overall, but was disappointed the book focused entirely on marketing and sales and basically ignored engineering and software development. There are occasional allusions to technology (16 bits vs. 8 bits, Nintendo's mode 7, Sega's Blast Processing, etc.) but basically this book implies the console wars were won and lost by the sales and marketing teams of Nintendo and Sega. The book is also very focused on the Sega Genesis and the NES/SNES. Very little is written on the Sega Saturn and its commercial failuree.

I understand the best engineering doesn't always win (Betamax), but the exclusive focus on marketing and sales seems unbalanced and superficial. I was hoping for a more balanced treatment of the subject including more details on the technical innovations in each generation of the console hardware and the incredible creativity and technical accomplishments of the game developers of this era. Instead, we are treated to stories of marketing and sales staff arguing over first-class airplane seats.
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Format: Hardcover
Wow, is this book problematic. I am sure that there is a really great story to be told about the battle between Sega and Nintendo for console supremacy in the early '90s, and I was intrigued early on by the characters that were presented and the trip down memory lane to a very different time in pop culture. As I got deeper into the book, however, Harris's writing style started to grate...then irritate...then flat-out infuriate. And I felt a bit misled. This book isn't about games at all, really; it's about marketing. Things like Sega's false trumpeting of Blast Processing are hailed as genius despite the fact that they were duplicitous, for example - I mean, yay for lying, I guess? And other reviewers are right about the lionization of Tom Kalinske and his team. At one point, near the end of a chapter when Kalinske finds out the government is going to start investigating the games industry, the author - without, as far as I can tell, a hint of irony - compares SOA's CEO positively with the mythical figure Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to help humanity advance and was eternally punished for it by having a buzzard eat his magically-regenerating liver every day for all time. Hyperbole, much? Ugh, and don't even get me started on the grammatical errors. There are interrogative sentences that end in periods. There are split infinitives everywhere. Poor structure abounds. I am sure book editing is hard, but some of these problems are really surprising in something that was professionally published.

Overall, while I was intrigued by the tale the book was trying to tell (I was a teenager and college student in this era and am very much a part of the generation that played an active part in this whole first console war), I can't get behind a package as shoddily put together as this. Hopefully, someone will come along some day and do a better job of it.
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Format: Hardcover
Oh man, this book is good. If you’re like me, an important part of your childhood revolved around saving princesses and hitting up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A on your controller. This book, CONSOLE WARS, brings it all back. And then some.

Word of warning: this book is hefty. Weighing in at 550 pages, this is a good chunk of verbiage covering half a decade of video gaming history. Is the journey worth it? Hell yeah!

Did you know that the Donkey Kong game was supposed to be a Popeye the Sailorman game? How about Tom Hanks being turned down for the Mario movie? And, are the rumors true: did Michael Jackson write music for Sonic 3? There’s a ton of information packed into the book. Every time I was tempted to skim ahead, something else caught my attention. The author, Blake Harris, weaves the dialogue and happenings that he collected from over 200 interviews into an interesting narrative that comes from all directions of the industry.

My personal story mirrors the boy in 8-BIT CHRISTMAS (if you haven’t read that book, do it). Santa usually stocked my tree with Nintendo-based presents. So, what interested me most in this book was the opposing history of Sega: mainly, how the underdogs took the proverbial bull by the horns and kicked its a**. When everything went wrong—prize fighter losing before game release; power outage at a major press conference; Walmart refusing to carry product—the folks at Sega owned the situation and rose to the top.

I was also especially interested in the nearness of a Sega-Sony merge. Can you imagine the state of video games if Sega released the Playstation with Sony? Nintendo had a chance, spurred Sony, and well…you’ll have to read about it all. Not to mention Sega of Japan’s involvement all along the way.
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