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Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation Paperback – Illustrated, June 2, 2015
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A highly entertaining behind-the-scenes thriller. -- Kirkus Reviews
It’s far and away one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. -- Forbes
Like the pixels that together create a larger picture, Harris presents the various elements of the business in vivid color...remarkably detailed and fast paced. -- Booklist
Fast, fluid, and startingly accessible. -- Entertainment Weekly
A fast-paced page-turner...it’s exciting to finally get a no-holds-barred account of a history that has largely been kept secret from the public eye. -- Wired
A must-read. Period. -- IGN
From the Back Cover
Named a "Best Book of the Year" by NPR, Slate, Publishers Weekly, and Goodreads
It was a once-in-a-lifetime battle that pitted brother against brother, kid against adult, Sonic against Mario, and the United States against Japan. . . .
In 1990, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly on the videogame industry. Sega was a faltering arcade company with big aspirations and even bigger personalities. But all that would change with the arrival of former Mattel executive Tom Kalinske. His unconventional tactics, combined with the blood, sweat, and bold ideas of his renegade employees, completely transformed Sega and led to a ruthless David-and-Goliath showdown with Nintendo. But Sega's success would create many new enemies and make Nintendo stronger than ever.
Blake J. Harris brings into focus the warriors, the strategies, and the battles and explores how they transformed popular culture forever. Ultimately, Console Wars is the story of how a humble family man, with an extraordinary imagination and a gift for turning problems into competitive advantages, inspired a team of underdogs to slay a giant and, as a result, give birth to a sixty-billion-dollar industry.
- Publisher : Dey Street Books; Illustrated edition (June 2, 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 576 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062276700
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062276704
- Item Weight : 1.3 pounds
- Dimensions : 1.6 x 5.9 x 9.1 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #97,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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My favorite parts are the back stories when new characters are introduced, because they are not told in that manner. They are well written and interesting and I think I would have liked to see the whole book written that way.
And, the intro by Seth Rogen Evan Goldberg is just horrible. The book takes itself way more seriously than they do and they do it a real disservice. If they take the movie they are making based on this book just as seriously, it's in real trouble.
The author obviously (by reading the acknowledgments at the end of the book) became very good friends with Tom Kalinske (then president of Sega of America) and the book is very kind to him as a result and in many ways bias. I understand that Nintendo had an iron grasp on the industry, but they did save it (in North America). They were simply trying very hard to avoid another crash. I don't blame them. They were maybe a bit too strict in retrospect and viewed Sega (rightfully) as reckless and a danger to the re-emerging industry. Nintendo's failing was they didn't notice gaming was here to stay until it was too late.
Since this is the middle of my review, I'd like to point out that a lot of content in the middle of this book seemed like filler. I found myself scratching my head about what I was reading and how it pertained to Sega VS Nintendo.
The book builds up Sonic 2s day (Sonic 2's worldwide release) for what seemed like many chapters, yet it largely glossed over the Sega CD failure. It also didn't bother to make the connection that while Nintendo was planning it's own CD add-on, mistakes were made to where the project was dropped allowing them front row seats to the disaster that could've been their own future. Instead Nintendo smartly opted to upgrade the cartridges and not the system. This seems like a no-brainer today and something the book again left out that Sega did eventually do with Virtua Racing on Genesis. Also, while the Genesis did pull-ahead of SNES for a bit, Nintendo did make a comeback and ultimately won the console wars. It was actually Sony that crushed Nintendo, not Kalinske (Sega).
A quick synopsis of the book would be: Sega of America built itself up (with the help of Japan) and destroyed itself (with the help of Japan). Sonic took them to places that seemed unimaginable, but countless failed add-ons brought them down to their knees. Nintendo twiddled their thumbs, until it was too late. Both companies passed on joining Sony and inadvertently helped create The Sony Playstation that still dominates the gaming industry as of this review.
This thing is 600 pages: picture about two inches of thickness. It's weeks of reading if you can put away 2-3 chapters a day. I would open it up on the bus to work, so it took me a couple of months. When I was halfway through, I was furious that so much of my time had been wasted with what turned out to be pages and pages and pages of irrelevant tangents, and made-up banter that sounded so fake, it could be pulled from the pages of a junior-high student's livejournal fanfiction. I fell for the stupid sunk cost fallacy though and finished the damn thing, and I became even more mad because I realized it WAS a fanfiction. About Tom Kalinski, the "protagonist" of the book.
Because the writer wanted to frame this person as the hero of the story, always doing his best, always the good guy, he --as many more educated reviewers of this book pointed out-- completely left out chunks of relevant events and perspectives to uphold that narrative. The most chilling to me was blaming most of the failures of the business on Sega of Japan, while excluding SOJ's viewpoint entirely--instead, the overseas branch is frequently described as "shifty", "mysterious", "jealous", and "untrustworthy", even going so far as to project those labels to a Japanese man who had worked at SOA for many years.
The final straw for me was that there was no Index anywhere in this book, in other words no references or any way for me know what had been made up or what actually happened. As far as I'm concerned, you can't call this anything but fiction, and it's scary to think people are reading this to try and learn about video game history.
If you do want to learn about video game history, or you want a good story, look elsewhere.
Top reviews from other countries
Blake Harris reportedly interviewed 500 people at Sega and Nintendo for this book, but I suspect most were marketing guys and girls and most in Sega. For this book is essentally a marketing story, dont expect to meet the writers of the game beyond the tiniest mention and yet chapters on the latest Sega advert. This isnt a criticism just an observation upon its focus.
It is written in a novelised form, with dialogue to make you cringe, but Blake Hartis does a good job of making a dry topic a great read never the less through this style.
I pride myself on knowing quite a bit on the subject of video game history and this book is generally good and although the research is patchy (particuarly when discussing Nintendo) and the dialogue the characters speak are highly suspect and couldn't exist outside a Mills and Boon novel... still most events described it is accurate.
Also the book is very US centric to the point of Xenophobia, the Sega of Japan are portrayed as bumbling idiots and one time explained as all cowards unlike the Sega of Amerca who must all wear capes with S emblazed upon their chests such is there flawless and constant heroic decision making. I can't vouch either way personally how Sega of Japan were, but I strongly believe they were far better than this book portrays them. It basically reeks of egotistical people recounting a story where nostalgia and hindsight makes them all into flawless heroes.
The book has mistakes in it and the mistakes and ommissions seem bizarre until you realise that Blake has mostly interviewed the suits in marketing and so you are dealing with those peoples mistaken knowledge... examples such as Nintendo going from Hanafuda cards straight to electric console (missing the all important toys) , bizarre statements like Mario was built as a Joust clone, to unforgivable mistakes in the book like Mario Kart was the first game to shock the world with Mode 7... or Rare software chose the ZX Spectrum as it was the most powerful system available.
Reading the above you probably are wondering why I have given it four stars? Well despite its mistakes I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and for the most part the events described are very accurate and bang on (i would say 95% right), and when combined with a writer able to make the story both interesting and compelling.
At its heart its a David and Golliath story, with Sega thwarting the giant that was Nintendo. Treat the book as Hollywood war film blockbuster, that is expect it to have a slant from reality about the importance of America and to be willing to bend the truth and occasionally break it, all to ensure that the central story arc isn't diminished. Accept that as I did and you will find much to enjoy and love with this book.
I just hope Blake Harris considers releasing the transcripts of all his interviews as I would love to be able determine the reality from the Hollywood in the book.
The main issue is with the language in the ‘real-life’ conversations between people involved. I know you have to allow some leeway when interviewees are recalling conversations that took place around 25 years before, but Blake Harris is putting words in these people’s mouths and the way he has these people talking to each other is at times laughable and unrealistic. I found myself closing the book during chapters which had large chunks of these conversations to come back to the book another time, they can be too much. It’s like something from a cheesy daytime soap opera.
There is also a strong Sega bias. This book does lift the lid on some questionable business practices from Nintendo, which had a 90%-odd control of the console market at one time, but they always seem to be presented as stuffy and controlling, where Sega tend to be presented as bright, breezy, and faultless. It’s clear from the book that Sega made mistakes too, but these are always excused - and nearly always attributed to Sega Japan - whereas any Nintendo mistakes are picked apart. The book largely ignores markets outside North America (understandable perhaps when this is where the author hails from).
I don’t want to be too down on the book as overall it was a decent read. Take the cringeworthy conversations out and you are left with a very well-researched book with interesting input of the big hitters from the time, and the facts and figures to back things up where necessary.
Never knew that they had been so close to an alliance with Sony, how different things could have been if the PlayStation had been a joint venture!
Great read for 30 something's that had any of the big 2s consoles and love video games.
The first thing that must be said about it is that this is a book with a very narrow scope. It’s not a history of the console wars, it’s not even a history of Sega (check out Service Games for a better book on this subject). Instead it is a history of how Tom Kalinske successfully marketed the Mega Drive to become the dominant console in early 90’s America before Sega spectacularly shot themselves in the foot with the Sega CD /32X / Saturn debacle.
Non Americans should be aware that markets outside of the US are largely ignored.
Despite it’s limitations it’s a very detailed and clearly well researched book and even people who’ve read quite a bit on the subject will probably learn something. It’s written in an engaging novel like style and is an enjoyable read (though the imagined dialogue is horrific) For people considering a purchase it’s important to realise that it is at it’s heart a book about marketing not video games, or tech.
Though there is little doubt that Tom Kalinske was a marketing genius and pulled off one of the all time underdog upsets when Sega USA pushed Nintendo in the second place spot, the book is guilty of being a bit of a rose tinted love letter (The author even name checks him as a “Great guy” in the acknowledgements).
Most of the achievements of Sega are attributed to him and his team while seemingly blaming anything bad that happened on Japan. This is especially jarring with the 32X which is portrayed as something that was foisted on him when most sources agree that it was largely Sega USA’s baby and developed by a team under his control.
Perhaps worst of all the book asks the question why Sega Japan was so hard on Sega USA and comes to the conclusion “No one knows, probably jealousy” without acknowledging that Sega USAs overspending and price slashing saddled Sega with large debts that restricted their ability to compete with the Playstation.
Despite all these complaints it’s an entertaining book as long as you take it with a substantial pinch of salt and I’m sure most gamers of the early 90’s will enjoy the warm glow of nostalgia.
As anyone who was into their 8 and 16-bit consoles in the UK will know, Nintendo treated Europe very much as a 2nd class society (long delays for game releases - if they were released at all - which were unoptimised for the region and very high prices) and sadly the book doesn't touch on this market, focussing on the the US market. From my memory of the time, the SNES was clearly the better console although the Mega Drive had some fantastic games but as the book shows - it's not always how good something is, it's about how it is marketed.