I was a Sega Genesis kid.
Sonic the Hedgehog, Toejam and Earl, Echo the Dolphin, Aladdin, Super Street Fighter 2, NBA Jam, NHL 94, and other games defined my early videogaming childhood. Even today, I still use phrases from NBA Jam in conversation when possible, and still hear the 8-bit versions of the songs from Aladdin instead of the actual soundtrack from the movie. Sega (for better or worse) set me on the path of videogaming that would eventually lead to my love of the Playstation as well. Childhood me was sorely disappointed when the Dreamcast ended up being a relative commercial failure and Sega got out of the console making business.
Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation details the rise and fall for one of history’s greatest video game companies, Sega. Although there are times when the book focuses on Nintendo, the book is largely recreated from the view point of Tom Kalinske, President and CEO of Sega of America from 1990 to 1996. The book is written in a third person narrative as Kalinske joins Sega from Mattel to overthrow the giant Nintendo, who at the time of Kalinske’s hiring had over 90% of the market share while Sega had 5%. The book was recreated thanks to interviews with over 200 with former Sega and Nintendo employees.
Whether you love Sony or Microsoft, all video game consoles and publishers (except Nintendo) owe a debt to Sega. Kalinske came into Sega and challenged Nintendo, who had such an advantage in the industry that many called it a monopoly. Publishers were unhappy with Nintendo because of their perceived arrogant attitude, but nobody had the slingshot to take down Goliath until David (Sega) came along. Sega showed there was a market for video games for more than just kids, making games that teens and adults would enjoy thoroughly as well. Games such as Mortal Kombat, which ultimately drew the company and industry a great deal of criticism and ire from Congress (since they apparently had nothing better to do than try and regulate video games).
Sega took risks as a company, having an in-your-face attitude and gave consumers an alternative to Nintendo. No matter what your feelings about Nintendo might be, it’d be hard for anyone to deny that competition in the video game industry is good or having a variety of choices makes for better games. Sega also deserves credit for bringing us a standard release day among other innovations both technological and marketing wise. Although it’s worth noting that the companies sometimes brought out the worst in each other. This also includes the eventual civil war between Sega of America and Sega of Japan which destroyed the company more than anything.
The book is a fairly straightforward account of Sega and to a smaller extent Nintendo, from Kalinske’s arrival in 1990 until his resignation in 1996. The book does take the time at different points to examine the earlier history of both Sega and Nintendo. The book also takes the time to look at Sony, a company whose’s new console “Playstation” would in a few years take the world by storm. The book offers up some extremely interesting what-if moments, including the almost partnership between Sega and Sony. It’s fascinating to imagine a Sega Dreamcast with games possibly such as Metal Gear Solid, Crash Bandicoot, etc.
The book does take the time to mention the games, but it spends more time focusing on the behind the scenes marketing, advertising, politics, and business of the industry and company at the time. It’s really interesting getting to learn the story behind some of the most beloved video game characters or events. Personally, I like the author’s approach because we already know about the games, heck, a lot of us played them to death. So any criticism that it focuses too much on the business side of things is looking at it wrongly.
Overall, any fan of video games, any fan of Sega, or any fan of a generally good story should consider picking up Console Wars. I know reading this book makes me want to break out my Sega Genesis and play some Sonic the Hedgehog.