Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation






A mesmerizing, behind-the-scenes business thriller that chronicles how Sega, a small, scrappy gaming company led by an unlikely visionary and a team of rebels, took on the juggernaut Nintendo and revolutionized the video-game industry.
In 1990, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly on the video-game industry. Sega, on the other hand, was just a faltering arcade company with big aspirations and even bigger personalities. But all that would change with the arrival of Tom Kalinske, a former Mattel executive who knew nothing about video games and everything about fighting uphill battles. 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. Little did he realize that Sega’s success would create many new enemies and, most important, make Nintendo stronger than ever.
The battle was vicious, relentless, and highly profitable, eventually sparking a global corporate war that would be fought on several fronts: from living rooms and school yards to boardrooms and Congress. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, no-holds-barred conflict that pitted brother against brother, kid against adult, Sonic against Mario, and the United States against Japan.
Based on more than 200 interviews with former Sega and Nintendo employees, Console Wars is the tale of how Tom Kalinske miraculously turned an industry punch line into a market leader. 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 $60 billion industry.
©2014 Blake J. Harris (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers


The early 1990s is a special time in the history of the video game industry. Nintendo was dominant, but Sega was ambitious. What resulted was the first round of the console wars that continues to this day.
This period of time represents the best that competition has to offer. How can you quantify what kind of impact the battle between Sega and Nintendo had on the industry? Thanks to competition, technology developed at a faster pace. Games were designed to be bigger, faster and better looking than those produced by the rival company. While one company may have eventually won the battle and the other lost, the true winners were the consumers who ended up with better quality products at a much lower price point than they likely would have gotten if there was one clearly dominant company with no real rival on the horizon.
This is ultimately the story that ‘Console Wars’ by Blake J. Harris strives to tell. The story goes back and forth between events taking place at Sega and Nintendo, with Sony showing up to make things interesting along the way.
Sega receives the bulk of the attention from the author however. This makes sense, as when everything started, Sega was the underdog. It is always more fun to follow the underdog. When Tom Kalinske arrived on the scene, Sega wasn’t much of a factor in the home console industry. Through some creative strategies, aggressive tactics and a willingness to think outside the box, that would change in just a few short years.
‘Console Wars’ hits all of the high points. Sega Vs. Nintendo, Sonic Vs. Mario, the ups and downs between Nintendo and Sony, Sega and Sony, and Nintendo and Sega. Things got so big that it was only a matter of time before the video game industry would get the attention of the government, and that is covered here as well. Even baseball would find itself tangled up in the console wars.
However, the most compelling sections of the book for me were not those that focused on Sega Vs. Nintendo or on what Sony was going to do next. I was most interested in the war within the war, the battles between Sega of America and Sega of Japan. The success for Sega of America came at a high price. The people at Sega of Japan didn’t particularly like being shown up by their American counterparts. A convincing argument can be made that internal struggles played as big a part in Sega’s downfall as outside competition. Near the end of Kalinske’s tenure, Sega of America and Sega of Japan felt more like rivals than partners.
‘Console Wars’ is a mix of quirky characters, big goals, big dreams, big ideas and big competition. I’ve read it twice, and it held up just as well the second time.


‘Console Wars’ is never just a story about a competition between two businesses. It is the story of the people who lived and worked in that environment. We can thrill along with them as they achieve big successes and suffer as they experience embarrassing defeats. The author deserves credit for focusing on people who needed to make big decisions and the impact each one had on them, not just the decisions that were made and how they effected the bottom line. Blake J. Harris manages to strike a nice balance between what is business and what is personal.


There is a lot about Fred Berman’s performance that I like. He comes with a full compliment of voices and accents that helps keep each of the book’s many characters distinct when in conversation. However, where I think Berman really hits it out of the park is with his overall energy and tone.
When I think of video games, I think of energy, speed and motion on the screen. Berman is energetic and enthusiastic in his performance and reads at an up-tempo pace. A book dealing with video games and an era of big change within the industry should not be read in a slow and plodding way. Berman’s pace is energetic, yet not so much so that you feel like you’re missing out on something important because he’s talking too fast.


Harper Audio’s production is up to the high quality standards of the book itself. There is a guitar heavy music track to open and close the book, but otherwise no other music or sound effects are present.
The recording was obviously made over a period of several recording sessions, but never once does it sound spliced together. The sound, including volume level, is consistent throughout the over 20 hour track.


Some books become special to a reader because of a character that they find relateable. Some books become favorites because of a plot twist that sucked the reader in and held them for good. Other books are memorable because of the feelings and memories they evoke in a reader. ‘Console Wars’ definitely fits in that latter category for me.
As I read the book for the first time, it brought back a lot of childhood memories, memories of my friends and their Nintendo or of going to the video store to rent one for the weekend. Of course, that Christmas day in 1993 when my family got a Sega Genesis came flooding back as well.
‘Console Wars’ is a trip down a fun and exciting memory lane for a lot of people. However, it is much more than that. There are lessons contained in this book that very much apply to many businesses and industries today. Nintendo shows what can happen when a company gets too secure or comfortable in its role, and Sega demonstrates what can go wrong when politics get in the way of business. Both companies demonstrate that staying on top of your game is not always easy.


Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Stars
Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation Blake J. Harris Fred Berman Harper Audio History 05/13/2014 20 hours, 41 minutes 5/5


A copy of ‘CONSOLE WARS: SEGA, NINTENDO, AND THE BATTLE THAT DEFINED A GENERATION’ was purchased from Audible for review.