Console Wars

Posted on March 10th, 2016 by:

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Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars is the cataloging of Sega and Nintendo’s battle for dominance in the video game industry during the late 80’s-1990’s. A story akin to David and Goliath, Sega was bold enough to take on Nintendo during a time when they owned 95% of the video game industry, this percentage is made more staggering by the fact that the remaining 5% of the industry was owned by three other companies who decided they also wanted a piece of the pie.

This is a book, and subject that is surprisingly less dry than one would expect. Harris manages to make this story very cinematic and enthralling, which is understandable considering the author is a screenwriter, and the book is set to be made into 2 films, one including Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg. The author introduces the soon to be CEO of Sega Tom Kalinske while he is on vacation in Hawaii with his family. Tom is approached by Hayao Nakayama and offered a position as CEO of Sega, you get a sense that this scene is straight out of a film.


(Author Blake J. Harris)

Console Wars takes a very in depth and historical look at the video game industry, and the people behind the decisions that made the icons and consoles that we know and love today. We spend a lot of time with former Mattel and Hotwheels CEO Tom Kalinske who’s “magic touch” with the Barbie and He-man marketing campaigns caught the attention of Hayao Nakayama who hired Tom into the position of CEO at Sega. After being approached by Nakayama Tom takes the responsibility to spear head the marketing campaign for Sega’s newest secret weapons; The Sega Game Gear, and the Sega Genesis.

Since the information for this book was an amalgam of hundreds of interviews and stories that span two decades, Blake J. Harris’ author’s note opens with a disclaimer that the details, settings, and descriptions have been altered, reconstructed, or reimagined. As a reader I quite enjoyed the retelling of these evens, since the integrity of the discussions remained in tact.


Console Wars also follows some of the other main movers and shakers in the industry at this time like Minoru Arakwawa of Nintendo Of America, and Howard Lincoln the attorney who helped Arakawa subvert a few early legal tie-ups at Nintendo before he became NOA’s senior vice president.

In 1985 the ambitious Nintendo set out to revive the video game industry in the United States after the failure of Atari and Mattel. Nintendo succeeded in proving that the video game industry was big business and it is here to stay, making it a billion dollar industry of which they owned 95% of by 1990. The book also catalogues business stragegies that made Nintendo such a hulking force in the industry. Including innovating chips that did not allow 3rd party developers to produce games on Nintendo’s consoles without first signing contracts with stipulations that solely benefitted Nintendo.

Kalinske and his small group of fifty in Sega Of America branch set out to make Sega the yin to Nintendo’s yang, the pepsi to nintendo’s coke. Sega accomplished this by making their games a bit more rebellious, more adult, and edgy. A good illustration of Sega’s success of this marketing strategy was Nintendo’s attempted to release games like Mortal Kombat on the super nintendo with green blood instead of red, sales for this Nintendo version in no way held a candle to the sales on the genesis.


(Tom Kalinske, CEO of Sega Of America)

At one point during the release of the Sega Genesis in 1989, Sega had Nintendo in a relative submission. With a release date set for Nintendo’s first 16-bit console the super nintendo, Sega took this opportunity to beat them to the punch and release the Sega genesis.

To combat Nintendo’s omnipresent and ever popular Super Mario, Sega packaged their Genesis with a copy of their hip and edgy new character, Sonic. The faster pacing of Sonic as a game, and his hip attitude made him the perfect competitor for Super Mario. The Genesis flew off the shelves leaving a large portion of the Super Nintendo console sitting on shelves waiting to be marked down for sale.

The book goes into great detail about the evolution of these console and characters that defined a generation of gaming. Sonic The Hedgehog had humble beginnings as “Mr.Needlemouse” in Japan. The Sega Of America branch did not agree with the sensibilities and judgement of it’s parent company Sega Of Japan. After some careful tweaking and story building, Sonic became the character that we all know today thanks to the intervention of Tom Kalinske.


The history of video games is a surprisingly interesting one, with many twists and turns that brought us to the point where we are now. Video games still rival the film and music industry, and provide many more advantages than their industrial competitiors. Sega is now only a 3rd party software developer, and you can find their character sonic in Nintendo’s most recent release of Super Smash Brothers. While Sega changed things in the industry and gave a good fight, Nintendo won the console war.

Click on the text or image if you are interested in purchasing:
Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation

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