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Console Wars (book)

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation is a 2014 non-fiction novel written by Blake J. Harris. It follows businessman Tom Kalinske in his venture as CEO of video game company Sega of America, and details the history of the fierce business competition between Sega and Nintendo throughout the 1990s as well as the internal conflicts that took place between Sega of America and Sega of Japan. Harris wrote the book in the style of a novel by compiling several interviews with people who were involved with the events, using the information gathered to create a dramatic interpretation of the events. A film adaptation of the book directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg was announced in February 2014.

Console Wars
Console Wars Book Cover.jpeg
Book cover
Author Blake J. Harris
Subject History of video games
Published 2014 (HarperCollins)
Pages 558

SynopsisEdit

A few years after stepping down as CEO of Mattel, Tom Kalinske is on vacation with his family in Hawaii when he is visited by an old friend, Hayao Nakayama, who offers Kalinske a job as CEO of the American division of a small video game company called Sega. Despite being initially reluctant to take the job, Kalinske chooses to fly out to Japan, where Nakayama shows him several products being developed by Sega, including their handheld portable system, the Game Gear, and their 16-bit home console, the Sega Genesis. Kalinske is enthralled, especially when he spots a man playing a Game Boy while drinking at a geisha club.

However, when Kalinske arrives for his first day as CEO, he finds Sega of America to be in complete disarray; his predecessor, Michael Katz, has driven the firm to near-bankruptcy by overspending on games like James 'Buster' Douglas Knockout Boxing, while the Genesis, hampered by poor marketing, has sold only half of the one million units Sega needs to stay solvent. Taking charge, Kalinske decides to adopt the "Gillette model", demanding complete control over marketing for the Genesis, and replacing the console's bundled game, Altered Beast, with a new, little-known title, Sonic the Hedgehog. Sega's Japanese executives politely refuse to authorize his plans, but Nakayama overrules them and gives Kalinske the green light. Following a successful demonstration of Sonic at the 1991 Summer Consumer Electronics Show, the Genesis quickly outsells Nintendo's SNES, marking the first time since 1985 that the company does not dominate the home console market.

Bolstered with confidence, Kalinske decides to further establish Sega's newfound dominance by promoting the Genesis (and by extension, Sega), as a cool, edgier alternative to the "family-friendly" games of Nintendo. When the latter decides to release a censored version of Mortal Kombat following a public outcry over the game's violent content, Sega of America puts out its own version on the Genesis with a special "blood code" that bypasses such restrictions. After Nintendo criticizes this decision as tasteless, Kalinske decides to create the industry's first "ratings system" for Sega's games, which eventually evolves into the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

Despite all this success, cracks begin to appear in Sega of America's fortunes. Kalinske works on a deal with Sony to collaborate on a new console that Nintendo had abandoned, but his superiors in Japan, believing the project to be wasteful, cancel it; the console is eventually released by Sony as the "Play Station". Sega of Japan begins producing a new 32-bit console, the Sega Saturn, and gradually discontinues support for the Genesis despite Kalinske's protests that the latter is still commercially viable; this, coupled with distribution and logistical issues as well as the Saturn's disappointing game library, lack of a Sonic title, and unpolished design, make it a commercial failure.

Frustrated with Sega of Japan's reluctance to accept his ideas or input, and aware that Nintendo will soon launch a 64-bit console that will render the Saturn obsolete, Kalinske resigns from Sega of America. Despite releasing an additional console, the ahead-of-its-time Sega Dreamcast, Sega of Japan ultimately decides to exit the console market and instead focus on making third-party titles for Nintendo and its newest competitor: Sony.

Critical receptionEdit

Reviews were negative overall, with the book's writing style coming under criticism-- specifically the widespread use of fabricated dialogue to recount events.

Reviewing for The A.V. Club, John Teti gave the book a "C" grade, criticizing the sections of dialogue: "Harris’ acts of embroidery drag Console Wars down", but also stating that "the innovation and corporate skulduggery of the Sega-Nintendo clash is so entertaining that Harris’ functional prose still tells a lively tale". Frank Cifaldi of Kotaku had similar critiques but praised the level of research that went into the book.

The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, and The Independent all gave negative reviews, citing the dialogue as the fatal flaw. Chris Suellentrop for The New York Times observed that "the reconstructed dialogue can be stilted and phony".

A positive review came from Wired, with Chris Kohler writing "Console Wars slots in nicely to the previously existing library of history books covering the game industry".

ReferencesEdit