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
Classic underdog story
The ongoing battle between Sega of Japan and Sega of the US
Moments of laughter
I would recommend this audiobook to anyone who grew up playing video games in the 80s and 90s. I used to own a NES and an SNES and my cousin owned a Genesis (I later moved on to the PlayStation). This book does an excellent job answering all the questions I ever had about this awesome time in the Home Video Console eras.
I loved how the story played out like a drama and not like a history.
Fred Berman did an excellent job on all the characters. No one stood out as being exceptionally better (which I think is a good thing)... but I really liked the way he personified the geeky nature of Howard Phillips.
Console Wars gives us all a trip down memory lane, returning us to the mid 80's through the mid 90's, which to me is the "Golden Age Of Video Games". The book focuses mainly on Tom Kalinski, the head of Sega of America, and follows him through the whirlwind ride that Sega took, coming to prominence in the 16-bit wars only to lose it all in 32-bit.
I really really enjoyed being taken back and re-living that era of video games. And along the way I learned tons about all the corporate strategies and deal-making and such that was going on. Fascinating stuff. Also the reading of this book is outstanding.
The only downside to me is that the book somehow doesn't take it's own advice, namely that "The name of the game is the game". In other words, the book gives us so much detail about what the heads of the companies are doing, what their strategies were, what the marketing department was doing, how they were coming up with their slogans and advertisements, and on and on. But what they talked surprisingly little about were the games! What would have been much MORE interesting to me was more of a focus on the development of the games, how the games were received by players, discussions about game genres and technologies and peripherals and all that stuff. THAT would be been a lot more engaging.
But anyway... it's still a really good and interesting book. Highly recommended for fans of video games who are interested in some of the history and behind the scenes stuff of that era.
The early days of game consoles could be such an interesting subject. The pre-publication excerpt from this book I'd read (about the creation of Donkey Kong) was a great example of that. Unfortunately that excerpt was not representative at all, and mostly the book doesn't do justice to the subject. There are a number of minor problems, but two main ones.
First, the book is largely written in the form of cheesy reconstructed scenes with overly dramatized dialogue that just feels incredibly fake. Even the more factual parts are written with absurdly purple prose. It's just embarrassing to read.
Second, the book is bloated. This is only partly due to the dialogue-based storytelling method. The other issue is that the author hasn't been anywhere near sufficiently selective with what events to include. It feels like 50% of the book is detailed descriptions of the preparation of chickenshit marketing stunts with little apparent impact (as an example there was probably 20 minutes of detailed description of some kind of a Sega advertising event in 20 malls). Another 25% is human interest fluff with no relevance at all to the main story (often of bit players who really did not need to be fleshed out, so no reason at all for their inclusion).
Fred Berman does a good job as a narrator, but the original text is not salvageable.
The rise and fall of Sega of America during the 16 bit era under the leadership of Tom Kalinske, is a fascinating underdog story. Granted, it probably helps if you are a gamer, even more so if you had been one during that time period, but who doesn't love the story of a scrappy group of ragtags who take a nothing and make it something? Unfortunately, as anyone who knows the gaming business knows, this story doesn't have a happy ending, which I won't spoil, even though it's pretty much common knowledge how the whole thing went down by now.
I hate to repeat what so many other reviewers have written, but I can't get around it. This book reads like a cheesy novelization of a movie, which is no surprise considering it's author, Blake J. Harris is a screenwriter who is co-directing the movie of this book which, if I'm not mistaken, was already in planning before this book was even published. Harris admits in the introduction he may have take some poetic license here and there and it shows. Everything that happens in this book is so dramatic!
It doesn't help that Fred Berman is performing the heck out of the text. I'm not sure how else one could do it, but he matches groan worthy dialogue with clipped, Comic Book Guy cadences and almost gets to Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany's level when reading Asian characters. The audiobook performance really emphasizes how annoyingly this thing was written.
So why didn't I just stop and hit the "return" button? Because the story is that fascinating to me. While I knew some of the details from years of reading retrogaming magazines and the book about Nintendo, Game Over, this was still very informative. I learned a lot of things, especially when it came to the origins of Sega's entry into the 32 bit era, and that was what kept me coming back.
The problem is, I have to wonder how much really happened and how much was that aforementioned poetic license. Certainly some things are a matter of record, but so many events happened behind closed doors and out of the public eye. Though I know Harris is said to have interviewed 200 people, the heavily dramatized style of writing causes me to instinctively question what I am hearing.
It would also have been really great to have seen more involvement from Sega of Japan. I haven't any idea how much Harris reached out to them and, if he did, it wouldn't be a shock to learn he was rebuffed. Still, without getting into too many spoilers, there are a lot of unanswered questions that only the people at Sega of Japan could answer, although it sounds like Tom Kalinske and all his team are probably still looking for those answers too.
The bottom line is, there's a great story here, it's just unfortunate the wrong person chose to write it. If you can stomach the unnecessary cinematic tone, and the audiobook performance to match, there's some good stuff here. It's just a shame that Harris couldn't have just written a book rather than trying to simultaneously make it into a movie.
Performance and story here are both excellent. I couldn't stop listening to the book. The only thing that bothered me was the snappy sitcom-esque dialogue written in needlessly embellished style for real-life characters. It really gave the whole book an off-key feel, but was very enjoyable nonetheless.
If you lived during the 16-bit gaming era as a kid, as I did, and you saw first-hand the brutal division of the video games industry during this console generation, do not hesitate to check this out. The story is full of insights that will enlighten as to what was really going on between Sega and Nintendo, and to a good extent how Sony emerged in the market. You also really get some insight into Nintendo's internal attitude which still persists today, demonstrating their refusal to adapt to a competitive landscape. This was a really fun book to listen to, it's very well written, and I feel like it's quite accurate to the real events.
Drama around the unveiling of Sonic 2 to retailers was pretty intense, and very well told. I can think of very few unveilings that have lived up to the hype. This was a defining moment for Sega.
Also worth mentioning here is the in-depth explanation of what happened in the production of the Mario Bros movie.
Tom Kalinske is the highlight of the book and Fred's performance paints his character with such depth. It's probably a combination of Blake's writing, and Fred's performance, but Tom's character has make him one of the few people in the world I'd actually go out of my way to meet, if for no other reason than to say, "thanks for changing the industry, and my childhood, in so many great ways."
If you are aware of the industry as it is today, you likely have an idea how this book ends. For me, the reality of where Sega is today was a constantly sad reminder of where the book was going. The book ends with a goodbye that's as sad as you might expect. It's not all bad news, but you can't help but feel like things could never be the same.
Nintendo fans, do understand that this book occasionally paints Nintendo in a villainous light. It's not meant to demonize Nintendo, but provide contrast of tensions between the companies and individuals.
Fathers Face Remembered
Yes I would. Even though this is true events it reads like fiction. Very interesting characters that kept me listening late into the night.
The Book Super Mario. That had this kind of story told from the Nintendo perspective. Obviously with an emphasis on Mario.
I liked Nelson. I could see him in my head from the way he performed him.
The ending is very moving. It involves the measure of a man. That is right up my alley.
This is one of the best non fiction books I have ever listened to.
It's told from an obviously biased (for the sake of story) point of view. Sega good. Nintendo bad. America good. Japan bad. Not only that, but this book is 20 hours long because of all the tiny dramatized, obviously fictional details. Which makes for good fiction, but bad history. This book describes the looks on people's faces and passing thoughts that supposedly happened over 20 years ago.
Nothing technical here.
The fact that this is asking about scenes says a lot.
I would cut the fluff and fictional drama. The actual story without the fluff is good enough on it's own.
I wouldn't necessarily not recommend it… It just annoyed me that this book is a hybrid. Part fiction, part non fiction. It made it hard to know what was accurate and what wasn't.
This book is for someone looking for a great story, not a factual recounting of events.
The author was constantly trying to sensationalize every interaction. Sega Employees = Top Gun Characters; Nintendo Employees = Blind Japanese Corporate Loving Caricatures
Yes... the story.
Disappointment. So much dramatization of obviously mundane events.
The author very loosely bases this book on facts. The story was painful to listen to. It is kind of like how Fox News treats political debates.
"An interesting tale, poorly told"
Growing up in the 1990s I was very familiar with the intense rivalry between Sega and Nintendo (I was a Sega kid), especially as Sega went from virtually no market share (5%) to the biggest selling console maker (50%) in the space of a few years. The story behind this incredible turnaround is indeed interesting, but made less so by this book.
The two main issues I have with it, are that conversations (and the book is absolutely full of them) are written as they would be in a novel. Nobody could remember every word to such detail, which makes the book feel fictionalised to a fairly large degree. The author also seems to turn the main players in the story into caricatures.
The other problem is the reader. He mostly sounds like movie trailer voice over guy, except when reading those over the top characterisations, at which point he puts on a variety of camp or silly pantomime voices. It's just too much, and makes the already difficult to swallow text even less believable.
The book also ends very abruptly. This is very much the story of Sega's rise, not its fall, with the launch of the Saturn and the collapse in market share barely mentioned. This is really a shame, as this could potentially have been as interesting a story, especially if it had also included the brief lifespan of the brilliant yet unsuccessful Dreamcast.
A tepid recommendation then, but this should have been so much better.
"Console Wars- The True Hollywood story"
It is no surprise that this book has recently been picked up to be developed into a feature film; It is written that way all the way through the book.
I was expecting more of a documented history, similar to that of the excellent History of Marvel Comics by Sean Howe, such as: Articles from the time, accounts from the people involved, and an even handed view of each company's actions throughout the book.
What we're instead presented with is mainly the story of Tom Kalinske, who takes over as the head of Sega of America after the launch of the Genesis (Megadrive in the PAL region) before the release of Sonic the Hedgehog. The book is apparently based on some 200 interviews of employees of both Sega and Nintendo, but is presented as a through narrative, with an omnipotent narrator. I often found myself thinking "How can he possibly remember glancing across a bar and seeing the transfixed look of a waitress when first seeing a Sega gamegear which put him in mind of his early days at Mattell when he reinvented the Barbie franchise--" etc etc. This was my main problem with the book; what is fact, what is opinion, what is embellishment? It's not clear. I was about 9 hours in before I heard an actual quote of a newspaper headline.
That said, it is an interesting book, part docu-drama, part marketing handbook, part historical text. Give it a go if you're an avid video game enthusiast. However, if you're a Nintendo Fanboy- this book is mainly about Sega, painted as the plucky underdog to a stagnant Nintendo, which I felt was a little unfair, but a smart choice for a story.
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