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
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.
Classic underdog story
The ongoing battle between Sega of Japan and Sega of the US
Moments of laughter
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.
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 console wars is the story of Sega's rise to power in a market dominated entirely by Nintendo. The plot revolves around Tom Kalinsky, from his beginnings at the game manufacturer, to his final days as Sega of America's president. The Console Wars lets the listener see into the world of game marketing, and how a small team of about fifty people, grew into a company of thousands. Anyone interested in video games, marketing, or just good human drama, should give this book a listen. The narrator, while injecting a little too much "ham" into the story for my taste, still does an excellent job separating voice so as to not confuse the listener.
Overall I recommend it. It's a fascinating story, and if you were born in the mid-1980s like me, it's like going behind the scenes on your own childhood.
But oh god... all that made-up dialogue and "witty" banter! You have to form scenes and fictionalize non-fiction, but you don't have to make it sound like a TV movie. It's a balance that The Disaster Artist gets right, and this book bombs completely.
He was awful. His regular reading voice sounds like a movie henchman. His New Jersey guy sounds like Marlon Brando as Vito Corlenoe. His Japanese characters are total racist caricatures. His women sound like angels floating in space. One character sounds like Ed Sullivan for no reason.
He manages to kill otherwise good jokes with his weird, stop-and-start pacing at crucial moments. And he pronounces Famicom "Famicon."
"Narrated by Fred Berman" will literally stop me from listening to audiobooks in the future.
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.
It was more than a walk down memory lane. It was a fantastic walk down branches of a future that never came to be but for those on the path of this story was as real as the segaless world I live in. The sense of hope, fun and optimism that permeates this book and the illuminating perspective on the personalities behind what was my era of games the 16bit generation is a must read. The narrative lends itself well to audio and perhaps the characterization comes through even stronger. I laughed and smiled throughout. In short its sonicworthy.
Captures the cultural (and financial) phenomenon of the early go go days of the video game industry by using an amazing cast of real life characters led by a very likable Tom Kalinske. Fred Berman's narration of this book is possibly the best of anything available on audible.
"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.
"brilliant and well worth a listen."
well worth the credits/money. Brilliantly performed and overall a great listen, not sure I'll find any more better than this.
"Not as poorly told as some would have you think"
An insightful account of politics and history of the men who helped to build the video gaming generation and the tales that brought us to the point we are at today. Listening to this book it is easy to understand why the video game industry is only at the point it is now and that things are frankly not more advanced. It's because of men like the ones portrayed in this book that we are only yet to receive a consumer version of Virtual Reality, and this book and the story it tells, explains why we are at the level we are...
The narrater him self is adept with an excellent array of voices for each of the characters. The style of this book is completely designed to lend it self to a movie rather then a documentary, and thats a good thing as there are other books and videos out there which will give you the documentary style if you want it. A lot of people have spoken out against the script, and while I understand what they mean, I have worked with business men who speak exactly like this. Business men who speak in overly 'cool' ways with no real substance to what they say, but unfortunately this seems to be the way of the business world. If anything the script is quick to get to the point, but if it were drawn out it would take ten years to read it.
"Ruined by the cheesey Americano style"
This is just like a big greasy burger from an American diner, with extra cheese, and nothing but a big milk shake to wash it down. Initially that sounds great, but about half way through it you've had enough, and you realise why there is a problem with obesity in the United States.
I was very curious about the Sega/Nintendo days of the early nineties. Listen to this - which is hopelessly biased against Nintendo by the way - and I'm sure you won't get more than half of the story.
The lack of objectivity irritates after a while. This is purely for the Mega Drive crowd out there. I owned both (Mega Drive and SNES) - and further more over time I owned both the Gameboy and the Gamegear (the latter was hopeless because of the battery issues).
Read this and you would like to think that it was Nintendo, and not Sega, that tanked immediately in the face of the Sony Playstation, and didn't even live to see the entry of Microsoft into the market.
The dialogue between the central characters is so contrived that it couldn't possibly have happened. This is a fictionalised retelling of events that portrays the executives as American style hip shooting, fast talkers who riff with each other verbally. It is like watching an episode of 'Suits' or something as equally awful.
So it is very very sickly.
Plus the narrative performance is so incredibly American that you can only take so much. I think that there are any number of great American narrators - but this voice has everything that makes you want to switch it off. It is all incredibly smug.
"Wonderful insight into a battle of a generation"
As someone who grew up while the battle between Sega and Nintendo was on full force, this book gives a wonderful picture of what was going on behind the scenes to win the hearts and minds of my generation.
The stories form an incredibly engaging narrative and I enjoyed this immensely.
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