Recently I finished Console Wars, by Blake Harris. It is an extremely well written corporate history of the battle between Sega and Nintendo during the Super Nintendo / Sega Genesis era. I strongly recommend it.
Console Wars is nearly a novel, centering on Sega’s upstart executive leadership team. Console Wars helped me understand my home town better. It showed the cultural divide between Japanese and American businesses greatly impact those businesses, and also how the American media is easily manipulated. It’s a great book.
First, the book centers around Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske. He is written like a CEO version of Don Draper, and it’s very clear his goal is to sell Sega products, as opposed to originally develop them. But beginning with a weaker system, weaker intellectual property, and weaker games, Sega’s marketing eventually lead them to beat Nintendo in market share. CEO Kalinske was formerly at Mattel, and in his career had been responsible for the marketing of Flintstones Chewable Vitamins and the modern Barbie doll, when the focus moved from fashion to aspiration (“astronaut Barbie, Teacher Barbie, and so on). It’s fascinating.
Unlike other “tech” companies near me, though, Nintendo employees are relatively cliquish and disproportionately Japanese. This book helped explain some of the cultures of this place to me, giving me the corporate history and identity which made this “Nintendo” possible.
Third, a theme throughout the book was the cultural divide between the Japanese corporate centers and the American subsidiaries. While Nintendo of America, Sega of America, and the embryonic Sony Playstation team were competitors with each other, they shared exasperation at the behavior and mores of their Japanese overlords. I’m sure the frustration was mutual. While the western executive’ features worked insane hours and occasionally were rude in personal ways to each other, there clearly was a greater sense of understanding among them than up the corporate chain.
Fourth, it is hilarious how effectively these companies manipulated the press, not just the gaming trades but even the national news. The economic rot that would eventually trigger the gamergate consumer revolt was already festering at this time. Similarly, certain behavior the press has been outraged over int he past week (as of the writing of this post) is quite well established indeed!
Last, this is the best corporate history I ever read. High Noon and American Icon are good hagiographies, is an impressionist marvel, and Steve Jobs is an amazing biography, but nothing I read described the highs and lows of an entire industry from the top like this one did. My enjoyment was greatly helped by Fred Berman, possibly the best nonfiction narrator I ever encountered.
The “Computer Historian” youtube channel posted an accurate description online, so I’ll include that here.
Console Wars is highly recommended. I listneed to it on unabriged Audible.