Sunday, November 30, 2014

Book Review: Console Wars: Sega, Ninetndo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation- Blake Harris

Console Wars was my nonfiction pick for this round.  I wasn't too sure about getting into a book that would focus on business, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Although I didn't have a console growing up, we did have an old PC running DOS & Windows 3.1 and I became an avid computer gamer, and still prefer that medium, I remembered many of the overarching events in this book.  I had friends that had the Nintendo Entertainment System [NES] or the Sega Genesis and eventually the systems that followed.  There were even a few friends who had both at some point.  What this book did, was give insight to the details of the competitiveness between the two major manufacturers at the time and how Sega rose and fell so quickly.  Several times I told people that I wasn't sure whether I should recommend it to my gaming students because I wasn't sure how much of it is truly good and how much of it was nostalgia for me.
Unfortunately the focus of the book was more on the the company Sega than it was on Nintendo.  This probably has to do with a combination of the company's meteoric rise and fall, as well as its rebellious attitude, the characters who worked there, in addition to Nintendo's traditional secrecy.  One of the characters at Sega was Tom Kalinske.  The book focused a lot on him and his work at Sega of America.  His resume before Sega was impressive, including turning a chalky children's vitamin into Flintstones vitamins, bringing Matchbox back from the bring and into the #2 position against Hot Wheels, and doing the same thing with Barbie while also creating He-Man.  Once at Sega he regularly butted heads with Sega of Japan, but set his sights on being competitive against Nintendo.
Although it was a very easy and enjoyable read, I do have a few minor complaints.  First, it was kind of obvious from before the half-way point of the book that there would be 64 chapters as an homage to 64-bit consoles.  In and of itself this isn't a problem, but it did result in some of the chapter breaks feeling forced and interrupted the flow of the narrative.  The other issue, is that much of the book was conversational.  I assume this didn't come from transcripts of everyday conversations, so I have to assume it comes from interviews.  The downside is that many of the conversations seem like they were recorded word-for-word, but this of course is probably stretching the truth.  I'm not sure the book would have been as enjoyable if it wasn't for this perspective.  In fact, it seemed to often abandon this perspective when describing Nintendo only to return to it for Sega.  The text is certainly biased towards showing Sega's story, but it does show the good and the bad.  The one other complaint I have is actually more of a disagreement.  in the end the author argued that Sega failed because the American and Japanese divisions fought against each other too much and the Japanese branch wasn't ambitious or aggressive enough.  Certainly this played a part, but even the text makes it obvious that Sega was out-competed by Sony [who amazingly almost didn't get into the market on its own, but instead sought partnerships with Nintendo and Sega before deciding to do their own gaming system] and Nintendo.
I wish that the book, long as it was, had continued into the shift of Sega into a third-party developer and the current competition between Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft; but maybe this book will result in a sequel- probably doesn't happen too often with nonfiction, but it would be welcomed in this case.

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