Tag Archives: playstation

Impressions of “Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation,” by Blake Harris

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 best Nintendo in home game console 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.

Second, I live the town that where Nintendo of America is still located. Unlike other “tech” companies near me, though, Nintendo employees are relatively cliquish, and disproportionately Japanese. This book helped explain some of the culture of my own town to me, giving me the corporate history and identify 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 executives 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, its 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.

Two eggs, one basket

Phil Jones doesn’t update it enough, but one of my favorite blogs is Platform Wars. Nowadays, two high profile platform wars are being fought in the living room:

  • Microsoft XBOX 360 v. Sony PlayStation 3
  • HD-DVD v. Sony BluRay

Sony’s PlayStation is behind the XBOX, partially because of the high price of inculding a BluRay disc palyer (the XBOX onl plays regular DVDs, though an HD-DVD add-in is available). However, the same thing that turns the PlayStation into an expensive game machine also means that, for those that buy it, it’s also a free BluRay machine: This has allowed Blu-Ray purchases double HD-DVD disc buys.

As The Economist says:

Why, then, have Blu-ray discs lately been outselling HD DVD versions by two to one? Because Sony cannily included a Blu-ray player in its latest video-game console, PlayStation 3. And while PS3 has not met expectations of selling 6m consoles in America, some 1.4m have nevertheless been snapped up since their launch last November. Market researchers reckon that most—90% by some reckoning—of Blu-ray discs are played on PS3 consoles.

If Sony’s big gamble pays off, including a BluRay player into the PlayStation will allow them to win the war against HD-DVD, and then (as all PlayStations will double as Blu-Ray players) allow them to seamlessly publish games in Blu-Ray format while Microsoft scrambles to think of something new. If it doesn’t work, however, Sony will be left with a uselessly expensive console on top of a re-run of the beta-max fiasco.

Interesting times!