Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris

I loved this book for two reasons. Firstly, the nostalgia factor. I was a kid of the generation defined by the introduction of home gaming systems. We got our first Nintendo one year for Hanukkah and it changed everything. Throughout my childhood, Mario, Luigi, Sonic, Eco, and so many more characters impacted conversations and culture. This story is part of my story, so it was so very interesting to follow the timeline of productivity and technological evolution. Secondly, business and marketing practices before the advent of social media are simply fascinating to me. How people built products and conceptualized strategies to get consumers interested, especially in such a competitive landscape as the gaming industry, is so varied and intricate that it's exciting to read about. So essentially, this book let me 'nerd out' in two totally different ways, making it a great non-fiction read for my generation.

The other aspect to this book that made it engaging, content aside, was the style in which it was written. Rather than simply report the facts or tell the story, Harris took on a narrative approach to the content so you feel as if you're reading fiction when you're not. It built anticipation, let you connect better with the people in the story, and allowed a long timeline of events to flow quickly and seamlessly.

A lot happens in the story of Nintendo, Sega, and Sony (Playstation) during the 80's and 90's when video games and gaming consoles become something individuals can own in their home. The sense of competition and one-upping each other created a rivalry where anything was okay in the name of success. Primarily Nintendo and Sega went at each other as best they could to be the top gaming company and the scales tipped in both directions over the years, although Nintendo ultimately won. That wasn't a surprise. The surprise lay in learning more about how each company ran their business. What obstacles they faced from a corporate perspective, how much timing meant in the game, and who the key players really were.

After reading this book, I wanted to sit down with the then-head of Sega and just have coffee. I wanted to write a nasty letter to the then-leaders at Nintendo for their strict business practices, and I wanted to chastise people (no longer at) Sony for being too over the top. It was a race full of cheap jabs and powerful marketing campaigns, but the competition between these companies shaped the way we know personal gaming. They pushed each other to do better - create better graphics in games, better consoles - to continually innovate. It's a powerful story on the power of healthy competition.

There's not much story to summarize, since you should, by now, know at least part of this story from your own experience as you go to turn on your gaming console of choice in your own living room or man cave. But, the whole story is worth a read, so I highly recommend this title for just about everyone who loves a video game.