By the 1990’s, the video game industry was flourishing worldwide both economically and with new and fresh innovative ideas. At the top of console companies “food chain” was Nintendo. Their creation of the Super Mario Bros. 3 as a video game for Nintendo Entertainment System(NES) became the best selling game of all time. They owned 90 percent of the video game console market by the beginning of the 90’s and it seemed as if they would continue to rule over all competitors that came in their path. Despite Nintendo’s massive control over the console industry, a small arcade company, Sega, came up from the “dumps” to challenge the almighty Nintendo company.
Console Wars by Blake J. Harris tells of the all out “console war” that took place between Sega and Nintendo. This war was a David versus Goliath matchup that led to unlikely uprise of the Sega company led by an innovative and tactical man, Tom Kalinske. He uses new advertising strategies, price drops and most importantly the “Sega Scream” in order to compete with the powerful Nintendo company.
There are interesting parts of the book like when they described the process of which Sega’s figurehead, Sonic the Hedgehog, was created. It was initially proposed that Sonic should have an electric guitar, fangs, and a voluptuous girlfriend. It is also revealed that he is a mix dog the head of Felix the Cat and body of Micky mouse. Also, it was interesting to read about how Kalinske approached to retail companies, specially Walmart, in order for his video game consoles to become more accessible and well-known.
Throughout the entire book, the theme seemed to be centralized around the idea that innovative and unfamiliar ideas could lead to the uprise of a company and that monopolists can always be challenged. Blake J. Harris’s main thesis seems to be that, through creative ideas, unusual tactics, and persistence, a company/individual can eventually become successful. He successfully proves his thesis by describing the process at which Sega had to go through in order to become a more competitive company, their actual uprise and competition with Nintendo, and even as they grew the extra effort they had to put in in order to become successful.
The first part of Harris’s thesis is that creative ideas contribute to the success of a small company. This idea is proven with his portrayal of what Sega had to do to become more competitive. In order for Sega of America to become as strong as it’s one real competitor, Nintendo, they had to first hire the visionary, Tom Kalinske. Sega was initially a small arcade company on the verge of closure, so it was looking for a change in leadership in order to prosper. Kalinske was more than qualified to help hapless Sega company as he was the CEO of Mattel and after that became the CEO of matchbox. Kalinske wanted a video game console that was unique and appealed enough to the general public to prosper. He worked to create a great staff of video game console designers in Japan in order to create a new brand and type of game that Sega had to offer. This lead to the creation of the figurehead of Sega, Sonic the Hedgehog, whom was created by Yuji Naka. This ignited the start of new look Sega company. The revitalization of Sega constitutes as a “revolution” according to The Control Revolution by James Beniger. A revolution is “…rapid innovation in information and control technology, to regain control of functions once contained at much lower and more diffuse levels of society—constituted as a true revolution in societal control” (Beniger, 1999). This means that people make creative new ideas or do things in a new way in order to regain control of something that is lost. In this case, Kalinske used his new and innovative ideas in order to reorganize and regain control of Sega and the console market. These creative ideas were the start of a different Sega and led to the practice of unusual tactics by Kalinske.
The second part of Harris’s thesis is that unusual tactics contribute to the success of a small company. This was shown when he tells of the actual uprise and competition with Nintendo. Once Sega created a new console that the world hadn’t seen before, they needed a way to make it become a successful game. In order to do that they had to first advertise and then find a way to look better than their competition. Kalinske met with representatives of Walmart and asked if they could put their products in their store. He then went a step further and asked if Sega could advertise their product in collaboration with Walmart in order for the Sega to become more popular. The genius part of the advertisements were that they were anti-Nintendo advertisements along with regular Sega ones. This was propaganda at it’s best and Kalinske used it to his advantage in order to maintain the uprise that they were now on. After the usual tactics of Kalinske were performed, the final step of Sega’s head on battle with Nintendo was to persistence through adversity.
The final part of Harris’s thesis is that persistence contributes to the success of a small company. This was shown as he describes how even as they grew they had to put in extra work in order to become successful. Sega was doing much better than it original was and moving steadily up “console ladder”. After a while, they needed something else to push them above and beyond what they were doing. Kalinske had one more trick up his sleeve and that was the new TV ads featuring the “Sega Scream”. The Sega Scream was the scream that came the end of every Sega TV ad, which caught a lot of people’s attention and attracted them more to Sega’s products. This persistence to continue to get better is what made it a competitive console war between Sega and Nintendo There persistence remind me of the tribes that still continue to increase their technologies even with the interference of the Santa Ana winds. The winds top 100mph and wreaks havoc on antennas and solar panels in the area (Sandvig, 2012). This type of persistence is the similar to the persistence that is described by Blake J. Harris about Tom Kalinske and Sega.
The only real problem with this book is that it doesn’t show a full spectrum of accounts of the console war. This book is written to show the uprise of Sega leading to the eventual console war. In order for this story to be told. Blake J Harris interviews about 200 people that worked with Sega at the time in order to get their recollection of the console war and how it started. This is similar to what Ramesh Srinivasan wanted to accomplish in Bridges Between Cultural and Digital Worlds in Revolutionary Egypt. She wanted to interview people in Cairo so that she could get a first hand view of “ how individuals from different walks of life participated imagined and engaged in political action, and what networks influenced them”(Srinivasan, 2012). While this method may be effective for Srinivasan because she is getting a full spectrum of people’s participation in political action and what influences them, it is less effective for Harris because the recollection of the console war is one-sided and it makes it seem like everything done in the console war is much better than it actually is. For example, a truly visionary tactic/idea that one of the interviewer hypes up may basic from another person’s perspective. It’s hard to rely on the words of the interviewer’s alone because they would of course make something seem like a big deal because they were a part of it.
Overall, Blake J. Harris does a great job of proving his thesis that creative ideas, unusual tactics, and persistence can eventually lead a company/individual to become successful. He successfully proves this thesis by describing the process at which Sega had to go through in order to become a more competitive company, their actual uprise and competition with Nintendo, and even as they grew the extra effort they had to put in in order to become successful.