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Console Wars

Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation
Narrated by: Fred Berman
Length: 20 hrs and 41 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (300 ratings)

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Summary

A mesmerizing, behind-the-scenes business thriller that chronicles how Sega, a small, scrappy gaming company led by an unlikely visionary and a team of rebels, took on the juggernaut Nintendo and revolutionized the videogame industry.

In 1990, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly on the videogame industry. Sega, on the other hand, was just a faltering arcade company with big aspirations and even bigger personalities. But all that would change with the arrival of Tom Kalinske, a former Mattel executive who knew nothing about videogames and everything about fighting uphill battles. His unconventional tactics, combined with the blood, sweat, and bold ideas of his renegade employees, completely transformed Sega and led to a ruthless, David-and-Goliath showdown with Nintendo. Little did he realize that Sega's success would create many new enemies and, most important, make Nintendo stronger than ever.

The battle was vicious, relentless, and highly profitable, eventually sparking a global corporate war that would be fought on several fronts: from living rooms and school yards to boardrooms and Congress. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, no-holds-barred conflict that pitted brother against brother, kid against adult, Sonic against Mario, and the United States against Japan.

Based on more than 200 interviews with former Sega and Nintendo employees, Console Wars is the tale of how Tom Kalinske miraculously turned an industry punch line into a market leader. Blake J. Harris brings into focus the warriors, the strategies, and the battles and explores how they transformed popular culture forever. Ultimately, Console Wars is the story of how a humble family man, with an extraordinary imagination and a gift for turning problems into competitive advantages, inspired a team of underdogs to slay a giant and, as a result, give birth to a $60 billion industry.

©2014 Blake J. Harris (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about Console Wars

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

An interesting tale, poorly told

Growing up in the 1990s I was very familiar with the intense rivalry between Sega and Nintendo (I was a Sega kid), especially as Sega went from virtually no market share (5%) to the biggest selling console maker (50%) in the space of a few years. The story behind this incredible turnaround is indeed interesting, but made less so by this book.

The two main issues I have with it, are that conversations (and the book is absolutely full of them) are written as they would be in a novel. Nobody could remember every word to such detail, which makes the book feel fictionalised to a fairly large degree. The author also seems to turn the main players in the story into caricatures.

The other problem is the reader. He mostly sounds like movie trailer voice over guy, except when reading those over the top characterisations, at which point he puts on a variety of camp or silly pantomime voices. It's just too much, and makes the already difficult to swallow text even less believable.

The book also ends very abruptly. This is very much the story of Sega's rise, not its fall, with the launch of the Saturn and the collapse in market share barely mentioned. This is really a shame, as this could potentially have been as interesting a story, especially if it had also included the brief lifespan of the brilliant yet unsuccessful Dreamcast.

A tepid recommendation then, but this should have been so much better.

5 people found this helpful

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A bit over done.

As someone who grew up during the console wars, I lived the life of a fanboy to its full. So I was excited to get a chance to hear the story in depth of one of the main contenders.

Im sad to say I was left disappointed, the book was full of over the top drama and hyperbole. Many of the anecdotes felt straight out of bad made for TV movie and felt like they written with a target audience of young teenagers in mind, which given the subject matter felt very misjudged.

3/10 would not bang.

2 people found this helpful

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BLAST PROCESSING!

Great performance by Fred Berman, aside fro a few questionable accents. a fascinating and riveting account of the console wars in the 90s by Blake J. Harris. can't recommend enough to fans of Sega/Nintendo, or games in general. I can see why this has been discussed for an adaptation into a film/TV show!

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Disappointing Stuff

By the halfway point of this audiobook, it truly began to feel like a slog. Although promising a wide ranging panorama of the video game industry in the 90s, make no mistake, this is the Sega story, and not only is it limited to Sega, its only really the story of Sega of America.
Sega of Japan, where the Genesis that is the focus of this book was made? Barely mentioned apart from unfairly scathing and xenophobic comments recounted by the author.
Nintendo, the major competition and half of the console scene? They get about 3 chapters.
If all of this was in service of a particularly in depth story, focusing on Kalinske's stewardship of SoA, that would be excusable. Unfortunately, it really doesn't go more than skin deep. The characters we spend our time with in SoA are almost universally unlikeable and sometimes written with weird sitcom inflections and TV movie dialogue. Maybe that's what they were actually like? Who knows, but if that is the case, maybe it was a bad idea to focus on such an awkward bunch.
The performance is dreadfully grinding by a few hours in. The voices the narrator uses to speak as various characters are grating in extremis, ranging from weird Chandler Bing impressions to truly awful mock Japanese accents.
It's a shame, because there's a lot of interesting tidbits in here, but it's just very difficult to stick with.

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Wait for the documentary or film adaptation.

The story of the Console Wars of the early 90s is a fascinating one: many commonplace marketing and retail strategies were innovated in this era - in this very conflict between Sega and Nintendo - that should make this an interesting tale even for those who weren't caught up in the Sonic Vs Mario furore of the day.

It's just a shame that the person who was granted access to some of the people involved in the titular war, compiling a comprehensive background to this fascinating time in pop culture history, is such a terrible writer.

Blake J Harris has tried to compose his extensive, if narrow, research into a non-fiction novel full of smart people, witty banter and entertaining anecdotes but his skills as a writer fail him completely. For a start, all of his characters speak and act alike, depending on which trope/demographic they fit into: American man; woman; Japanese person. His attempts at humour are clichéd, awkward and embarrassing and his handling of women and, particularly, the Japanese is offensive.

The men all talk like characters from an amateur screenplay written by somebody who's consumed too much Aaron Sorkin, the women are reduced down to such stereotypes that they refer to themselves (un)humorously as "witches" and "crazy" and the Japanese characters get the shortest shrift of all; painted routinely as stiff, alien and untrustworthy.

There's no doubt that Sega of America (SoA) and Sega of Japan (SoJ) had different visions for how Sega games should be made and marketed but rather than present this as a conflict of ideologies about marketing and development between two intelligent and successful companies, Harris takes the lazy road to lean heavily on outdated tropes about Japanese people and paints SoJ as an arch-villain: some kind of looming evil, ready to cut the legs from under SoA.

While the book persistently presents a negative view of the Japanese, it veers headlong into racism from time to time. One Japanese member of the SoA team is described by an American co-worker in the book as a "Banana: yellow on the outside and white on the inside." This slur isn't challenged by Harris, who instead allows the American to validate his transgression by saying "I'm not a racist" and the act is forgiven. It's atrocious.

All of Harris' shortcomings as a novelist are amplified by the failures of Fred Berman (and whoever directed this audio adaptation) as a narrator. All of his characters sound the same: to his credit, he can manage two types of American male impression, but the women all sound exactly alike (making it difficult to know who's talking on the very rare occasion two women are having a conversation together) and his impression of Japanese characters is outright offensive. He adopts a very, very outdated, stereotypical accent and mannerisms when voicing the Japanese characters that is probably the most uncomfortable thing of all to listen to in this pretty egregious book.

And it's not to say that Harris' shortcomings as a novelist end at his flirtations with racism, his inability to create fully-realised characters, craft believable dialogue or his tendency to substitute trope and cliché for compelling narrative; the book is routinely boring, weighed down by stretches of wikipedia like exposition that he was unable to fit in narratively so just pauses whole scenarios to drop a biography of some new character or other. It feels like padding and stretches what could probably be a 12 hour audiobook out to over 20.

Through all of the mess Blake J Harris has made of this story, the fascinating facts about the Console War remain and if you can fight through all the uncomfortable dialogue and racism, you may come away with a modicum of admiration for what was achieved, even if you can't stomach the representation of the people involved.

I'd recommend you skip this book, however. It's been reported that Console Wars is being adapted not only into a movie but also a documentary. You should wait for these, in hopes they give a better representation of the people involved, rather than reward Blake J Harris or Fred Berman for their work on this book by buying it.

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Good

Bloated and somewhat one sided but overwise an enjoyable book. Dialogue was a bit too cheesy.

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Fascinating dive into vgs history

Simply brilliant! I loved it and I hope that the supposedly upcoming movie will be on par with this great book.

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Brilliant and informative book

I 100% intend to follow this book with more gaming history. It genuinely captured my attention and I enjoyed reading about how the consoles I loved as a kid came to be. The only disappointment is it ends in 96, I genuinely wanted it to continue to the present day

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Entertaining and Informative

Easy to listen too. Good narration and an informative, interesting insight into an important period in video game history.

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A must have for console fans, and business stories

This was an outstanding listen. I remember the first console war, and its trailblazing journey to create the established gaming industry we enjoy today.

This is a fascinating account of those times, with interesting characters and stories throughout. It also works as a grand business story, even if gaming isn't your thing.

The narrator is the best I've ever heard. The perfect voice for this, and the other characterisations worked well.

Overall, one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to, if not the best one.

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  • Shane Snyder
  • 22-07-14

My Childhood: Explained

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this audiobook to anyone who grew up playing video games in the 80s and 90s. I used to own a NES and an SNES and my cousin owned a Genesis (I later moved on to the PlayStation). This book does an excellent job answering all the questions I ever had about this awesome time in the Home Video Console eras.

What did you like best about this story?

I loved how the story played out like a drama and not like a history.

Which character – as performed by Fred Berman – was your favorite?

Fred Berman did an excellent job on all the characters. No one stood out as being exceptionally better (which I think is a good thing)... but I really liked the way he personified the geeky nature of Howard Phillips.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Evana
  • 04-08-15

Interesting book with great narrator

Herman had the tough task of performing voices from Japan, Iceland, Britain, and the United States. His female voices were also well done. The narration did a wonderful job of adding to an already great story.

3 people found this helpful

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  • 19letterslong
  • 03-08-15

Great performance of a great book

I'm a huge fan of video game history and I've read a few books on the subject. This is easily one of the best. A must-read for those interested in the subject, especially those with a soft spot for Sega. Bergman does a great job narrating the book and actually manages to deliver a pretty decent Japanese accent, even if the few other accents he occasionally brings out aren't great. I enjoyed it from start to finish. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the subject matter.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Rob G.
  • 17-11-14

Was hoping for so much more...

The rise and fall of Sega of America during the 16 bit era under the leadership of Tom Kalinske, is a fascinating underdog story. Granted, it probably helps if you are a gamer, even more so if you had been one during that time period, but who doesn't love the story of a scrappy group of ragtags who take a nothing and make it something? Unfortunately, as anyone who knows the gaming business knows, this story doesn't have a happy ending, which I won't spoil, even though it's pretty much common knowledge how the whole thing went down by now.

I hate to repeat what so many other reviewers have written, but I can't get around it. This book reads like a cheesy novelization of a movie, which is no surprise considering it's author, Blake J. Harris is a screenwriter who is co-directing the movie of this book which, if I'm not mistaken, was already in planning before this book was even published. Harris admits in the introduction he may have take some poetic license here and there and it shows. Everything that happens in this book is so dramatic!

It doesn't help that Fred Berman is performing the heck out of the text. I'm not sure how else one could do it, but he matches groan worthy dialogue with clipped, Comic Book Guy cadences and almost gets to Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany's level when reading Asian characters. The audiobook performance really emphasizes how annoyingly this thing was written.

So why didn't I just stop and hit the "return" button? Because the story is that fascinating to me. While I knew some of the details from years of reading retrogaming magazines and the book about Nintendo, Game Over, this was still very informative. I learned a lot of things, especially when it came to the origins of Sega's entry into the 32 bit era, and that was what kept me coming back.

The problem is, I have to wonder how much really happened and how much was that aforementioned poetic license. Certainly some things are a matter of record, but so many events happened behind closed doors and out of the public eye. Though I know Harris is said to have interviewed 200 people, the heavily dramatized style of writing causes me to instinctively question what I am hearing.

It would also have been really great to have seen more involvement from Sega of Japan. I haven't any idea how much Harris reached out to them and, if he did, it wouldn't be a shock to learn he was rebuffed. Still, without getting into too many spoilers, there are a lot of unanswered questions that only the people at Sega of Japan could answer, although it sounds like Tom Kalinske and all his team are probably still looking for those answers too.

The bottom line is, there's a great story here, it's just unfortunate the wrong person chose to write it. If you can stomach the unnecessary cinematic tone, and the audiobook performance to match, there's some good stuff here. It's just a shame that Harris couldn't have just written a book rather than trying to simultaneously make it into a movie.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Robert
  • 26-06-14

If you love video games...

If you could sum up Console Wars in three words, what would they be?

Classic underdog story

What was one of the most memorable moments of Console Wars?

The ongoing battle between Sega of Japan and Sega of the US

Have you listened to any of Fred Berman’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Moments of laughter

5 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Ryan
  • 03-05-17

Just a bit too much Hero-worship

Any additional comments?

Ok, so normally I'm they type of person not to even bother with a review, but I feel this one needs a bit of a warning.

Let me preface with, I liked this book, and would read it again.The preformance is excelent, and even the over-the-top dialog is fun.

That said, This is one exceedingly biast book. The author seems to have a love affair with Tom Kalinske, and the hero worship can get a little grating.

"Hey guys, remember when Tom Kalinske predicted the coming of violent video games years before they happened? Remember how cool he was when he helped create the Nintendo 64 to spite SoJ? He helped cure AIDS y'know!"

I don't know how historically accurate any of the book is, but if you were to tell me that the author was Tom Kalinske himself using a pen name, I would not be surprised.

I do recommend this book, especially in the audio version.The performance is quite enjoyable. However, expect to be hit over the head every few chapters with how amazing Kalinske is and how SEGA's downfall was Japan's fault entirely.

7 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • MovieGuy
  • 22-06-14

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Console Wars gives us all a trip down memory lane, returning us to the mid 80's through the mid 90's, which to me is the "Golden Age Of Video Games". The book focuses mainly on Tom Kalinski, the head of Sega of America, and follows him through the whirlwind ride that Sega took, coming to prominence in the 16-bit wars only to lose it all in 32-bit.

I really really enjoyed being taken back and re-living that era of video games. And along the way I learned tons about all the corporate strategies and deal-making and such that was going on. Fascinating stuff. Also the reading of this book is outstanding.

The only downside to me is that the book somehow doesn't take it's own advice, namely that "The name of the game is the game". In other words, the book gives us so much detail about what the heads of the companies are doing, what their strategies were, what the marketing department was doing, how they were coming up with their slogans and advertisements, and on and on. But what they talked surprisingly little about were the games! What would have been much MORE interesting to me was more of a focus on the development of the games, how the games were received by players, discussions about game genres and technologies and peripherals and all that stuff. THAT would be been a lot more engaging.

But anyway... it's still a really good and interesting book. Highly recommended for fans of video games who are interested in some of the history and behind the scenes stuff of that era.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • victor
  • 02-09-20

The story that defined an industry.

This book is a must for anyone who loves or is curious about videogame history.

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  • SNewsome
  • 28-08-20

addictive

I was very eager to get back to listening each day. The story is full of everything you might love about the corporate world.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • NeverB4
  • 26-08-20

Awesome history on video games

Not only was the performance of this audio book completely engaging, but the story is amazing as well. Took me a whopping four days to listen through it. I highly recommend this book!