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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

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 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 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

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 of 3 people found this review helpful

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

Good

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

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

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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    5 out of 5 stars
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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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  • R. Lord
  • Northampton, England
  • 24-01-18

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.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing

So interesting, loved it made the drive to work more fun. Thanks very much. Aaron

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

Interesting but flawed

What did you like best about Console Wars? What did you like least?

I found the story to be fairly interesting. Growing up in the 90s, this was a great nostalgia trip and the insights into the creation of the games and their consoles was pretty neat. Unfortunately it all comes across a little false. The book is written as though it was a novel and it all sounds a bit too much like fiction because of that. The narrator also has the unfortunate habit of making all the people involved sound quite sleazy, perhaps that is because they were (some of their actions do come across that way), but it certainly kept me from caring too much about them.

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Fred Berman?

Someone like Wil Wheaton or Jaleel White would work. You need a narrator who can conjure up those nostalgic vibes but also put on quite a performance. Unfortunately, Mr. Berman doesn't meet the mark.

Did Console Wars inspire you to do anything?

Play some old time videogames.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

really nice well researched and engaging book

a fab trip down memory lane from the 80's and 90's. very interesting to hear what was going on behind the scenes if the industry.

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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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Brandy
  • 26-02-17

16 bit console wars

subtitle: the meteoric rise and ultimate demise of Sega. if you like the history of console gaming this has it all.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • 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 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

9 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • GameMaker
  • 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.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • 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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Adam Byram
  • 06-08-18

Entertaining Trip Down Memory Lane

I grew up playing the original NES and following along with the Sega vs Nintendo saga. I remember most of the events in the book, but it was even more interesting hearing some of the behind the scenes happenings that led up to these events. The first 3/4 of the book were pretty riveting to me, but the last quarter was a little slower and less interesting overall. Still, if you grew up playing games from either of these companies, you'll probably find the book enjoyable. If you're not a gamer (and weren't going up), then it may not be all that interesting.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ryan Brock
  • 06-08-18

Great book and awesome narrator

I was aware of Blake from /Film and How Did This Get Made so grabbed the book. I could not wait to finish it. I lived through the console wars and knew some facts but this really opened my eyes to some big players. This is also my first book read by Fred Harris. He did a fantastic job.