by Harold Goldberg
SIGNIFICANTLY UPDATED: MAY 13, 2014
May 13 will likely be lucky for author and filmmaker Blake J. Harris. That particular Tuesday is the day Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined A Generation (It Books), his well-researched and compelling narrative history of Sega, Nintendo and Sony’s battles, will be released. I met the affable Harris a few years ago – shortly after All Your Base Are Belong to Us, my own narrative history of games, hit the shelves.
We hit it off immediately. Harris has many fascinating stories to tell, of his collaboration with Seth Rogen and Scott Rudin for the tome’s film version, of the geniuses of videogames, and of the writing process itself. Part One appears today. Part Two will appear on the book’s release date.
Also, Harris will read and answer questions from Console Wars at the Astoria Book Shop on May 15 at 7 p.m. If you get there early, you can play old school games with the author.
Now, on to the interview.
1) What compelled you to write a book on the Console Wars?
My journey down the 16-bit rabbit hole was as unexpected as it proved
to be delightful.
A little over three years ago, my typically terrible-gift-giving
brother surprised me on my 28th birthday with the perfect gift: a Sega
Genesis, which is what we had when we were kids. Holding that
controller in my hands after so years away from videogames brought to
the surface all kinds of memories and then, after the barrage of that
nostalgia hit me, came all kinds of questions. What ever happened to
Sega? How were they even able to compete against Nintendo in the first
place? And ultimately: what the hell was going on behind the scenes
all that time?
To answer these questions and all the others that kept bubbling up I
wanted to read a book on the subject. But, as luck would have it, no
such book existed. Not only did no such book exist, but I quickly
learned that for an industry as gigantic as videogames there was an
alarmingly small number of books about this wonderfully wild world.
Well, after reviewing my old college econ notes on supply and demand,
I began contacting former of employees from Sega and Nintendo to find
out if there was an interesting story here; something exciting and
dramatic with twists and turns that would appeal to gamers and
non-gamers alike. Needless to say, what I soon discovered exceeded
even my wildest expectations.
2) What do we need to know about Tom Kalinske, who’s kind of the
protagonist of Console Wars?
The most important thing to know about Tom Kalinske is that he’s the
man responsible for the childhood of anyone born in the 70s or 80s.
From Barbie and He-Man to Flintstones Chewable Vitamins and Matchbox
cars, his ability to turn unusual ideas into iconic properties is
second to none. And in 1990, when Nintendo had over 90% of the market,
that made him the perfect guy (and perhaps the only guy) capable of
transforming Sega from an industry punchline into a
generation-defining market leader.
3) What did he do right and what did he do wrong?
He did a ton of things of right. Some that many of us might remember
(like launching the famous Sega-Scream-infused Welcome to the Next
Level campaign), some that many of us never knew about (like
brilliantly and unexpectedly getting the Genesis into Wal-mart) and
some that none of us will ever know or fully understand (like how he
convinced a team of rebels that they truly had the golden touch).
What did he do wrong? Like any CEO, a variety of mistakes were made
along the one. Perhaps the most notable (and perhaps inevitably
unavoidable) was to focus on beating Nintendo (and then Sony) when a
more crafty enemy was lurking much closer than he realized.
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