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Console Wars

Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation

By Blake J. Harris
15-minute read
Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris

Console Wars chronicles the epic, industry-shaping rivalry between video game developers Sega and Nintendo in the early 1990s. In five short years, Sega went from being a widely mocked underdog to U.S. market leader in console games, a dominance that essentially dictated the future path of gaming.

  • Anyone who likes to play video games
  • Anyone who remembers Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Bros
  • Anyone interested in the evolution of the video game business

Blake J. Harris is a writer and filmmaker who is also co-directing a documentary based on Console Wars. Harris is also the executive producer of a Sony feature-film adaptation of the book.

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Console Wars

Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation

By Blake J. Harris
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation by Blake J. Harris
Synopsis

Console Wars chronicles the epic, industry-shaping rivalry between video game developers Sega and Nintendo in the early 1990s. In five short years, Sega went from being a widely mocked underdog to U.S. market leader in console games, a dominance that essentially dictated the future path of gaming.

Key idea 1 of 9

Nintendo's rapacious strategies earned it market dominance in the U.S., but also left it vulnerable.

If you owned a game console in 1990, there's a good chance it was made by Nintendo.

Nintendo, a Japanese consumer electronics company, completely dominated the market for video games. In the United States at the time, the company claimed some 90 percent market share!

This dominance stemmed largely from Nintendo's strict control over who could create games for its console. If a company was interested in developing a game for Nintendo, it would have to purchase a game cartridge at a fixed cost of $10 – which meant games always sold for more than $10, regardless whether it was a hit or a flop.

This policy ensured that Nintendo would collect huge profits on highly successful games such as Street Fighter II, developed by Capcom; it also allowed Nintendo to closely control which companies produced games for its consoles.

Nintendo obviously was protective of its market clout. When a group of developers tried to create games for the console without Nintendo's approval, the company sued them. For many developers, the threat of losing favor with Nintendo (which could result in being ostracized from the market entirely) kept them loyal and obedient to the company’s dictates.

However, being a market leader has its downsides. Nintendo had to continuously push new products and take large risks to maintain its position in the market.

Yet many of the products Nintendo pushed out were of poor quality, and in the rush to release new products, it made many mistakes. For example, the company’s updated 16-bit console, released in the United States in 1991, was not compatible with games from its previous console. This angered many console owners, who were forced to buy their favorite games a second time.

These sorts of mistakes, combined with the ire of games manufacturers that Nintendo had effectively shut out of the market, created an opening for a new competitor. That company was Sega, and it arrived ready to take advantage of Nintendo's weaknesses.

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