If you’re a fan of video games, Console Wars is one book that you will enjoy!
The book details Sega’s battle to challenge Nintendo in America during the 1990s. It also charts how Sony entered the market with their hugely successful Playstation console.
What’s astonishing when you read this book is realising just how much of the market Nintendo possessed in the 1980s and early 90s.
In many ways, Nintendo was the market such was its hold on the video game industry. Think of Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda, they had 80% of the video game industry, while the other 20% was split between three other competitors.
Nintendo was a juggernaut which looked immovable. That was until Sega decided to do something about it.
The book looks at how Sega transformed itself from an underdog into the top dog in the video game industry over the course of a few years.
It also details how that position was squandered as Sega fell behind a resurgent Nintendo and the upstarts of Sony.
If you’re a video games fan or just curious about how the industry came to be the way it is today, Console Wars is a great book to get your teeth into.
Table of Contents
Console Wars Summary
Takeaway 1 – An underdog has nothing to lose
One of the things that Sega benefited from was that they had nothing to lose. They could be aggressive in their marketing strategy, as their position couldn’t be much worse.
Nintendo, on the other hand, had much more to lose due to its position as the dominant player in the market.
Sega was struggling to make a dent in the American market, so they had to do something different to try and get attention.
That included an aggressive marketing strategy.
They ran a smear campaign, by touring malls in America showing its games and its competitors side-by-side in an attempt to show which one Americans preferred.
It was a bold move and one that worked as it got Sega in the news and everyone talking about their products when they otherwise might not have known they existed.
You can run this strategy if you’re the underdog as you have next to nothing to lose. You can be aggressive and go after your competitor.
The same is not true when you’re the market leader. You’re in the driving seat and you don’t want to do anything too extreme lest it damages your position.
In a situation such as this, the underdog has minimal advantages, but one is that it can experiment and be more aggressive than its opponents.
Sometimes it pays off!
Takeaway 2 – A loss leader can be a great business strategy
Another strategy that Sega used, much to the chagrin of the head office in Japan, was that of a loss leader.
The strategy is simple. You offer a product at a loss to attract customers. The initial loss will be mitigated by the customer, hopefully, spending more money in the future.
It’s a risky strategy, but if it’s executed properly it can be a big success. Sega’s strategy was a success.
They decided to drop the price of their console the Sega Genesis (Mega drive outside of North America) while including its new game Sonic The Hedgehog for free.
This was more of an unconventional strategy as they were effectively offering two loss leaders in one.
However, it worked. Customers bought the product due to its low price and because it came with a free game.
It was an unusual strategy at the time, but it’s now commonplace in the video game industry. Companies regularly bundle games in with their new games in an attempt to attract customers.
It was a huge gamble on Sega’s part, but it paid off as sales rocketed. Sometimes, an unusual strategy is the best one to deploy.
Takeaway 3 – Your time at the top can never be guaranteed
Sega’s marketing strategies allowed the company to close in on Nintendo’s position as the top dog in America.
They had managed to displace Nintendo and had seen the American operation grow from 50 to 400 people in the space of a few years.
However, once they got to the top, they were unable to maintain their position.
Nintendo’s humbling forced them to evolve and reconsider their approach to the video game industry. They had taken their position for granted and were determined not to do so again.
Sega was also up against Sony, who decided to release their Playstation console into the market.
This forced Sega to release their new console, the Saturn, earlier than they had planned in an attempt to undercut their competitor.
This plan failed as Sony offered their console for a cheaper price and the earlier release date annoyed some retailers who decided against stocking the console upon its launch.
Sega had done a sterling job to topple Nintendo, but in just two years they lost that position to Sony and then saw a resurgent Nintendo overtake them too, following the success of their new Nintendo 64 console.
No matter how hard you’ve worked to get to the top, there’s no guarantee you’ll stay there. Once you’re at the top you become a target.
When you’ve been the underdog previously, it’s hard to change your mindset into one that will help you maintain your position.
Nothing is guaranteed in life, and sometimes, getting to the top is the only beginning of what needs to be done.
Even when you pass the tipping point, there’s no guarantee you’ll stay at the top forever.
Console Wars review
This Console Wars summary has looked at an exciting period in video game history that still influences the industry today.
Sony’s PlayStation has become the biggest console on the planet during the past 20+ years. Considering the position Nintendo and Sega were in before it was realised, that’s some achievement.
The best thing about Console Wars is that tears back the layers of a rivalry that I was aware of growing up but knew little about.
I remember fierce debates with friends over which console was better. These debates would go on and on, referencing all manner of aspects, such as visuals, games and even the controllers!
What’s amazing to me is how entrenched Nintendo’s position was and how much ground Sega had to make up. Then, within five years, all of that had been ceded to an upstart rival.
The history of a rivalry between two tech companies may not sound like an enthralling read, but Console Wars is gripping.
Maybe this is because I spent a large part of my childhood on a Nintendo 64, I don’t know. But I was unable to tear myself away from the book and kept on reading, fascinated by what was coming next.
The biggest lesson I learnt from this book is that no matter the obstacles in your way, no matter the challenge, you can overcome them if you’re relentless.
Who should read Console Wars?
Anyone that has spent any time playing video games will enjoy Console Wars. It explained a lot of rumours I’d heard and fleshed out the story behind Nintendo, Sega and Sony.
Millennials will enjoy this book as it will invoke a lot of nostalgia. That’s what happened to me anyway.
For older and younger readers, this book will give you an insight into a rivalry that has defined the video game industry.