Business bookshelf: 'Console Wars'

  • Updated: May 24, 2014 - 4:29 PM

CONSOLE WARS

Blake J. Harris, itbooks, 558 pages, $28.99

Video games have emerged as a vibrant, imaginative pursuit, the art form at the intersection of computers and interactivity. But they are also a business, one that was built by people with experience making and selling toys, consumer electronics and coin-operated amusements like pinball machines.

“Console Wars : Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation,” by Blake J. Harris, focuses on the history of video games as an industry rather than as a creative enterprise. The “war” here is a battle for market share between two companies.

Harris is right that this conflict, occurring mostly from 1990 to 1995, was an important one. Video games matured in the 1990s, from being perceived as a faddish toy for children into mainstream entertainment for ­teenagers and, soon, adults.

At the start of that decade, Nintendo was a near-monopolist, holding 90 percent of a $3 billion market. Yet by the beginning of Bill Clinton’s first term as president, Sega had seized 55 percent of sales by appealing to an older audience with flashier advertising and games with more sex and violence.

“Console Wars” is in development to become a film by Sony Pictures, and there are plenty of moments you could envision as lively scenes in a movie along the lines of “Moneyball.” But it’s not, sadly, a heck of a book. The reconstructed dialogue can be stilted and phony. When Harris isn’t unfurling clichés (speed is blazing, a woman is doe-eyed), he falls prey to the language of public relations. The book adds little to our understanding of video games as a creative form.

Despite all this, the business intrigue and marketing hijinks in “Console Wars” can be entertaining. But as told here, making and selling video games is almost entirely about managing relationships with retailers; landing on the covers of enthusiast magazines; and negotiating the details of endless licensing deals, price cuts and news releases.

NEW YORK TIMES

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