Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 20, 2014

Email: The Console Wars book

I think I briefly mentioned that book when I sent you the Gail Tilden video.  I really liked “Game Over” by David Sheff, so I was curious about this new book.  I was thinking about getting it, but now I’m not going to.  It seems it engages in blatant historical revisionism and romantic delusions that have arisen well after the 16-bit era ended.  Here’s an example noted in a Wall Street Journal review:

One reason Nintendo ran into trouble in the early 1990s, he tells us, is that the company was heavy-handed with game developers. It limited the number of Nintendo games each software company could bring to market each year, insisted on exclusive rights to those games and extracted a large royalty on each sale. Developers therefore, supposedly, leapt at the opportunity to do business with Sega, helping the upstart succeed by enabling it to offer superior games.

But in his 1993 book on Nintendo, “Game Over,” David Sheff contends that as Sega prospered its own licensing terms became almost as tough as the other guy’s. Mr. Sheff quotes one licensee: “Sega was as bad as Nintendo because Sega wanted to be Nintendo.” Mr. Sheff’s story and Mr. Harris’s do not jibe.”

I’m going to trust a 1993 book by a Playboy writer far more than a 2014 book by some unknown (possibly a “hardcore” gamer) who romanticizes the 16-bit era and Sega’s short-lived victory.  I saw the 16-bit era with my own eyes.  Sega didn’t win all the developers.  It just managed to share them with Nintendo, similar to the Sony/Microsoft situation of today.

On a related note, some supposed video game “documentary” was on Netflix, so I decided to watch it.  This is the one:

After watching it… I wanted to puke.  It was nothing more than an hour and a half love letter to the modern video game industry.  It was literally the exact opposite of your blog.  Everything that you criticized is praised.  I couldn’t stop laughing when the narrator told me that gaming didn’t “grow up” until the PlayStation came out and developers were able to share their grand narratives with us. Nothing but “story telling this” and “narrative that.”  They even had some dipshit, hipster game writer being interviewed for a large portion of the film.

Meanwhile, the NES is only mentioned briefly as a type of nostalgia trip, the 16-bit era is basically ignored, and the Wii is avoided like the plague.  Oh, and Space War is celebrated as the greatest invention ever.  Don’t watch the film.  It’s terrible.

There is no actual interest in video game history. Certainly, not from a business perspective. What I think these movies/books are doing is getting a few sources and writing their stuff around those few sources. The big picture is certainly missing.

This is how everyone missed the Wii. The esteemed video game analysts knew much about the business of the Playstation consoles… but they knew nothing about the NES. All they knew was that it was ‘ancient’, that it was ‘bad’ because it had no competition, and that “Nintendo had no role in reviving the market, they just got there first.” There are so many dead consoles who believed in that. The analysts had no idea why the Atari 2600 succeeded. Nintendo designed the Wii around studying the NES era. It is not a coincidence that the Wii-mote is a NES controller on its side and why there were lightgun shells.

You’d think people would be interested in how the Wii did what it did, but they are not. “It’s just da casualz…” They come up with all these made-up terms. From a business perspective, you’d think people would notice that not only did Nintendo create the handheld gaming market, it has remained king of that market forever. But there is no curiosity. There is no interest. Instead, they just sneer and say, “Doesn’t matter because it is all dead. Those smartphone games!” I suppose that is why PC gaming killed the NES and home consoles back in the 1980s, yes? But that is not mentioned.

I’ve found there is no interest in the business side of gaming. There is only interest in soap-operas. We should call it the Days of Our Gaming starring the consoles of the past and present. “On the next episode of Days of Our Gaming, will third party company Capcom hook up with Sony or Microsoft next? Or even Nintendo? Stay tuned to find out!”



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