Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation is a 2014 book that detailed the turbulent history of business between Nintendo and Sega throughout the 1990s. A new documentary inspired by the book is set to premiere on CBS All-Access tomorrow, September 23. As the trailer reveals, viewers will be getting a first-hand account behind the scenes of the feud between the two companies by some of the people who were involved in it on both sides. The official synopsis reads: “An Official Selection of the 2020 SXSW Film Festival, the new documentary takes viewers back to 1990 when Sega, a fledgling arcade company, assembled a team of misfits to take on the greatest video game company in the world, Nintendo. It was a once-in-a-lifetime, no-holds-barred conflict that pit brother against brother, kids against grown-ups, Sonic against Mario, and uniquely American capitalism against centuries-old Japanese tradition.”
One of the biggest distinctions between the two companies at the time was their messaging. Nintendo was the top dog but they were and are still known for their kid-friendly games and of course, the character Mario.
When Sega was struggling to sell the Genesis, Tom Kalinske, the new CEO of Sega of America at the time, took charge and came up with a plan to bring the fight against Nintendo. The strategy was to market the Genesis as the cooler, edgier console opposing Nintendo’s kid-friendly look. With that, they are decided to have Sonic the Hedgehog be the mascot of Sega similar to how Mario is for Nintendo.
However, this wasn’t a done deal as some of the Japanese executives fought against this new strategy. After getting the green light, the Genesis went on to outsell the SNES which was the first time since 1985 that Nintendo didn’t dominate the market.
Another situation between the two companies led to the formation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. This happened after Nintendo released a censored version of Mortal Kombat after the game was viewed as extremely violent. Sega of America released a different version that made it so the game could be uncensored. After backlash from that decision, Tom Kalinske created the industry’s first rating system for Sega games. This eventually evolved to the rating system we have for video games today.
Later on, in the 90s and into the 2000s, Sega released the Sega Saturn and Sega Dreamcast but these did not sell very well. Then, Sega transitioned into a third-party developer making games for Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.