Japanese Gaming History: The End of the First Console Wars

  • Forging the Knives that Stab You

    At the 1991 consumer electronics show, Sony representatives awaited Nintendo’s long rumored partnership to make a CD based add-on to the Super Nintendo. Sony and Nintendo had been working together since 1988 to make it a reality, now it was going to be announced. But, when Nintendo finally announced it, they didn’t announce a partnership with Sony, but with Phillips. At the last minute, Nintendo decided to ditch Sony, and would go on to create the infamous Phillips CDi, with licensed Nintendo games.

    Infuriated Sony began looking to other sources to partner with in order to get into the home console market. Sony was itching to get into the market, but the console market was very dangerous. It was very expensive to get into and was Nintendo was an extremely formidable foe. Sony did not want to go it alone. So after being shafted by Nintendo, Sony started negotiations with Sega. Tom Kalinske was incredibly enthusiastic to work with Sony on their new planned CD based system. They began to negotiate and develop some early ideas. But Sega made it’s first major mistake. Sega of Japan felt that their plans for the Sega Saturn were good enough, and did not want to partner with anyone. Sony would decide to go it alone and create the Sony Playstation.

    Revenge of the Plumber

    At it’s highest Sega enjoyed %55 of the American home-console market share. Nintendo knew it finally had to do something, but it could not attack Sega in kind due to Nintendo’s family friendly, and non-attack culture. So, Nintendo would attack by doing what it does best, by making an incredible game. At the time, the heads of Nintendo felt that non-Japanese could not make games as good as they could. So, they did not allow non-Japanese makers to make branded Nintendo games. But one young American worker in Nintendo headquarters, asked the head of Nintendo personally to allow him and an American development team create a game, and prove the stereotype wrong. The development team Rare would create Donkey Kong Country. When Nintendo executives saw early builds of the game, they thought that the game was meant for the next generation of console, the developers informed them that it would run on the Super Nintendo. Executives were shocked and Donkey Kong Country would go on to be one of the most successful series in the later life of the Super Nintendo. Furthermore, Nintendo would win a silent victory due to a major mistake by Sega. Tom Kalinske was still very worried about the Sega Saturn. The early mock-ups and plans were underwhelming. He was approached by James H. Clarke the founder of Silicon Graphics Inc.(SGI). SGI was a premier graphics visualization team and had worked with major movie studios on early CG for films. Like Sony SGI wanted to get into the home console market but wanted a partner. Thier first choice was Sega. Kalinske was very pleased and excited to work with SGI. After the failure with Sony, Kalinske hoped that the executives in Japan would listen to reason, and not develop what he felt would be a poor system on their own. But once again, Sega rejected Kalinske’s plan. SGI would next go to Nintendo and help them to develop the Nintendo 64.

    End of the 1st Console War and Beginning of the 2nd

    With Sega having rejected working with other more skilled technology partners, and stubbornly deciding to go all in on their own, Sega released the Saturn in November in 1994. Initially sales were good in Japan. So, Kalinske set up a launch day. The launch of the Saturn would come to America with fabulous fanfare, that is until executives in Japan decided to release the Saturn in advance. Saturn failed to establish a strong hold on the market. Soon Kalinske would leave Sega, and Sega would limp on for the next several years. But, with the failure of the Saturn many more companies would decide to try their own console on the market. In the mid-1990’s, there would be 5 different consoles battling to the death for the title of best. By the new millennium there would be one clear winner…

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