It’s hard to imagine a world without Nintendo, but many years ago, it could have happened if things went differently. I just finished reading an outstanding book by Blake J. Harris, called “Console Wars.” The book tells the tale of the battle for dominance in gaming between Sega and Nintendo and in the early-1990s and discusses how the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) took on the Sega Genesis. Much of the story tells the tale of Sega’s growth in the US and Nintendo’s shock at losing massive amounts of market share. But it also talks about Sega’s issues and briefly touches on the company’s eventual downfall in hardware.
Of course, for those of us who have watched the gaming industry for years, this is nothing new. Sega was at one time a top force in the console market and due to a series of bad moves, including an ill-fated release schedule for the Sega Saturn and a device in the Dreamcast that was ahead of its time, the company was forced out of the console business as Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft won the day.
Now years later, Nintendo is struggling in consoles. While the company’s Wii was wildly popular for a period of time, the firm’s focus on casual gaming has caused its operation to run aground. The Wii U is selling poorly, there are few third-party games that customers are interested in, and it appears – at least at this early juncture in the current console generation – that Nintendo is doomed to failure. Even worse, it’s possible, though probably unlikely, that the company could find itself kicked out of the console business entirely if losses mount and it fails to adapt to the changing times.
Set against that backdrop, and the fact that I recently finished reading “Console Wars,” I couldn’t help but ask myself a simple question: “If Sega had won the war against Nintendo and was still producing consoles, could it have succeeded where Nintendo is failing?”
Of course, there can be no sure-fire answer to the question, but it’s at least compelling. Sega was arguably more forward-thinking than Nintendo and wasn’t committed to casual gaming the way the Wii U-maker is. In other words, Sega likely would have had the right strategy in appealing to today’s console gamers.
In addition, Sega wasn’t concerned with taking risk, which has served Nintendo well and likely would have served Sega well. And although it eventually failed, let’s not forget that the Dreamcast was a solid product that had strong third-party support until the wheels came off.
The issue for Sega would undoubtedly have been its poor management. The company was tortured by a schism between Sega of Japan and Sega of America and its leadership could not get past pride to deliver actual value to customers. That alone could have killed Sega’s business.
But assuming those issues were addressed and Sega had been able to keep going in consoles, I believe the company might be more successful today than Nintendo. The market has changed and console gamers want the kind of hardcore experience Sega provided them for years.
Nintendo doesn’t get that and it’s leading to its downfall.
But alas, Sega isn’t competing in today’s hardware business and will likely have no opportunity to ever reenter the space. But it’s nice to wonder and think about what might have been – even if it could never happen.