In a period of gaming history that seems increasingly improbable with each passing generation, we often look back to the time when Nintendo's greatest rival was Sega. The house that Sonic built was at the peak of its powers with the Mega Drive / Genesis, which went head-to-head with the Super NES. It was Mario vs Sonic in a full-on contest, not the semi-friendly minigame shenanigans the term represents in modern licensed games.
Tom Kalinske was CEO for Sega of America in the early '90s, a key figure in the company in its strongest years. He left in 1996 and is often willing to share his thoughts on his former employers; in a DICE interview with gamesindustry.biz he explains that he relates Sega's failings in the console market as occurring over a sustained period of time. It may have all ended with the Dreamcast, but problems included incidents such as when Sega, like Nintendo, failed to complete a deal to produce hardware with Sony; the latter would go on to become a powerful force in the industry.
Sega ultimately bit the dust in the console wars, and Nintendo has long since continued its run in the hardware business; Kalinske believes that Sega had only itself to blame, rather than market forces alone.
It was not inevitable. It could have been avoided if they had made the right decisions going back literally 20 years ago. But they seem to have made the wrong decisions for 20 years.
One of the key reasons why I left Sega is when we had the opportunity to work with Sony, when [Sony Interactive CEO] Olaf Olafsson, [Sony Corporation of America president and CEO] Mickey Schulhof and I had agreed we were going to do one platform, share the development cost of it, share the probable loss for a couple years on it, but each benefit from the software we could bring to that platform. Of course, in those days, we were much better at software than they were, so I saw this as a huge win. We went to Sony and they agreed, 'Great idea.' Whether we called it Sega-Sony or Sony-Sega, who cared? We go to Sega and the board turned it down, which I thought was the stupidest decision ever made in the history of business. And from that moment on, I didn't feel they were capable of making the correct decisions in Japan any longer.
Kalinske did share his views on current-day Nintendo, providing some pretty balanced analysis. He's an advocate for the company utilising smart devices in a limited way as a marketing tool - including some games - but believes Nintendo should continue to play to its strengths with its own hardware.
I don't think [Nintendo] should give up hardware or consoles. I am surprised that they haven't formed a division to extend the IP. I'd love to play some of their games on my iPhone or iPad. It's really a form of marketing for them in a sense. They wouldn't even need to make that much money off it, but it would keep their brands relevant with the users, including people that are older, like me. So it seems to me it's a marketing mistake, but I don't think they should give up what they're doing because they're damn good at it.
Kalinske was once in fierce opposition to Nintendo, but clearly admires the company's work - even if the current market poses unique and significant challenges.
Let us know what you think of his comments on Nintendo. Do you agree that some games should be made available on iOS and Android as marketing tools, or should Nintendo stick with its plans for a Mii-centric app while staying away from game releases? Let us know in the comments.
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