Those of you old enough to have lived through the 16-bit war of the '90s will almost certainly know the name Tom Kalinske. He served as Sega of America's CEO during this incredible period and is often credited with overturning Nintendo's dominance of the US console arena. When he took over the company was little more than an also-ran, but under his guidance the Genesis overtook the NES in sales and transformed Sega into a market leader. If you've not done so already, then we'd recommend you read Console Wars, a book which covers the period superbly.
Kalinske would step down as Sega CEO in 1996 following the disappointing commercial performance of the Sega CD, 32X and Saturn, signalling his exit from the video game arena but not interactive entertainment, as he would later securing roles at LeapFrog and Knowledge Universe. However, he's now back in games as the chairman of Gazillion, which develops free-to-play online title Marvel Heroes.
Speaking to Gamesindustry.biz, Kalinske spoke about the incredible changes that have occurred in gaming in the past two decades:
You can imagine being out of the industry for 20 years and then coming back in, the changes are unbelievable. I've got so much learning to do. I didn't even know about things like Steam and Valve. But the great thing is a lot of this was started so long ago. Remember, we had mobile games long, long ago. We did mess around with VR, but never successfully. I cancelled the introduction of VR when I was at Sega because it made everyone sick, basically. I love what's going on in AR. I've been a little bit part of eSports. So I've seen these things develop, and I'm so excited about what's going on.
While the game may have changed, Kalinske claims that the setup at Gazillion is very familiar:
It reminded me a lot of when I joined Sega in the 1990s... They didn't have that many products and we had to develop a lot quickly. We did so, and we had a unique strategy to go up against Nintendo. If I have any strength at all, it's that I like unique strategies, and I'm hoping to help the company by helping them develop some unique strategies.
Given that Gazillion currently relies quite heavily on Marvel Heroes for its revenue, you'd be forgiven for questioning Kalinske's move and pondering if the former Sega heavyweight can really mix it up with the big boys these days. However, he's adamant that big things are on the way for the studio:
I wouldn't have done this if I thought it was only going to be a small company. I believe there's an opportunity to build Gazillion into a very large company.
While Kalinske isn't currently involved in anything Nintendo (or Sega) related, we wish him the very best of luck in his new role. Now you'll have to excuse us while we hook up the Mega Drive and attempt to relive the awesome playground arguments of the 1990s.
Give it up Nintendo won .
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Having read Console Wars, Kalinske seems like a very interesting man, and I wish him the best. And as to Aerona's comment right above, he hasn't fallen. From what I know of Kalinske, he loves building companies from small to big, working with underdogs, like Sega was when he started there, and he's done it a number of times. Besides, he surely could have gotten a job at a big company if he'd wanted to. The man's a legend, not just for Sega, but for Barbie and more.
Lucky guy! He's at the controls of the super-rare Star Wars Arcade game (not to be confused with the Model 3-based Star Wars Trilogy Arcade game of the late 90's). We still had quite a few arcades in NYC in the early 90's and never saw one.
"I've got so much to learn"
Yeah, like why your mascot went from icon of the ninties to gaming's biggest punching bag.
Didn't he say that part of the reason he left Sega was he thought Sega of Japan was making bad decisions and it was clear to him there was nothing he could do about it? Pretty sure that's true. If so...smart man. He saw Sega's future coming and made the right choice to bail when he did.
@Allspice you are indeed correct.
What's he playing with between Sonic's legs?
He seems like a cool guy with cool stories
I guess you could say he sees a Gazillion opportunities here...
Even if it is not in my favorite gaming company's best interest, I wish Mr. Kalinske good luck.
I like cheering on the underdog too.
@Allspice Well he sure is smart he could've been a great use for Nintendo lol
It was a great time with so much to play and all that was on the way. It was a great time.
I wish I could have a fall like this....
"In 1996, Kalinske left SEGA to become President of a newly formed company, Knowledge Universe. Under his leadership, Knowledge Universe grew from a $500million into a $3.6billion dollar group by 2005. The company also invested in over 35 education companies, including a company called K12, which is valued at $1.2billon today. One of their well-known successes is the acquisition of LeapFrog. At LeapFrog, Kalinske made video games highly educational and was a first in the industry to do so. In doing so, he transformed the company into the largest educational toy company in the world. Revenue quickly grew from $72 million to $680 million within a short span of 4 years, from 1999 to 2003."
"Kalinske served on the board of directors of the Toy Manufacturers of America for twelve years. He served on the Board of Blackboard 2005-2012. He currently serves on the Board of Cambium Learning Group, the Board of Genyous (a cancer drug development company), and the Board of WCEPS (Wisconsin Center for Educational Products & Services). He is Emeritus Advisor to both the UW Business School, and Univ Arizona Eller School of Management, and is Vice Chairman of LeapFrog Inc" (Wikipedia)
Pretty much. The history of Sega in the 90s is amazing, such a meteoric rise and earth-shattering fall. It's a case study in what not to do. As recommended in the article, Console Wars is a really good read on the subject while Sam Pettus 'Service Games' isn't nearly as slickly written but is in depth and well researched.
Sega under Kalinske probably started the decline by releasing too many Sonic games on Megadrive/Mega CD/Gamegear but Sonic only really became a laughing stock after the DC era long after he'd left.
The book is indeed excellent. Interesting to read as someone who was on the Nintendo side of those wars back then. It's also a little disturbing to read about the ways in which these companies seek to manipulate young minds to obtain money. Many of us enjoy video games so much, we sometimes forget what a big money machine it is.
A free to play developer. No reason to mention him then!
You can't blame Kalinski for Sega's downfall. He saw some of the problems coming down the Sega of Japan pipeline and tried to prevent them. Heck, it was because he did his own thing in America that caused the Genesis to take off. He knew how to reach American audiences. But when Sega Japan started muscling in on his efforts, it all went to hell.
Really makes one think about NoJ vs NoA.
Anyway I also definitely recommend the book.
Tap here to load 20 comments
Leave A Comment
Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...