By Michael Mendis
Author: Sam Pettus
First Published: 2013
Length: 472 pages
Growing up as a kid, my favorite pastime was playing video games, and most of the time I was playing on my SEGA Genesis. A gift from my parents at some point in the mid-1990s, the Genesis became an integral part of my childhood, and I spent countless hours playing through as many of the Sonic the Hedgehog games as I could get my hands on. These years were what cemented my interest in gaming, and even today I enjoy going back every now and then to play some of those classic, retro games. On top of that, I’ve also come to enjoy learning about different gaming companies, how they operate, and the ways they have impacted the gaming industry as a whole. So when I heard that someone had written a book talking about the corporate history of SEGA, I couldn’t pass it up.
In his book Service Games: The Rise and Fall of SEGA, author Sam Pettus dives into the history of one of the most fascinating companies in the history of gaming, focusing on their years creating video game consoles. He details how SEGA put together a console (the Genesis/Mega Drive) and a marketing strategy that could go toe-to-toe with rival Nintendo, and how internal conflict within SEGA’s management tore them apart, causing them to make numerous unforced errors and dooming the company’s future as a console maker. While Pettus occasionally delves into technical jargon that goes over my head, he does a good job overall of putting everything into language that the average person can understand, boiling down the nitty-gritty details into something more digestible. He touches on many aspects of SEGA’s business in those years, from the technology within each of their consoles, to their relationship with third-party game developers, to the ways they marketed their products to the public, and more. To me, the most interesting parts of the book are where it describes the inner workings of SEGA’s management, how the Japanese and Western branches worked together (or, more often, how they didn’t), and the way that different people within SEGA affected the company’s fortunes.
The book is well researched, backed up by countless articles from throughout SEGA’s years as a console creator, as well as interviews from top executives and developers from around the industry. Some of the interviews within the book are from old articles and gaming journalism outlets, but others were conducted by the author himself, providing new information that can’t be found anywhere else; one former SEGA executive provided Pettus with a detailed account of an important internal meeting that had been largely unknown or misunderstood by the general public up to that point. Pettus also intersperses pictures throughout the book; some of these images are screenshots from important games released at the time, while others showcase the marketing materials used by SEGA and other game companies. These pictures provide a useful historical snapshot of the game industry during the 1990s and complement the text nicely.
If you have any interest in learning about the game industry, I highly recommend this book. Pettus clearly put a lot of time and dedication into making this the most accurate account of SEGA’s corporate history on the market, and does an excellent job of detailing the company’s successes and failures. When we think of the word “corporation”, we tend to think of some powerful, faceless entity, one with no personality and driven only by profit; Pettus’ great achievement in this book is to highlight the many real people within SEGA who made the company what it was, for better or worse.