I recently read through Blake J. Harris' book The Console Wars, which summarizes the battle between Nintendo and Sega for videogame supremacy from the late 80s to the mid 90s.
If you've never read the book, there's a lot of good information for anyone interested in videogame history, but while I was reading it, I couldn't help but feel like I'd already heard this story before.
Then it hit me, the Console War between Nintendo and Sega is eerily similar to the Monday Night War between the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling.
Before I begin, however, keep in mind that all the information that I have about these topics come from books like The Console Wars and The Death of WCW, as well as various other articles and interviews that I've read or watched over the years, so everything I'm about to say is coming from a third-hand account. Let's begin.
(Also, I use "WWF" for the majority of the article, as that's what they were called during this time period, however, if I do happen to throw in a "WWE" occasionally, you know what I'm talking about.)
PART ONE: THE HISTORYNintendo was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi in Kyoto, Japan, and began life as a playing card company in the late 1880s. Yamauchi then handed the reigns of the company over to his son-in-law, Sekiryo Kenada. Sekiryo adopted the Yamauchi surname, and then passed it along to his son, Hiroshi, who became the third president of Nintendo beginning in 1949. Hiroshi Yamauchi is the main man responsible for turning Nintendo into the juggernaut that it became.
Realizing that the playing card business presented little room for growth, Mr. Yamauchi broadened Nintendo's business ventures with a taxi company, love hotels, a television network, and several others things. All of these new ventures were failures, or at best, broke even. Then they moved on to toys and electronic games, which eventually evolved into the incredible success of the Donkey Kong arcade machines, and then evolved even further with the release of Nintendo's first home videogame console, the Family Computer, aptly shortened to the FamiCom, which was released in Japan in 1983, and then re-branded as the Nintendo Entertainment System for the United States in 1985.
Immediately we can draw comparisons between Nintendo and World Wrestling Entertainment. Nintendo began as a small, family-owned company with Fusajiro Yamauchi as its head. The WWF likewise began with Jess McMachon at the helm, which at the time was referred to as the WWWF, the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Jess then relinquished ownership over to his son, Vincent James McMahon, better known as Vince McMahon, Sr. Vince McMahon, Sr. dropped the word “wide” from the company's name, now calling it the World Wrestling Federation.
This mirrors the fact that it was also Nintendo's second owner, Sekiryo, who changed the company's name from “Nintendo Playing Card Co.” to just “Nintendo.” Then, in 1982, Vincent James McMahon sold the WWF to his son, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, who also invented the Mac Stunner.
In much the same way that Hiroshi Yamauchi revolutionized videogaming, Vince McMahon did the same for professional wrestling. Both men wound up taking a huge risk that wound up paying off and skyrocketing the company. For Nintendo, it was the aforementioned Donkey Kong arcade machines. One of Nintendo's first major arcade releases was a game called Radar Scope, which, while being a huge hit in Japan, was a flop in the States. After a major recall of Radar Scope machines, Yamauchi knew that another failure could put the company under. The next game had to be a huge success. That's when he went to a young upstart by the name of Shigeru Miyamoto, who programmed Donkey Kong. As we all know, DK went on to become legendary, and Shigeru Miyamoto may have had a hand in creating some other games throughout his career.
Perhaps you've heard of a couple of them.
So, what risk did Vince McMahon take that was comparable to Donkey Kong? Well, it was also something that you're probably very familiar with: a little wrestling show called WrestleMania. If Donkey Kong failed, Nintendo would have taken a major hit. And likewise, if WrestleMania flopped, there may not be a WWE today.
Though WWF was already on the rise, WrestleMania is what separated them from the pack as the major player in professional wrestling. The first WrestleMania took place in 1985, the same year that the NES was released in America.
On the other side of things, Sega was started by a man named Marty Bromley. Originally called “Standard Games,” Bromley provided and maintained coin-operated amusement machines to military bases in Hawaii. When the United States outlawed slot machines in the 1950s, and Bromley saw how popular they were in Japan, he developed a new venture to purchase slot machines from the U.S. Government and import them to Japan. The year was 1952, and he called this new project SErvice GAmes.
David Rosen: Co-founder of Sega
Across the Pacific around this same time, an Air Force pilot named David Rosen was stationed in Japan during the Korean War. After seeing the nation trying to rebuild after the devastation of World War II, Rosen started providing Japan with inexpensive portraits and photo booths used for IDs needed for work and travel. It wasn't long after that Rosen switched his focus to arcade machines. In 1964, Rosen Enterprises and Service Games merged to create SEGA Enterprises, and two years later, began creating and distributing their own, original arcade games.
World Championship Wrestling also came about because of a merge between two companies. Before the days of nationally and worldwide recognized brands like WWE, professional wrestling was broken up into territories, universally overseen by a company called the National Wrestling Alliance. After Vince McMahon broke the unwritten law and started signing stars from other territories, his company grew at an astronomic rate.
In the early 80s, one of the major wrestling companies, Georgia Championship Wrestling, began expanding into neutral territories like Ohio, and rebranded itself as World Championship Wrestling, hoping that the name change would vanquish the stigma that they were a small, region-based company. Despite garnering itself a lead over McMahon's company with its event, Starrcade, McMahon countered back by having Hulk Hogan defeat the Iron Sheik in Madison Square Garden, thus beginning the era we know as Hulkamania.
Notice a young Vince McMahon in front of a WCW backdrop.
After this, the now World Championship Wrestling had no choice but to sell their shares and their prime time slot on TBS to Vince McMahon. Fans in the south didn't go for the gimmick-based style the WWF was known for, and preferred a more realistic, athletic style. So, under pressure from TBS' founder and cable television revolutionary, Ted Turner, McMahon relented and sold his shares in WCW to Jim Crockett Promotions.
In an effort to compete against McMahon, Crockett began buying up several National Wresting Alliance territories, and regained his title of President of the NWA. But after a few years of competition, and some bad booking decisions at the hands of wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, the WWF machine became too much for Jim Crockett Promotions, and the company was bought outright by Ted Turner on October 11th, 1988.
Coincidentally, both the Console War between Nintendo and Sega, and the Monday Night War between the WWF and WCW began and ended roughly at the same times. And now that I've gotten through a brief history of the companies, let's move on to the wars themselves.
PART TWO: RUMORS OF WAR
Even though I spent a number of minutes talking about Nintendo's origins in their native Japan, I'll be focusing on Nintendo of America and Sega of America for the majority of this writing, as the United States is where most of the heat between the two companies transpired.
In case you hadn't noticed, the WWE will be the Nintendo to WCW's Sega. Nintendo released their Famicom system in the United States in 1985, remodeled, renamed, and repackaged into what we know as the Nintendo Entertainment System. Due to the over-saturation and subsequent video game crash of 1983, Nintendo smartly decided to market the NES less as a video game system and more as a toy, packaging it with the Robot Operating Buddy, aka R.O.B. (Sidenote: The WWF would later to go on to sell their product as “sports entertainment” rather than professional wrestling.)
The following year, Sega remodeled their Sega Mark III system in Japan as the Sega Master System and brought it stateside. Despite being a fine system in its own right, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone in the late 80s who actually owned one. Nintendo and the NES dominated the market with now-classic series like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, Mega Man, and many more. Sega just didn't have the library that Nintendo had, cementing the Sega Master System as a distant number two.
Switching over to wrestling, after the success of WrestleMania, the WWF was hotter than it had ever been. In much the same way that Nintendo had the best games and characters, the WWF dominated the competition. In addition to the Hulkamania craze, the WWF of the late 80s employed legends like Andre the Giant, the Ultimate Warrior, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Mr. Perfect, the Hart Foundation, and so many more.
WCW still had a decent roster with men like Ric Flair, Sting, and the Road Warriors. But for every Phantasy Star, there was a Great Football, and for every Ricky Steamboat, there's a Shockmaster. In the late 80s, people cared about characters, and the WWF's characters were larger than life.
I came in like a wrestling ball.
Nintendo was seemingly on a money train that would never stop. But with Nintendo still being a few years off from releasing their 16-bit console, Sega knew they had to strike first and beat Nintendo to the market, and they did just that with the Mega Drive, released in Japan in 1988. However, the Japanese launch of the system was met with a resounding “meh”, The system was released just one week after Super Mario Bros. 3, and with Nintendo's dominance already well established, it's safe to say that this was a very poor choice of launch day. While the system wasn't a total flop, it was far from what Sega had been hoping for.
Things were a little different for the Mega Drive when it was launched in America--redubbed the Sega Genesis--in August of 1989. Michael Katz, who was no stranger to the videogame market, having experience working at Mattell on their Intellivision, and also working for Coleco for a time, was named the President of Sega of America. His first orders of business were advertising and third-party support. Neither of which was easy to come by due to Nintendomania, so Katz, rather than trying to wrestle certain third-parties away from Nintendo, enlisted celebrities as endorsers for Sega Genesis games. These celebrities were Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, baseball manager Tommy LaSorda, fluke boxing champion Buster Douglas, and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Katz also brought on a then little known company, Electronic Arts, as a major third-party developer.
Though Katz' regime laid the groundwork for the Sega’s later success, the Genesis still only sold about a half-million units in North America. Katz wound up taking the fall, and was relieved of his duties by Tom Kalinske.
PART THREE: SHOTS FIRED
Nothing in this article parallels something more or better than the parallels between Tom Kalinske, the President of Sega of America, and Eric Bischoff, who was named Executive Vice President of WCW in 1993.
Kalinske was handpicked by Sega Enterprises President, Hayao Nakayama, to be the man to succeed Michael Katz. Despite having no previous experience in the videogame industry, Nakayama was familiar with Kalinske from his tenure at Mattell, and Nakayama chose the ambitious Kalinske because he knew he could sell Sega to a new generation.
Both Bischoff and Kalinske knew that changes were needed if they wanted to compete with the big boys, and both of them had aggressive and radical ideas. For Kalinske, his decision was to abandon Sega's original vision for the Genesis as an "arcade-at-home" machine. Sega of America dropped the price of the system, and also ditched Altered Beast as the pack-in title and replaced it with their blockbuster hit, Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic was their biggest moneymaker at the time, so negating that extra sale and dropping the price of the system meant that Kalinske was willing to take a loss in favor of getting more Genesis systems in the homes of American children.
When confronted by Ted Turner on how to compete with the WWF, Eric Bischoff, unsure of how to respond, blurted out that they should directly compete with Monday Night Raw. No one expected Turner to agree, but he did just that, giving WCW a one-hour time slot every Monday night.
On September 4th, 1995, the first episode of WCW's Monday Nitro aired live from the Mall of America. This was a genius idea, as WCW likely wouldn't have been able to pack an arena at the time, which would have made them look like an inferior product. Instead, they relied on the natural traffic of the mall to attract more and more fans to the in-ring action. WCW also had another ace up their sleeve: Lex Luger.
Luger had been a major star for the WWF for the previous two years, and had appeared on WWF television just the night before. Luger's appearance was kept so secretive that very few people outside of Bischoff and Luger themselves actually knew it was going to happen, including people in management with the company. Luger's appearance was the exclamation point that WCW needed for that first Monday Nitro, and it made the company's naysayers begin to take notice.
This was a huge breakthrough. This sent the message to the parents of gamers that Nintendo wasn't (excuse my pun) the only game in town.
One of Sega's many "Welcome to the Next Level" ads.
Prior to getting Wal Mart on board, Sega had already begun their new “Welcome to the Next Level” marketing campaign. Kalinske's new direction for the company was to try appeal to a different audience. Where Nintendo continued to market towards children, Sega marketed towards teenagers. Essentially, what these commercials were saying was “Hey, this is the 90s, and you're not a kid anymore. Come over to the more extreme side of gaming.”
The commercials themselves were fast, loud, and annoying, and often depicted a “nerd” transforming into a delinquent.
I'm pretty sure I could edit that commercial to have Slayer dubbed over it and it would have the same effect.
In an era where bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden were already grabbing a hold of America's youth, this kind of marketing was perfect. Sega was grunge, while Nintendo was overplayed pop music. The commercials were always punctuated by the trademark “Sega scream.”
I don't know what it is about that scream, but it's one of the most iconic pieces of video game history (seriously, go back to the end of the video if you missed it the first time). It's amazing how a simple two-syllable scream could cement itself into the minds of so many kids of the early 90s. "Welcome to the Next Level" was genius marketing, because not only did they capture the minds of teenagers, but it would have a trickle-down effect. As someone who has an older brother, I can say from experience that everything my brother thought was cool, I thought was cool, too. When Sega caught on with the teenage crowds, they got the little brothers and sisters as well.
Another thing Sega had going for them was their acceptance of mature content. Nintendo edited out the extreme violence of Mortal Kombat, but Sega left all the blood-gushing, spine-ripping glory intact. And due to the power of Sega's newly-released add-on, the Sega CD, we received games like Night Trap, which featured full-motion video and therefore depicted a more realistic type of violence, much to the chagrin of parents and politicians.
This led to the Senate hearings on videogame violence, which were co-moderated by Connecticut Senator, enemy of video games and world's biggest prude, Joseph Lieberman. Representing Nintendo of America was Howard Lincoln, who, in my opinion, did more harm than good.
Center: Howard Lincoln denouncing Sega. Right: Sega's Bill White not giving a crap.
Lincoln said all the right things to the Senate. He painted Nintendo as a clean-cut, family-oriented company while simultaneously portraying Sega as an enemy to the purity of America's youth. The reason I say he did more harm than good here is because I know that I, as an 8-year-old at the time, wanted games like Mortal Kombat to remain uncensored. This was the Beavis and Butt-Head generation. Burps and farts were--and still are--hilarious, and violence in games was, at the risk of sounding like a horrible person, awesome! At this point, Sega had taken over the majority share of the video game market, and were firmly planted in the driver seat.
After the debut of Monday Nitro, WCW was still a distant second-place to the WWF. Slowly but surely, though, they began to gain traction. The next shocking stunt orchestrated by Eric Bischoff came on the December 18th, 1995 episode of Monday Nitro. Just three-and-a-half months after Lex Luger appeared on both shows in back-to-back days, Alundra Blayze, who was the WWF's women's champion at the time, crashed WCW's commentator's booth, said some disparaging words about her now former employer, and dropped her WWF Women's Title in the trash on live television.
This was a much different situation than with Lex Luger. Where Luger simply appeared on WCW television while still seemingly under WWF contract, Alundra Blayze, at the request of Bischoff, took personal shots against the WWF, insulting the legacy of the women's title in the process.
Something was obviously going on behind the scenes, and that became even more obvious on the May 27th, 1996 edition of Monday Nitro.
If Lex Luger and Alundra Blayze were a one-two combo, then Scott Hall was the right hook that rang the WWF's bell. Scott Hall was known as Razor Ramon in the WWF, and was one of their top stars. When he showed up on Nitro, he insinuated that he had been sent by the WWF, and hinted that others would be following him. Only the latter part of that statement was true, as former WWF Champion Diesel, now under his real name of Kevin Nash, made his debut shortly after Hall.
Collectively, Hall and Nash became known to WCW fans as The Outsiders, and they began terrorizing Eric Bischoff's on-screen character. Things continued to heat up, with the Outsiders hinting that there was a third member, and eventually a match was set for WCW's Bash at the Beach pay-per-view between The Outsiders and their mystery third member vs. Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger.
As the match wound down and things were looking pretty grim for team WCW, the immortal Hulk Hogan made his way to the ring to save his longtime friend, Randy Savage. But then, in a move that shocked the world, Hulk Hogan revealed that he was, in fact, the third Outsider.
For those of you who don't know much about pro wrestling history, the reason this was so controversial is because Hulk Hogan was the ultimate good guy. He was to pro wrestling what Superman is to superheroes. He was incorruptible, unbeatable, and even though he was beginning to wear out his welcome, everyone who grew up during the Hulkamania era forever have a place in their heart reserved for the red and yellow.
But now, he's a bad guy? This is the guy that encouraged us to say our prayers and eat our vitamins, and now...he's a bad guy? Hall and Nash, along with the newly monikered Hollywood Hogan began a hostile takeover of WCW, and christened themselves the New World Order, or the nWo for short.
In that moment, the entire culture of professional wrestling changed. Suddenly, it was cool to cheer for the bad guys. Kids began wearing nWo t-shirts to school, and WCW's Monday Nitro became must-see television. Eric Bischoff's idea of turning Hulk Hogan heel (wrestling jargon for bad guy) and forming the nWo had the same effect that Sega's "Welcome to the Next Level" campaign had: it appealed to a more mature audience.
The WWF at the time was still full of over-the-top characters, and fans were beginning to grow weary of the cookie-cutter image the company had in the exact same manner that Nintendo fans were getting tired of the squeaky-clean games that featured Mario and Link.
In addition to all the cartoon characters running around the ring, Vince McMahon was still set in the ways of old, where you had to have clear-cut babyfaces (good guys), and clear-cut heels. The nWo changed all that. Now, instead of having black and white, we had multiple shades of gray. Being a bad guy was now cool. The week after Kevin Nash debuted in June 1996, WCW beat WWF in the Monday Night Ratings War, a war that they would win for 84 consecutive weeks.
Another way Sega and WCW paralleled one another was that they each took personal shots and degraded their competition. One of the most famous phrases coined by Sega could be found in tv ads and magazine spreads: "Genesis Does What Nintendon't." Eric Bischoff went as far as issuing Vince McMahon an open invitation to a fight on one of WCW's pay-per-view events. Not only that, but at the time, Monday Night Raw was pre-recorded, and Eric Bischoff would order his commentary team to give the results of Raw live on Monday Nitro as a way to prevent people from switching channels.
At one point in time, it seemed that both Sega and WCW were going to topple their mighty foes. How could it go wrong? If history has taught us anything, it's that every great empire eventually collapses.
PART FIVE: PRIDE COMES BEFORE THE FALL
If I had to quickly summarize why both Sega and WCW collapsed, I would put it this way: bad decision, after bad decision, after bad decision. In Sega's case, a lot of the bad decisions were coming from Sega of Japan, who, despite giving Kalinske free reign to run Sega of America how he wanted, still had veto power to shoot down any decisions they didn't like. And those decisions led to their ultimate downfall. With WCW, it's a little more extreme. From all the books and interviews I've read, and all the shoot videos I've watched, it seemed as though nobody in management had any clue that they were running a professional wrestling company.
Former Sega CEO: Hayao Nakayama
Sega released the Sega CD in North America on October 15th, 1992. It received positive reviews upon release, but over time, it lost its support from fans and critics. The library of games released for it wasn't the best, and the upgrade it provided to the Genesis just wasn't significant enough. Despite that, the Sega CD was still a decent enough success and it didn't deter people from buying the Genesis. Don't get me wrong, there are some great games on the Sega CD, but the add-on was far from being the Nintendo killer Sega hoped it would be.
The Sega Genesis was pulling further and further away from the Super Nintendo, and Tom Kalinske didn't see any reason to release a new console when his 16-bit monster was still on top of the sales charts. But when it came to the hardware side of things, Mr. Kalinske had no say whatsoever. Sega of Japan handled all development of new hardware, and they were hard at work on a new system, which they dubbed Project Saturn.
The moment Project Saturn found its way to the desk of Sega of America employees, red flags went up. I'm not very smart when it comes to hardware, but from what I gather, the Saturn was made with lots of processors and chips that had no right being in the same shell together. It would be expensive and hard to program for, which would be bad for everyone involved.
Joe Miller was the head of Research and Development at Sega of America, and he approached Kalinsk,e letting him know why the Saturn was such a bad idea. In an interview with IGN, Kalinske said the following:
"We went down the road to Silicon Graphics and met with [SGI founder] Jim Clark. They had bought MIPS Technologies, and they were developing a chipset for use in a game machine. We liked it, so we called up the Japanese guys to come take a look at it. The hardware guys came over, and they really pooh-poohed the whole effort. The chip was too big; there would be too much waste; lots of objections from a technical standpoint. It was upsetting to us, because we thought it was better in terms of speed, graphics, and audio. So after we had this meeting, I had to report back to Jim Clark, who was then Chairman of Silicon Graphics and tell him that SEGA wasn't going to be buying, and he asked, 'Well, what should I do now?' and I said, 'Well, there's this other game company up in the Seattle area. I think their name starts with an N.' And of course, he did. He went up there and sold it to them, and that, of course, became the foundation for the Nintendo 64."
Kalinske then approached Sony, who he'd had a good relationship with, about working on a new CD-based system as a joint Sega-Sony project. The deal sounded great to everyone at Sega of America and Sony, but Hayao Nakayama, the CEO of Sega and the only man whose opinion ultimately mattered, shot it down without mercy. Sega was going with their original Saturn design whether Sega of America liked it or not.
And now we need to talk about what was Sega's biggest blunder during the 16-bit generation: The 32X. Two 32-bit systems had already hit the market, the 3DO and the Atari Jaguar. Neither was very impressive, but Sega couldn't stand the feeling of not being at the forefront of the gaming market. With the Sega Saturn still a ways off, the Japanese side of the company wanted to release a new version of the Genesis, one that would be inexpensive and with improved video capabilities.
Joe Miller stepped in once more with a very noble argument. He felt that if Sega was going to update the Genesis, then the update needed to be made available for all Genesis owners and not just those willing to purchase a new system. The 32X would also allow Sega and other developers to get some experience developing for 32-bit systems.
Welcome to the 90s, where math isn't real.
The 32X was released in North America on November 21st, 1994, and while it had a fairly successful launch, demand died down rather quickly. Developers didn't want to make games for an add-on when they knew that the Sega Saturn and its contemporaries were close at hand. Sega tried to fix an unbroken product, and in the process, lost a lot of goodwill from fans.
WCW was riding high after the successful reveal of Hulk Hogan as the head of the New World Order. So how could things possibly go wrong? Here's a quick professional wrestling lesson for the uninitiated. There are certain criteria that need to be met in order to ensure the longevity of your company. Perhaps the two most important things are 1) create new stars that fans want to see, and 2) provide fresh and interesting storylines.
Pictured: a future household name.
In 1996, when the nWo first hit the scene, the WWF was already in the process of creating new stars. Guys like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Triple H complimented the already established main event roster of talent like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and the Undertaker. Despite having a far superior under-card roster, WCW never gave pushes to the wrestlers that fans wanted to see. For years, fans wanted guys like Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio Jr, Chris Jericho and so many others get their big break. But we never got it. Instead, we had to watch guys who were past their prime fall over each other in very weak main event matches.
Don't get me wrong, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, they're all legends, but by the time they wrestled in WCW, they were all well past the age of being able to put on a 5-star match. Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper was an amazing main event...in 1985, but not so much in 1998. Luckily for WCW, the nWo was hot enough to sustain their superiority in the ratings over the WWF for all of 1997, but over time, the fans grew tired of the same wrestlers competing for the same titles in bad matches.
It was the best of times.
WCW slowly saw their lead in the ratings dwindle, and in early 1998, the WWF got their first ratings victory over WCW in well over a year. World Championship Wrestling needed a fresh face, and that fresh face came in the form of Bill Goldberg.
Goldberg was awesome, and for a lifelong WWF fan, he was a reason for me to want to change channels. Goldberg went undefeated in his first 173 matches, which was an embellishment, but nevertheless, the guy didn't lose for a very long time. But Goldberg did more than just beat his opponents, he straight up murdered them. Few of his matches lasted longer than a minute or two. This was done to show how dominant he was, but also to mask the fact that he was still very new to the wrestling business and was still learning the ropes. Goldberg had the streak, the catchphrase, the chant (GOOOLDBERG), the entrance (my God, that entrance), he had everything This guy was a star. And fans wanted to see him take Hogan down, who was WCW champion at the time.
The problem here was that Eric Bischoff didn't care about his company making money, he only cared about his company beating Vince McMahon in the ratings on Monday nights. Because of their first loss in the ratings in quite some time, Bischoff panicked and provided the company with a quick-fix. It was a peace offering, and while it was a great Tuesday morning for WCW when the Nielson Ratings were released, it wound up backfiring on them immensely.
It was announced that Bill Goldberg would face Hulk Hogan on the July 6th, 1998 edition of Monday Nitro, live from the Georgia Dome.
The image of Goldberg holding up the both the WCW Heavyweight and U.S. titles is one of the most iconic in wrestling history. Goldberg pinned Hulk Hogan clean, in the middle of the ring, in his home state of Georgia, to win the WCW Championship. So, why is that a bad thing?
Because Eric Bischoff was so desperate to get one victory over WWF that he gave away what would have been the biggest match of the year for free. Goldberg was so over with fans and Hogan so hated, that if Bischoff would have waited a few weeks and booked the match for the following pay-per-view, there's a good chance that the buyrate for that event would have been the biggest in wrestling history. Instead, they aired it on live television, for free, and received no money from it.
The 32X was a bad decision for Sega. Booking Hogan vs. Goldberg on live television was a bad idea for WCW. Sega tried to fix what wasn't broken, and WCW didn't realize there was a crack in their armor until it was unable to be repaired. Before we continue to point out other mistakes that were made by both companies, let's back up a little bit chronologically and touch on something else the Monday Night Wars and the Console Wars had in common: an unforeseen third combatant.
PART SIX: A NEW CHALLENGER APPROACHES
Recently, a prototype of what was dubbed the “Nintendo Playstation” surfaced (pictured above). It was a very hot topic in the gaming community. Lo and behold, the thing actually turned on. We now had a working prototype of a system that had only been spoken about and never shown to the public. So, what was this thing? Well, it's exactly what it sounds like.
In the late 1980s, Nintendo and Sony were in talks to collaborate on a new video game system which utilized both cartridge slots and Sony's CD-Rom technology. However, the two companies couldn't see eye-to-eye with one another about licenses and royalties, and at CES 1991, one day after Sony had announced their collaboration with Nintendo, Nintendo themselves took the stage and announced their new partnership...with Phillips.
This news was shocking to everyone, including Sony, who had no idea what Nintendo had been planning. We can debate about whether or not Nintendo and Sony would have fared better than Nintendo and Phillips, which ultimately resulted in the Phillips CD-i. The CD-i was a disaster, so history says that, yes, it likely would have been a much better idea for Nintendo to partner with Sony instead, but since it never happened, we can't definitively say one way or the other.
The only notable things that came about from the Nintendo-Phillips partnership were a bad Mario game and three bad Zelda games. Nintendo quickly swept the partnership under the rug, and the CD-i remains a video game trivia question to this day.
I mentioned in the last section that Tom Kalinske tried to work something out with Sony in the aftermath of Sony's fallout with Nintendo, but those at Sega of Japan wanted no part of it. So, what was Sony to do? They had the technology and a prototype, they had spent a lot of time and resources to create the Playstation, it would be a shame to let it go to waste. There remained only one option: go into business for themselves.
It wound up being a pretty good idea.
After a couple years of years of reworking the system, Sony was set to unveil their new vision for the Playstation. The Sega Saturn was originally set to launch on September 2nd, 1995 in North America, with the Sony Playstation debuting a week later. However, Sega, once again, wanted to be first to the market. So, in May of 1995, at the first ever Electronic Entertainment Expo, Tom Kalinske took the stage and shocked the world by telling them that the Sega Saturn would be released much earlier than September 2nd. In fact, it was launching that very day. While this certainly generated a lot of buzz and excitement about the Saturn, it hurt Sega in the long run. Not only were certain retailers left in the dark--the most notable being KB Toys, who decided to never carry the Saturn for that reason--but many third-party game developers were upset that their titles would no longer meet the launch window of the console. Additionally, the Saturn cost $399 in North America. All of these factors led to Sony giving both the shortest and best presentation in E3 history.
That was it. Steve Race took the stage to talk about the Sony Playstation, but all he needed to say was one simple number: 299. Sony had undercut their competition by $100. After everything that happened between Sony with both Nintendo and Sega, this presentation showed everyone that Sony wasn't content with just being part of a friendly competition, they came to win. And they did just that. Before the system was discontinued, the Sony Playstation sold 102 million units worldwide, tripling the amount of Nintendo 64s sold, and over 10 times more than what the Sega Saturn would sell. Sony had established itself as a major player in the Console Wars.
The Sony Playstation emerged victorious because they had something to prove and pulled no punches. They were at the forefront of technology, and up to that point, no games looked like Playstation games. We had never seen anything like this before. You know what else we had never seen before? Guys being powerbombed through flaming tables. While it didn't start off as a wrestling promotion dedicated to extreme violence, Philadelphia-based Eastern Championship Wrestling (which would later become Extreme Championship Wrestling), emerged from the ashes of the National Wrestling Alliance.
The best way to compare the Playstation and ECW is that they were the “misfits” of their respective businesses. Sony had been dumped by Nintendo and shot down by Sega, so they did things their own way. Likewise, ECW consisted of wrestlers that had quit or been fired by the WWF and WCW, or just wrestlers that no other company wanted, so the evil genius known as Paul Heyman pooled them all together, and they did things their own way. It was unconventional, it was offensive, and it was great.
While ECW didn't wind up destroying their competition like the Playstation did, the part that ECW played in the Monday Night Wars had just as big of an impact on the industry, the similarities are more than just the fact that they were a third-army in an already established war.
Whereas Nintendo and Sony were originally partnered up for the Playstation, likewise, ECW and the WWF had a short, inter-promotional collaboration. ECW wrestlers appeared ringside at WWF's King of the Ring pay-per-view, which led to a scuffle, which, in turn, led to ECW matches appearing on Monday Night Raw, WWF wrestlers appearing at ECW events, and an inter-promotional partnership with ECW and Jerry Lawler's company, the USWA. Vince McMahon even allowed ECW to promote their first pay-per-view event, Barely Legal, on WWE television. The collaboration between the two companies didn't last much longer after ECW's Barely Legal event, but what it did was show fans that there was a more adult-oriented wrestling show to those that had grown sick of the cartoony world of professional wrestling.
A lot of wrestlers that would go on to become huge stars got their first big break in America by wrestling for ECW. Both the WWF and WCW would eventually lure talent away from ECW, but where WWF took Steve Austin and the Dudley Boys and made him into huge stars, WCW signed legends like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, Dean Malenko, and so many others, but never gave them the spotlight. Despite Guerrero and Mysterio having one of the most incredible matches ever at WCW's Halloween Havoc pay-per-view, they would still be forced to do stupid things like Rey having to remove his mask and Guerrero doing shoot-fake-shoot promos in the ring. And despite Chris Jericho eventually garnering incredible heat in a feud with Goldberg, the feud was squashed before it could live up to its true potential.
ECW may not have come close to WWF or WCW, but there are lots of people who think that at one point in time, they were the number two company in wrestling. I have a lot of friends who told me that ECW is what either got them into wrestling, or got them back into wrestling after they had grown bored of the current product.
ECW officially closed its doors in 2000, and while I glossed over much of the company's history, there are great documentaries about the company if you want to delve a little deeper, and I would suggest that you do. ECW may never have had a chance to take over the wrestling world, but what they offered was the kick-in-the-pants that the WWF needed in order to finally defeat WCW. And that kick-in-the-pants is what we now refer to as the Attitude Era.
PART SEVEN: SHOOTING THEMSELVES IN THE FOOT
Unless you were involved in the gaming industry or worked for WCW, you probably had no idea that both Sega and WCW were falling apart at the seams. For Sega, it was in large part due to the poor decisions made by Sega of Japan regarding the Saturn. The thing bombed hard. And in WCW's case, it can best be summed up by the saying “The inmates were running the asylum.” There were wrestlers under contract that received guaranteed money that never made an appearance at WCW events, and men like Hulk Hogan had creative control of their characters written into their contracts, meaning that Hogan had veto power over any idea that WCW writers presented to him that he didn't care for. If you’re in charge of a wrestling company, you have to be in control, and Eric Bischoff had lost any semblance of control in the late 90s.
Though we did get one of the best wrestling games of all-time out of the whole ordeal.
The Monday Night Wars era was undoubtedly the biggest boom period that the professional wrestling business has ever seen. At the time, I was in middle school, and it was impossible to go an entire day without seeing one of my classmates wearing a t-shirt adorned with images of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the nWo, or Degeneration-X. We would spend entire class periods with each other debating who was better? WWF or WCW? Well, the year of 1999 settled that debate once and for all.
Behind the scenes, Eric Bischoff seemed to only be concerned about his top guys, guys like Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash. The only problem is that Bischoff's top guys were not the guys that fans wanted to see at the top. WCW finally had a certified, homegrown star in Bill Goldberg, and despite the folly of giving away their biggest match on national television, WCW still had a wave of momentum.
But at the tail end of 1998, at WCW's Starrcade pay-per-view, they made one of the worst booking mistakes in wrestling history: they ended the streak. With the outside interference of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash defeated Goldberg for the WCW Championship. It may not have been a clean victory, but the streak was officially over. The air of invincibility surrounding Goldberg was now gone. The man who had been undefeated in 173 straight matches was only able to hold on to the WCW title for a measly 5 months.
When the year 1999 rolled around, WCW was still making tons of money. They were back in second place, but they were still a strong competitor, and you always had the feeling that they could retake the lead at any moment. Their ratings were still great, merchandise was flying off the shelves, and the buyrates for their pay-per-view events were off the charts. By the time 1999 ended, however, WCW was a sinking ship. But even in 1998, storylines and angles had become so convoluted that it was hard to keep track. Kevin Nash had split from nWo to form nWo Wolfpac, and Hogan's nWo would now be referred to as nWo Hollywood. The two factions had been feuding with one another since the split in April 1998, and Scott Hall, Nash's former tag partner, had sided with nWo Hollywood, making his interference in the Goldberg/Nash match all the more confusing.
Following the controversial finish at Starrcade, Kevin Nash came to the ring the next night on Monday Nitro and expressed dissatisfaction with Scott Hall interfering in the match. Nash offered Goldberg a rematch on Nitro the following week. The match was set for January 4th, 1999, and it turned out to be the catalyst that ultimately led to WCW's downfall.
Wait for it...
But before we get to that pivotal episode of Monday Nitro, let's switch gears back to the Console Wars. In a similar fashion to the way WCW didn't give you the wrestlers you wanted to see, Sega made the same mistake on the Sega Saturn. The Genesis exploded in popularity in large part to the introduction of Sonic the Hedgehog and the realistic sports simulations developed by Electronic Arts. Due to the negative publicity the Sega Saturn had garnered, EA had banked on the 3DO, and when that didn't work the way they wanted, the switched to the Playstation.
Now Sega was left without one of the strongest pillars in their foundation. And, more shockingly, the Sega Saturn never had a Sonic the Hedgehog game. At least, not a true one. What we did get was a version of Sonic 3D Blast, a Genesis compilation called Sonic Jam, and a terrible racing game, Sonic R.
How could Sega not be ready with a true Sonic game for the Saturn? Can you imagine a Nintendo console without a Mario game? Say what you will about Nintendo, but when they release a console, you know that their franchises will be prominently featured. Every Nintendo console, home or handheld, will feature Mario games, Legend of Zelda games, Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros., Kirby, and the list goes on. While some fans express dissatisfaction with Nintendo returning to the well so often, most fans (including myself) come back to Nintendo time and time again because those are the games that we want. Sega didn't do that with the Saturn, and it's one of the main reasons the console failed.
And now, let's get back to wrestling. It's hard to point a finger at one particular event that started the downward spiral for WCW. As I mentioned, despite being back in second place in the ratings, WCW was still extremely profitable in 1999. But if I had to point a finger at anything, it would be just that, a finger. It's an event that has become infamous and is referred to by fans of wrestling as "The Fingerpoke of Doom."
No, not that finger.
January 4th, 1999. WCW Monday Nitro, live from the Georgia Dome, the same arena where Goldberg first won the WCW Title. This was going to be huge! A rematch for the title that Goldberg was cheated out of just a week ago? How could that not be a surefire hit? Well, it would have been, if Goldberg actually wrestled that night. Halfway through that episode of Nitro, the angle played out that Goldberg was arrested after being accused by Miss Elizabeth of “aggravated stalking.”
So, did that mean the match was canceled? No, of course not. Hulk Hogan appeared and took Goldberg's place in the match, even though Hogan had retired for the third time just a month prior. The two men met in the ring, circled each other, and then...
Kevin Nash took his biggest bump since coming to WCW, and let Hogan pin him, winning the title, and reuniting the New World Order. On the surface, this seemed like a great idea. But so many things were done wrong here.
1). Why would you involve your biggest babyface and most profitable star in a storyline where he's being accused of illegal activity? He's a good guy!
2). Secondly, this was the exact same type of swerve they used at the formation of the nWo, so it wasn't particularly surprising.
3). Thirdly, after the match was over, Goldberg hits the ring and proceeds to get absolutely pummeled and embarrassed by the nWo, making their big star look incredibly weak.
4). And finally, WCW commentator Tony Schiavone explained to everyone why they shouldn't change the channel to Monday Night Raw. At the time, Raw was pre-recorded, and WCW would give away the results on live television. This is what Mr. Schiavone had to say.
Remember how Sega fans wanted a Sonic game on the Saturn and didn't get one? But Nintendo had all of their top franchises represented? Well, WCW fans wanted to see Goldberg regain his title, but they didn't get that. Fans were sick of seeing the same guys taking the top spots. WWF, on the other hand, were giving fans the wrestlers they wanted. They wanted Steve Austin, they wanted The Rock, and, at that point in time, they wanted nothing more than to see Mick Foley win the WWF Title.
To this day, it's a moment that still gives me goosebumps.
When Tony Schiavone gave away the ending to Monday Night Raw, according to the Nielsen ratings for that evening, hundreds of thousands of wrestling fans switched from Nitro to Raw, giving the WWF another decisive victory.
In a very dumbed down comparison, the “Fingerpoke of Doom” was WCW's Saturn.
PART EIGHT: SWAN SONGS
Following the “Fingerpoke of Doom” incident, WCW continued to absolutely bleed money. At the time, WCW had guaranteed contracts for wrestlers that never appeared on WCW television, and not only that, but they spent millions of dollars a year just on flying wrestlers to their shows. The roster at the time was well over 100 people, maybe only a quarter of which would actually appear on that night's card. That's a lot of money to use on men and women to sit around doing nothing.
Case in point.
As I've mentioned on more than one occasion throughout this article, Eric Bischoff was more concerned about winning the ratings war on a week-to-week basis than he was putting a quality product on television that evening. His next bright idea was to bring in high-price celebrities and musicians only to have WWF still crush them in the ratings for that quarter-hour.
He paid boxing announcer Michael Buffer six-figures just to show up and say his famous, five-word catchphrase, which I won’t repeat here in fear of a lawsuit. He paid rapper Master P $200,000 per appearance. He paid Master P's buddy, Swoll, a $400,000 contract to wrestle all of 3 matches for the company. And, in keeping with his ideology of overpaying for talent way past their prime, he even brought in the bands Megadeth and Kiss for a couple of pretty pennies.
So many different emotions captured in just one picture.
In September of 1999, Eric Bischoff was relieved of his position at WCW. Acting Vice President Bill Busch looked to rival WWF to steal away Vince Russo, the company's head writer for the past two years. Russo had helped WWF retake the lead in the ratings, and Busch decided to make him the man in charge. Things only got worse from there. For every great angle he wrote for the WWF, he wrote an equally bad one for WCW. He had plans to make UFC fighter, Tank Abbott, the WCW champion, he continuously booked wrestlers to film “fake shoot” promos, which resulted in both fans and wrestlers not knowing if it was supposed to be a “fake” or a “shoot,” and as a way to gain publicity, he booked not only himself as champion, but also B-level actor David Arquette as champion. You heard me right, at one point in time, the same title that had been held by Ric Flair, was held by David Arquette.
I wasn't kidding.
Meanwhile, Tom Kalinske had grown increasingly frustrated with the direction Sega was going and the decision-making going on from the higher-ups at Sega of Japan. So much so that he resigned from the company in 1996. His replacement was former Sony employee, Bernie Stolar.
Kalinske and Bischoff had led their respective companies to heights they had never seen before and would never see again. In addition to that, both men were replaced by employees of rival companies.
Unless you had experienced them first-hand, it's hard to put into perspective just how easily things could be different right now. Perhaps Nintendo and the WWF would still be around these days in some capacity, but at one point in time, both companies were in deep water with no signs of a life raft. After the Playstation came in and dismantled the competition, Sega fired back in 1999 with the Dreamcast. Still regarded as one of the best game consoles of all-time, the Dreamcast should have been the device that saved Sega's hopes of staying in the console market. However, the Dreamcast was so ahead of its time that it was providing gamers with experiences that we didn't know that we wanted. Because of that, and with the Playstation 2 on its way, the Dreamcast went out in a blaze of glory, producing some of Sega's best and most unique games to date.
As for WCW, after the release of Bischoff, they hired Vince Russo, then fired Vince Russo, then hired Kevin Sullivan, then fired Kevin Sullivan, then hired both Bischoff and Russo again. Obviously, no one knew what to do with the company, and just a little over two years after the "Fingerpoke of Doom," WCW aired its final event on March 26th, 2001, after Vince McMahon bought out the company. The final match in a WCW ring was between none other than two of the men that had been there from the start: Sting and Ric Flair. It was a fitting swan song for the once mighty WCW empire.
If you’ve forgotten or missed any of the comparisons I’ve made throughout this article, or if you decided just to skip to this section, I’ll give you a brief rundown of all of the similarities I discovered when studying the history of the Console Wars and the Monday Night Wars.
- Nintendo and World Wrestling Entertainment both began as small, family-owned companies.
- For both companies, the second-generation owner changed the name of the company, and the third-generation owner revolutionized their business.
- Both owners took big risks that would either make or break their company (Donkey Kong/WrestleMania)
- Both Sega and World Championship Wrestling were formed due to a merge between two companies (Rosen Enterprises and Service Games/GCW and Jim Crockett Promotions)
- After the 1983 videogame crash, Nintendo marketed their gaming system as a toy, the WWE eventually stopped selling their product as “pro wrestling” and opted to sell it as “sports entertainment.”
- Nintendo had the best games and WWE had the best wrestlers, Sega had standout titles but nothing amazing and WCW had great wrestlers, but they weren't on the same level as WWF.
- Tom Kalinske and Eric Bischoff took over their respective companies and completely revived their struggling brands.
- Both companies took the same approach of attempting to appeal to a more mature audience by being more edgy, while the WWF and Nintendo continued to be clean-cut, family entertainment.
- Sega and WCW both took public shots at their competition, whereas Nintendo and WWF rarely even acknowledged their foes.
- Sony was to gaming what ECW was to wrestling, and the emergence of a third competitor eventually led to the demise of both WCW and Sega. Sega couldn't compete any longer, and ECW helped WWF get the killer instinct they needed.
- At one point in time, Nintendo was in a partnership with Sony. The WWF and ECW also had a working relationship for a period of time.
- Both WCW and Sega used gimmicks as ways to attract fans (32X/old stars and musical acts)
- WWF and Nintendo introduced new stars (Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley/F-Zero, Star Fox, Donkey Kong Country) when fans began to cry out for new faces.
- WWF and Nintendo pushed the wrestlers and games we wanted to see, while Sega never released a Saturn Sonic game and WCW held back up-and-coming stars.
- The Saturn's surprise launch created a rift with developers and retailers, the "Fingerpoke of Doom" insulted fans.
- Tom Kalinske resigned from Sega and was replaced by a competitor's employee (Bernie Stolar from Sony), Eric Bischoff was relieved of his duties and was likewise replaced by a former competitor (Vince Russo from WWF)
- Both Sega and WCW had roughly a 2-3 year period where they were unquestionably on top of the market.
- And despite the fact that both the Console Wars and the Monday Night Wars already had decided victors, Sega announced their decision to leave the console market on January 31st, 2001, and less than 2 months later, Vince McMahon bought out World Championship Wrestling.
Thanks for reading, and God bless you.
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