The Rise and Fall of Sega

Published Jun 11, 2024

Hello! Can you tell us who you are and what you do?

Greetings to everyone! I’m Blake Harris, a USA Today Bestselling author and I’ve written Console Wars and History of the Future. I’m a writer by trade, and I’ve written for many publications including ESPN, IGN, Fast Company, SlashFilm, Complex and The AV Club. Aside from these commercial content roles, I also used to be in the How Did This Get Made? Podcast and wrote screenplays on the side as well.

Console Wars is all about how Sega, an underdog gaming company back in the dawn of the era of video games, took on the industry giant Nintendo. It details how Tom Kalinske, the then-CEO of Sega of America, miraculously turned an industry punch line into a market leader. And if you’re interested in learning more about the retro days and old Sega of America, I highly recommend giving Console Wars a read!

What games do you like to play?

I guess it would be almost on brand, but it's, you know, I play a lot of retro stuff. I've been playing the original Legend of Zelda, and that's what I've been playing mostly lately on my Switch. I haven’t been playing a lot of new stuff these days as I'm working on this new book. But, yeah, I've been playing a lot of Zelda and a lot of Mario Brothers 3, so I've been playing the same stuff for basically 30 years at this point.

For people who are younger than us, it's hard to remember a world without the internet. And it was so hard to know where to go and where to find these levels in Zelda. Unless you had Nintendo Power, it was almost impossible. I remember being in my neighbor's house, and we had actually gotten to level two, and then his mom turned off the game, and I started crying because we hadn't saved it or I didn't think it was saved properly.  It really was a different time back then.

Did you play any Sega games?

That’s a great question. I think that anyone who reads the book or sees the documentary Console Wars can probably tell that while I try to give each side an equal amount of respect, I definitely find the Sega story more fascinating, which I think is normal because it's the underdog story and has a lot of dynamic characters employees there. And I was sort of team Sega growing up. What happened for me, which is probably what happened with a lot of people, was that I loved the NES. I loved playing Zelda and Mario 3, and then I obviously wanted a Super Nintendo when it came out in late 1991. But my parents wouldn't buy it for me and my brother because it didn't offer backward compatibility, which sort of makes sense now.

But at the time, my parents were like, we had spent hundreds of dollars on Nintendo games. We're not getting a new system, and so they got us a Sega Genesis. And to answer your question more specifically, I loved all the sports games. I still love the sports games. NHL 94 is probably my favorite game of all time, but I need to actually boot up the console to play that since you can't play that game on the Switch.

I've been playing more Nintendo games and Sega games lately, but I have been watching the Knuckles show on Paramount. I love the actor Adam Pally, so I've been enjoying that.

How did you shift from playing video games to being an author?

It was life-changing for me because out of college—I graduated in 2005—I knew I wanted to be a writer, whether I was bouncing between trying to be a screenwriter and trying to be an author, failing miserably at both. But I still spent my entire twenties trying to do both. And then while I was doing that, I had a day job trading commodities for Brazilian clients. I was working at the Rockefeller Center in New York, trading sugar, coffee and soybeans by day.

One of my favorite things about the job, in addition to the people I worked with, was that the market closed at 2:15 PM. So I'd have, like, 2:45 until 11:00 PM to work on writing and playing games and stuff. And then at some point along the way, I just became interested in what I guess I should say are my favorite types of books to read around that time, and are now known as behind-the-scenes business stories. So, thinking back on video games of our youth, I was just wondering, what were the behind-the-scenes stories going on about Sega, Nintendo, Atari and all that.

I went to a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan, and I was looking for the video game history section. Then I looked by the music history section and the film history section, and I was shocked that there was not only any section of the store for video games, but there was also no single book in the entire store about gaming, and I confirmed that with the woman on the information desk. I thought that was weird. 

I can't say that I left Barnes & Noble’s thinking like, “Aha, I'm going to fill that demand!” But that's sort of what got my mind going. And I should also say that there were some books that had been written. I'm not the first person to write a book about video games with history.

Video games, I guess, weren't popular enough or stocked enough to be carried. But, like, David Sheff's book, Game Over is fantastic. Stephen Kent's History of Video Games is also fantastic. So my work is built on top of their work as well, and I just wanted to point that out.

But I was just really curious about what had happened with Sega and Nintendo. David Sheff's book sort of ends in, like, 1992, and talks about how there's this new hedgehog called Sonic arriving, and there's this new thing called, the World Wide Web that's coming and multimedia. And so in some ways, I sort of thought of my book as a sequel to that.

How did Sega surpass Nintendo? And then how did it seemingly fall apart for Sega? That's how I got into writing at that point. I had never published an article. I had never done anything like that. You know, my co-director Jonah Tulis and I, who I did the Console Wars doc with, were screenwriters, and again, failed screenwriters. So that was the only kind of writing I was doing. But I just got so fascinated by the Sega-Nintendo story, and I started interviewing people, which I had never done before, and started putting it all together, and eventually, it led to the Console Wars book.

Who did you reach out to?

Well, the most well-known among them is Tom Kalinske, but it was a long process to get to him, and all the people who I talked to before him were as just as significant to the whole story. As I'm sure every podcaster and interviewer knows, it's hard to get people to say yes. It's hard to even find their contact information. So at that point, when I reached out to people, I didn’t have a podcast, I didn’t have a real company. Their contact info was hard to find. And so I had an even lower success rate.

So one of the most helpful tools right now is a tool that I made a lot of fun of and still kind of make a lot of fun of, which is LinkedIn. The thing is, like, there are some relevant messages from LinkedIn that I want to get by email, so I don't want to send them to spam. But I get these messages almost every day from LinkedIn. And I guess my job is listed as a writer. And they're like, congratulations.

Back in 2010, I searched for Sega, and thousands of people came up, and I just saw what years these people worked there. And for anyone who was there between 89 and 98, I would reach out to. It was probably like a 10 to 15% success rate of hearing back.

But then the more people I spoke with and the better it went, they would introduce me to more people. Or at least when I'd reach out to others, I could say, oh, I talked with Al Nilsen, etcetera. So to sum it up, it was through connections and referrals that I got up the ladder and ended up talking to Tom Kalinske. When I did, it was when I finally was introduced to him, and we spent two hours talking. That first conversation, it was very clear to me early on that he's one of the most interesting men that I've ever met.

And that other than my parents, he's probably the adult that was most responsible for my childhood. Like, even just forgetting about video games. So much of what he had done in his career in the seventies up to the nineties intersected with my childhood with these touchstone moments. You know, he had been in Mattel, where he helped revive the Barbie Doll line at a time when they were uncertain what to do with it. And while I can't say I spent much of my childhood playing with Barbie, you know, he was involved with the creation of He-Man, Masters of the Universe.

Before all that, he had helped create the Flintstones Chewable Vitamins. And it was just like all these little shiny things from my childhood. He was a man behind the scenes. And not only that, but he was just one of the most charismatic and inspiring guys I'd ever spoke to. And that was evident to me within ten minutes of talking to him.

So I always just think I'm just so grateful not only that all these people spoke with me, but I guess I would say Console Wars is a great book. But I'm only partly responsible for that. 

Most of the reason I think it's a great book is because it's about incredible people like Tom Kalinske, Al Nilsen, Diane Fornasier, Peter Main, Shinobu Toyoda, Howard Lincoln and more. Like, I lucked out by getting to write about all these really fascinating people. So again, I'm very proud of the book, but I recognize that a big part of its success or a big part of why it works is not because of me as the writer, but because of the story itself just being so fascinating.

More on connecting with people

The people I mentioned earlier, like Tom Kalinske, Shinobu Toyota, Al Nilson… all these people, they're the main characters in Console Wars. They're real people and they were in their thirties and forties with families with mouths to feed. And it's kind of, you know, in retrospect, or I should say nowadays, it's not that surprising that someone would devote their career to video games because we know that it's a profitable industry. 

But back then, these people with real lives and real families had enough of a passion or enough of a belief in this industry. This new form of entertainment that they were willing to, you know, stake their whole careers on it.

To go from Barbie and He-Man and Matchbox Cars to video games nowadays sounds like a normal career trajectory for Tom Kalinske. But at the time, it could have been a disaster for him to actually invest the best years of his life at Sega. And thank God he did, because it brought a lot more joy to my childhood. But I think it just shows the point of different perspectives on gaming.

Like, I remember when I grew up, I felt like, you know, my brother and I would always play games together, and our dad sometimes would play, and he's an incredible dad. But I did get the sense that when he played with us, it was like the way a father would attend a tea party with a daughter. Like, it's not condescending, but it's more like this is a silly thing that I'm participating in. He didn't actually enjoy the games in the same way that we did, because to him, he viewed them as silly, childish things.

The significance of games to lives

If you guys remember, or for anyone who was alive in the nineties, you probably remember this notion of infotainment. And I know that the word still exists today, but we're talking about the early nineties. It's an era where there's, like, multimedia CDs coming out, and there's sort of this desire to create this Venn diagram that intersects with entertainment and education. Everyone was just uncertain how to do this, sure, there were a lot of concepts already floating around at the time, but there were assurances. Like, how do you gamify education?

I'm clearly no academic and I'm not an authority on the subject. But I think that even if you remove the desire to try to teach state capitals or teach how to do Math, there are so many lessons that you actually learn from playing a game that actually translates to other things in life. There’s the hand-eye coordination aspect, a problem-solving aspect, a curiosity aspect, and these were things that were not on the conscious mind back then.

Certainly, my parents didn't really want me and my brother to be playing video games. Like, to them, it was a waste of time. It was a fun thing to do, but they didn't see the value in the play, and I don't blame them. But the fact that they let us play is already good enough.

How did the writing process kick-off?

I told you guys that I went to a Barnes & Noble on 86th Street, Manhattan. They didn't have any video game books. That was probably the moment where it sort of clicked for me, but the other significance of that moment was that as I was writing this book, I wanted to write it in a way that could be read by a layperson.

So I think that my main contribution to the book is taking all these stories and synthesizing them in a way that anybody of any experience, whether you love games, whether you don't love games, whether you grew up with gaming or didn't, could read this book and appreciate the stories of what these people did. That was a big North Star for me.

And to be honest, my grandmother was also a major inspiration for me, like, I wanted to write something that she could read. That's sort of what would be my number one lesson for any aspiring writer out there. Or even, you know, at the end of the day, the Console Wars book, I think is really just a big love letter to marketing.

And part of the marketing is speaking to different audiences. And I think it's good to just think like, how could I get my grandma to understand the story? How can I get my grandma to care about the story? So that was true of Console Wars, that was true of History of the Future. That's true of any film that I make.

It's like, how can this complex story that I appreciate for its nuances be told in a way that someone like my grandma can understand? This is not to demean my grandmother, but she's an older woman who unfortunately passed away a couple of years ago. So I still try to think, though, what would make grandma find this story fascinating?

What was the most difficult part of writing Console Wars?

So many difficult parts. One of them was just getting access to the important people. I've always been a big believer that the people you're writing about should have the option to weigh in and help tell their story. You know, that can manifest in different forms. But I never wanted to write a book that was just a thirdhand history of the era.

I wanted to make sure to speak with everyone involved, and in the end, I was able to speak with everyone I wanted to, except for Minoru Arakawa, though I sort of spoke secondhand with him because I spoke with people he worked with. I was able to at least get to him through that way. But, yeah, I mean, getting access was incredibly difficult. And then actually writing the book was, no shock, very hard.

The book is a long book, but I hope it was designed to be a breezy read. But there are so many stories that I heard and so many things that were fascinating that I needed to figure out what should go in and what should not. I had to put in tidbits and trivia that were relevant to the narrative without going overboard but still added something significant and pleasant to read. Really, there are a lot of challenges.

Did you ever expect that your book would be adapted into a documentary?

I think that even in its earliest incarnation as an idea or as a desired project, you know, sort of an inspiration, was The Social Network. It was an inspiration in the sense that it was a story that talked about the intersection of technology, entertainment and social interaction. 

And early on, there was an idea that me and my partner, Jonah, had written a script for Console Wars, and then that sort of evolved into not happening. But, I mean, a big turning point in all of that was getting Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to be involved in the project. You know, they wrote the foreword to my book.

They also financed and produced the documentary. And so Jonah and I directed that. At one point, they were going to write the screenplay. Then it became a TV project, and then a guy named Mike Rosolio, a great screenwriter by the way, wrote a pilot. But I think early on, there was always a hope that it would have a second life in film or television.

And I think that in addition to that desire, I can't stress about how much of a failed screenwriter I was. I never sold anything. So it wasn't like that. I wouldn't even have called it a second job. It was just really a hobby. But I do think that my background in screenwriting really helped me with the structuring of the book and sort of things we were talking about earlier; figuring out what to cut versus what was relevant to a narrative versus what was just interesting to me, but probably didn't have to be in the book.

Working with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

That was a big part of the life-changing aspect of this whole project. I had met with his company, Point Grey, a year before I ever met with him for Console Wars, but it wasn't like I met with the head honchos, with Seth or Evan. But there was a creative executive there. So I had no direct relationship with him or even really with his company. But I had asked my manager at the time to send this 25-page treatment that I wrote.

That was just a 25-page overview of what I thought was fascinating about the story, and I really didn't expect anything to come from it. So it was a really big deal to hear that Seth himself wanted to meet. And then we met, and I believe it was, like, January of 2011, and by the end of that day, he and Evan had wanted to be involved in some way with the project, and then it evolved from there. But it was really a big deal. It was something, you know, I remember even being starstruck the first time that Seth.

I had never met a celebrity before. I had never talked to a celebrity before. So it was all very new for me.

So that was my lesson as an author and as a filmmaker. Just try to put yourself out there and hope it pays off. But I think a lot of what gave me the confidence to do that and helped give me some of the strategies to do that was just learning about what Sega did. You know, I essentially spent three years at the “University of Sega”, like, learning about what they did in the nineties. 

And this was a company that wasn't in a David and Goliath battle. They were a nobody, and they were trying to get people's attention. And so, you know, trying to follow some of their strategies, trying to follow some of their scrappy tactics, that was a big inspiration and guide for me.

Do you think Sega can make a comeback into the world stage like it used to?

Yeah. I mean, I think that as we learn about the film industry and TV industry, like, it's all about IPs. And I think that because Sega has Sonic, due to the efforts of the people in the Console Wars era, as well as the people who came after that era, have done such a great job with the Sonic character, that's always going to give them a foot in the door. And they do make a lot of really good games, and they make a lot of not-so-good games.

But I still have faith in Sega. I still like to see what Sega's up to.

Like, Japan is sort of the epicenter of gaming. I think that's just a big part of the history. And also one of my bigger concerns with writing the book is I'm writing about these two American companies.

Essentially, the book is about Sega of America versus Nintendo of America. But those aren't, for the most part, not even the people that are actually making the games. The games were being made in Japan, the consoles were definitely being made in Japan. And so trying to figure out how to tell that story fairly, and maybe I did, maybe I didn't, but Japan is still the holy grail of gaming.

Back then, you'd go to the store, you couldn't even get the cardboard box that had dollars in it. You had to, like at Toys R Us, you'd get a little yellow slip, and then you'd go to the back of the store and see if they have it in stock. And then if you can buy it. It was a different time back then, but I think that was part of my childhood. As a kid, I never thought that humans actually made these games, and they felt like they just came out of thin air.

I didn't think that people were making decisions about which games to make or which games to focus on or which licensing deals. Like, they just sort of appeared out of thin air. So I think that was part of what fascinated me was, like, who are the people who actually make these games? How does that process work? How do they decide what games will work for different audiences?

Was the fall of Sega really because of conflict between Sega of America and Sega of Japan?

Yeah, I do think so. You know, I think that, like, I always say that I set out to tell a book about the battle between Sega and Nintendo, but the more interesting battle that people usually forgot was the battle between Sega of America and Sega of Japan, like some sort of civil war. And it really makes a lot of sense. Like, as we talked about, the people actually making the majority of the content, especially back in the early nineties, were the people in Japan. And yet Sega was not very successful in Japan, but it was incredibly successful in America.

So if I work at Sega in Japan, I would think, like, ‘This sucks, I should be getting more credit for this!” And so it led to definitely bruised egos, but not just that, but different business decisions. There's a portion in the film and in the book where it talks about how Sega essentially could have had, you know, they could have partnered with Sony and they could have partnered with Silicon Graphics to have what? Basically, Sega could have had the PlayStation and could have had Nintendo 64 as their next console. But the Sega Saturn was the one that was developed in-house by Sega, and that was the direction they went.

That wasn't the direction that Tom Kalinske wanted to go. So I think there were a lot of conflicts like that and a lot of decisions being made for what was best for certain regions and not what was most profitable overall. That led to the downfall of Sega from the console business. I think also there was an oversaturation element that Sega of America was doing. I think that that probably would have worked, though, if their next-generation console had worked out.

One of the things that fascinated me early on was this idea we talked about. We talk about Console Wars. It's a metaphorical battle, but it's a common phrase, and it's this battle. And I was thinking about that in terms of how the results of one war actually impact the next war. There's a fallout, there are territories that are held. But with Console Wars, every five years, you basically start from scratch. So it was almost like no matter how successful you were with the Genesis, it started all over with the Saturn. And whether that was successful or not, and to some degree, the success might help, but that was always just something that fascinated me, that no matter how successful you are in one cycle, you almost have to start from scratch in the next cycle, and your previous success doesn't really matter.

Can you tell us more about your work with History of the Future?

I would say I had less of a personal connection with the Oculus story. And it's interesting. I mean, you say that I was really onto a trend there. Some might say that I invested a lot of time in a technology that people thought was going to be successful, but hasn't been successful.

But I guess the two things that really got me excited about telling the Oculus story were trying the VR headset myself and just seeing how mind-blowing the experience was. I don't know what the market penetration now is for AR and VR devices, but I think that they're still going at it. 

The majority of the people who try it for the first time are blown away. And then I think part of the Oculus story is just figuring out how to monetize or how to evangelize, sharing an experience that seems to blow everyone's mind and turning that into a business. And so that kind of gets to the second point.

The second point was just like the team itself. I was really fascinated by Oculus, especially Palmer Luckey, the 19-year-old kid who created the first headset and was the real core founder of Oculus who ended up getting fired after his company was sold to Facebook.

The future held in VR and AR

I remember that this was the first thought I had. This is the future. I don't even know what that meant. I still don't even really know what it means. But it's like, this is just a different. This is so much more immersive. It's mind-blowing. But I think as you see with some of the struggles that Facebook has faced and that Oculus faced and that Valve has faced, I mean, like, I think Valve is really interesting too because they're arguably one of the best game makers in the world and they haven't figured out how to crack the VR nut, even though they probably invested in more resources, or at least they had in the early days than any other software company.

And still, there are a lot of difficult problems, like what makes a VR game fun and sustainable? And anyway, we can get into that more later, but it presented a lot of challenges that people don't really think about and that I certainly didn't think about. And then back then, especially with the launch of the Oculus Rift, you needed to have a high-performing PC to work with the headset.

I was watching Big Bang Theory the other day and they got like an Oculus and, you know, there was a sort of this belief that it’s something you could maybe buy with a few hundred dollars, you put it on and then all of a sudden you're doing VR. But no, you need to actually own like a $1000 computer and you need to have certain software.

And so there's a lot of friction points like that. But it's clearly evolved from then.

More on Oculus and VR

The reason 2.5 of what originally fascinated me about Oculus was that there are so many possible functions for it, but there's no killer use case yet. Though everyone who tries it seems to think it's cool. But we don't routinely spend 500+ dollars on things we think are cool just because they're cool. And it’s going to be a hard road to figure out. How do you get there? Is it productivity? Is it pornography? What's the killer app?

And what I liked early on about Oculus was that they truly were like a company of gamers, by gamers, for gamers. And so they were focused on people who already had the $1000 PC. They were not trying to be the everything-for-everyone company before the Facebook acquisition. And that seemed like an actually productive path of not trying to be the iPhone, or just trying to make this really next step gaming experience for people who love gaming experiences and that.

But all that changed after the Facebook acquisition, and I understand why it changed. If I were at Facebook and I'd spent $3 billion on this company, I would want it to be the everything-for-everyone company. But it just sort of goes to show that it's a hard road. I mean, even when smartphones came out and cell phones became more ubiquitous, like, that was so much easier to understand because we all had landlines and this was just like a way to be on the go and a way to be more like Zack Morris.

Problems with true use cases for the Oculus and VR

I'm 41 now and I remember for Hanukkah, my brother and I would always want to get video games and gifts from our family. And like, one year, my parents told us that, like, we're not going to be getting eight nights of gifts. We're going to be getting one big gift for the family. And it was a Packard Bell computer. This must have been like in 1994 or so.

And like, what are we going to do with the computer now? Of course, we all have computers, but the only thing that we really wanted to do on it was play CD-ROM games. I think that was a similar problem to where we are with VR now. There is so much you can do with the computer, but there weren't things that we were doing in our life that we can now do on the computer because we were in fifth grade or sixth grade. We didn't initially have a word processor.

The Packard Bell computer we got… just felt like a really cool, expensive thing. That was cool. But within a five-year period, everyone had computers. And it'll be interesting to see if between Apple and Facebook and all these other companies, five years from now, everyone has AR or VR devices.

I would put the blame on that to some degree on the companies themselves. I think that they haven't come up with a persuasive reason for people to pick up their headsets every day or so. I think that when the Facebook deal happened… I mean, this is a generalization, but I don't think it's an unfair one, I think most people who had supported Oculus and most gaming fans were not psyched about it. And I think that that concern has probably proven out.

But you would have thought that when Facebook acquired Oculus in this multi-billion dollar deal, the one area where they would have knocked it out of the park would have been in social communications. I don't even necessarily mean social media, but it's like, in addition to the incredible content that you get with VR, like with gaming and others, you also have experiences like 3D filmmaking as well. Like, that's amazing. But there's also the social component. Right now I feel connected to you guys because we're having a very active conversation, but there's an even more connected version where we feel like we're in the same room together.

And that's something you can accomplish with VR because you can actually see body movements and the whole body. And Facebook has not done it. I think it's surprising to most people that they haven't excelled yet in the social space.

I also think that in niche cases, it's an incredible practice tool. And you're talking about things where the stakes are really high, like surgeries or defusing a bomb. We would like for our surgeons and doctors to have as much practice as they can, and their progress won’t be based on how many cadavers we have or on what hours are available. And another one that comes to mind is definitely military usage.

Military applications of VR tech

I think that it's incredibly helpful in that regard because that's another situation where the stakes are life or death. And, you know, one of my favorite moments from researching the book is from one of the early Oculus members, Joe Chen. He was at a military conference. This was, like, very early on in the existence of Oculus.

I believe it was a general that he was showing the headset to. And the general asked, “How much does this cost?” And he said, “300.” And the general thought about it and was like, “$300,000. Okay, that's probably worth it.” And Joe was like, “No, no, no, $300.” And it just shows the level of general understanding to experience these kinds of simulations prior to Oculus or prior to where we are now. The expectation from even high-ranking members of the military was that to experience something with this level of fidelity would cost a quarter of a million dollars. And now it could be had for a quarter of a $1,000 or something like that. I mean, it was a cool moment, but it was also just a telling moment. Maybe it's a coincidence, but after Palmer was fired from Oculus, he ended up starting a military technology company.

And most of these kinds of people don’t usually do that. But I think that Palmer, who's often ahead of the curve in most ways, also realized that the military could benefit from just more pairings with technology to do things that they need to do for much cheaper.

Digging about Magic Leap AR tech

When I was telling the Console Wars story, which had a lot of challenges, as we discussed, I did have the advantage of telling that story from 20+ years after it happened. I was telling a story that had already happened. We sort of knew who the winners were, the losers were. 

But with this story that I started writing around 2014, we didn't know what was going to happen. And, like, I remember in the way that I was telling you guys that getting to Tom Kalinske was like a huge deal in Console Wars. He was like the face of Sega and, you know, of course, Palmer Luckey and Brendan Iribe were the ones for Oculus. 

Unfortunately, we, meaning me and my publisher, never got that access to Magic Leap. And I guess that was sort of a blessing in disguise because had I gotten that access, I'm sure a big part of the book probably would have been about Magic Leap. Like, they were so secretive about everything, and they used that secretiveness as a marketing tactic, but I guess that didn't really work out.

Did you have any stunning moments while you were writing your books?

I was very stunned that the main character of History of the Future, who was the face of the company when I started writing the book, was fired from the company by the time the book came out. Like, that was all very stunning and disgusting to me and that it had to do with politics and political views.

And I, you know, by the time I wrote History of the Future, I did have experience writing about gaming companies and business. I had no experience writing about politics. I had no interest in writing about politics. But that's where the story went, and that's what I ended up having to write about for, like, the last 100 pages of the book.

I guess this falls in the category of self-promotion, but I don't really mean it that way. I just want to say that I described Console Wars earlier as, like, a 500-page love letter to marketing. And I think it is. I think it shows you going into that. I thought marketing just meant print advertisements, intelligent advertisements… I didn't realize that marketing was so much more holistic. I thought of marketing as a dirty word, but now I actually see the value of it. Marketing is “How do you get my grandma to read Console Wars?” It's like, it's just how you frame things and how people feel when they experience something.

I just want to say that while History of the Future is a book about a virtual reality company, and it's a book about how politics infringe upon various aspects of culture nowadays and professions, at its core, it is just really a book about entrepreneurship. I think it could also be helpful, especially to young listeners out there, and it really helps you understand how to build a business and how to build an idea.

On successful people and their ways

As much as I've mentioned Palmer on this podcast, he deserves it because he's a brilliant, world-changing person, but the other founders of Oculus, particularly Brendan Iribe and Nate Mitchell, the way they built that company from Palmer's initial vision and product into a company that was financially successful and also culturally relevant, is just really incredible. So I guess I would just say that for young listeners out there who have ideas, whether it's for a business or it's for a story, you just learn a lot by reading about these inspiring people and the way that they do things. Entrepreneurship is not something they do, it just happens to them naturally, it's like it’s just their DNA.

And I really do credit Brendan in particular for that. I think I remember thinking early on, that there's this idea we've talked about earlier, like, oh, this is the future. We think that the future is this thing that is out there buried in the sand, and we just need to get to it.

But the reality is that there's an infinite number of iterations of possible futures, and only one of them is actually going to happen. And so it's a lot of people battling to try to make that future happen and to make it acceptable. And I think that Brendan in particular, just knew how to build a business and knew how to make Oculus cool and exciting and not too big for its britches at first that it could be successful. Then it all went to hell after the Facebook acquisition.

But I just think… especially the pre-acquisition stuff… it's just really a testament to how to build the business.

Do you have any plans ongoing for the future?

I’m currently writing a book about Larry David. I'm not writing it out of spite, but I think that for Larry to have liked me required that I'm a spiteful person. So I'm actually working on a chapter today called The Spite Show. But, yeah, a couple of things there. One, I loved Seinfeld.

It felt life-defining for me growing up. For the younger audience, there used to be these things called video cassette tapes, VHS tapes, and I used to record all the Seinfeld episodes and make mixtapes on the Seinfeld episodes, and people used to call me Blakebuster because I would have all these movies and episodes. Seinfeld was a big part of my life and a very joyful part of my life. And I think it connects very much to History of the Future in that I was very dejected in how the story ended, in how the relationships ended between Palmer and his co-founders, in how Facebook mistreated him in my opinion, and how it all went down. 

And the last two years of writing that book were much less joyful for me than writing Console Wars. Console Wars was a joy to write every day. It was difficult, but I was writing about people that I admired doing things that I thought were impressive and culturally relevant. And so I wanted to write about something that made me happier.

And I thought that I was trying to think about what that could be. And Seinfeld definitely came to mind a lot, as did Curb Your Enthusiasm. And I thought that Larry David has created content that I love more than pretty much anyone in the world. So I wanted to write about him, but I knew getting access to him would be difficult, and it was. But fortunately, it worked out.

Meeting Larry David

I went through it the proper way. And I will say that. you know, I'm very happily married, and I've been with my wife for almost 20 years. But if I were single, my, biggest bar meetup claim to fame would not be that I wrote Console Wars or History of the Future. It would be that “Hey, I'm an extra in the series finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Like, that's the coolest thing ever to add to my resume.

And that was because Larry is, as much as he plays a grumpy curmudgeon on the show, and he is that in a lot of aspects of life, he's also just an incredible sweetheart. And it was very kind of him to let me be an extra in the finale. And my favorite part about that. So it's a scene where this shouldn't spoil anything for people who haven't seen it, but it's a scene where Larry sort of interrupts Richard Lewis while Richard Lewis is having lunch.

And again, their typical Larry and Richard fight. And I'm in the background, and I'm sitting with Larry's brother, Ken David. And during that scene, you know, we're extras. And so when you're an extra, you're supposed to pretend to talk, not actually talk. You're supposed to mouth it.

But Ken kept actually talking to me, and at some point in the middle of the scene, Larry interrupted himself and yelled at Ken and told him that we weren't supposed to actually talk. But overall, in addition to that cool moment, it's been really fun to interview Larry and actually get to watch Seinfeld episodes and call that research. It's been exactly what I hoped it would be.

As for how much time I’ve spent with Larry David, I've been working on it for four years now, so I've gotten a ton, a lot of it by text message and by email. But I basically got to be on set for the final couple of months of Curb Your Enthusiasm. They were so nice. They let me be there anytime I wanted. At that time I lived in New York and I was in LA, but now I live in Colorado.

When I initially conceived the book and was trying to, like, “I told you guys earlier, getting access is important to me because I think people should have the opportunity to be involved in their story.” When I talked to my publisher about it and pitched it, all I really could guarantee them was that I would get, like, an hour with Larry. And, you know, I figured, like, an hour plus I could ask follow-up questions, but it ended up being so much more than that.

I've taken a very long time with this book, longer than that publisher would like. But I think that we could probably get it out by, like, next summer. Next year, in 2025, you know, it's moving along now.

True crime podcasts

Another thing is that true crime podcasts kind of got my interest. I'm working on a documentary in the true crime space, so I've been trying to listen to more, and it just blows my mind. In particular, this is what I like; it’s called The Prosecutors, and they talk about the cases, and they'll do something like “And that was the day that seven people were murdered.”

I've taken a very long time with this book, longer than that publisher would like. But I think that we could probably get it out by, like, next summer. Next year, you know, it's moving along now.

Where can we go to learn more about you and your work?

I mean, like Larry David, I prefer that you don’t find me. I shut down my website, but I’m still on Twitter/X. If you reach out to me there, I’ll probably get back to you. But I have stuff to do right now, so don’t expect a swift response for the foreseeable future. At least, until I finish this book.

Have a game to sell?

Let’s find out if we play well together.

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© 2023-2024 Hey Good Game, Inc.

1151 Walker Rd #310, Dover DE 19904

© 2023-2024 Hey Good Game, Inc.

1151 Walker Rd #310, Dover DE 19904

© 2023-2024 Hey Good Game, Inc.