The Sega Channel was a joint effort between Sega
and TCI Cable
formed in 1994
to deliver Sega Genesis
games to users via their existing cable TV
line. The venture was not a first for the game industry, as in 1980 Mattel Electronics
parterned with cable equipment manufacturer Jerrold
to develop the Playcable
system, which would deliver Intellivision
games into users' homes, and "father of video games" Ralph Baer
had envisioned a game distribution method through phone lines ten years before that
. In 1983
two more such systems appeared (Gameline
and Games Network
), this time delivering Atari 2600
games. All three eventually fizzled into the annals of video game history
, but at the time, Sega Channel promised more (including the power of lasting), and the idea got gamers riled up.
Of course, if you didn't have TCI cable in your area, you were vehemently screwed. And of course, you had to contend with paying extra money to purchase the Sega Channel module (think a blocky 32X that features a 64k/s cable modem), not to mention the extra 15-or-so dollars a month that would be added to your cable bill. Despite this, the service managed to get off to a good start, thanks to Sega's wonderful market penetration around this time, which made the Genesis "cooler to own" than the SNES (at least until Donkey Kong Country came out in the fall).
Sega Channel boasted a lot of cool features besides offering a load of about 50 Genesis games to play per month. Things such as nationwide leaderboards, tip sheets and (most attractively) demos of yet-unreleased titles were a sampling of what the Channel provided. There was even a Parental Control ability, letting concerned parents set a password to lock-out those perennial favorites such as Mortal Kombat.
The basic Sega Channel interface consisted of a menagerie of menus fashioned with ToeJam & Earl graphics (you know, to maintain hipness). Selections were grouped into categories such as arcade classics, "Family Land" for less objectionable titles, and role-playing games. Then of course there was the Test Drive area, where you could perhaps play the first level of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 if you so desired. Upon selection of a game, you then had to wait for it to download into the module's RAM and play it. The loading time took awhile, so as diversions, you could skim the tip sheets or play a simple mini-game. For bigger, later releases such as Sonic 3D Blast that couldn't fit entirely into the RAM, the games were divided into seperate parts. Once you were finished with one, you downloaded the other.
In the end, Sega Channel only garnered some 270,000+ subscribers, despite being available to over 20 million homes. In 1997 plans were announced to expand the service to PC gamers of all people, providing much of the same services as the Genesis version, albeit this time with multiplayer gaming. This was possibily a move to combat Catapult and their rolling out of the XBand service for PCs. However, nothing ever materialized from the announcement.
Sega Channel did eventually hit the UK, but not until 1996, a scant two years away from its nationwide shutdown in the States.
Fun fact!: Mega Man: The Wily Wars was a cartridge featuring remakes of the first three Nintendo Mega Man games, and publisher Capcom intended to release the title in the United States. However, at the last minute plans were canceled, and instead the game got its exclusive nationwide premiere on Sega Channel, delighting fans who had the service and infuriating those who didn't. The game was released proper in Europe and Japan, but only lived on Sega Channel in the States. All the better, maybe...it wasn't that great a remake anyway.