In the mid-Nineties both Nintendo and Sega realized that mass connectivity was going to change video games for ever – they just weren't quite sure what to do about it. The latter company got in first with its pay-to-play Sega Channel service, launched in December 1994, allowing Genesis owners to access games, demos and cheats online. Nintendo struck back with Satellaview, a bulky add-on that fitted under the Japanese Super Famicom. Using satellite technology via a partnership with tech firm St.GIGA, the device let users download games that were broadcast every evening, and channeled into the Satellaview via the BS-X cartridge slotted into the Super Famicom. Versions of F-Zero, Dragon Quest and Zelda were all made for the device and delivered in nightly instalments – a rather quaint episodic arrangement. However, the device cost around $150 as well as a subscription fee and required a satellite dish, and subscriber number peaked at just 120,000 users. The complexity of the service effectively ruled out a global launch (although Catapult Entertainment launched the X-Band online gaming modem in 1995 in the US, bringing multiplayer action to the SNES and Genesis). Nevertheless, Nintendo generously kept the service running until 2000.
What we learned: It's tempting to believe that Nintendo's modern suspicion of the importance of online gaming services started with this device. The Satellaview was not exactly a failure, but it was such a convoluted technological pipeline, it may have brought in a new era of conservative thinking. One intriguing thing: the BS-X user interface was called Sore wa Namae o Nusumareta Machi no Monogatari – The Story of The Town Whose Name Was Stolen – and took the form of an explorable town, in which players could choose avatars, wander around and find new content to download. It was, in effect, an early predecessor to both the Miiverse and Sony's PS3-era PlayStation Home concept. You can decide for yourself whether that's a good or bad thing.