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Game Consoles: Downloading Games Since the 1980s

Did you know that downloading software for game consoles have actually been going on since the early 1980s? While doing research on digital distribution for game consoles, I came upon this article on CNet. I was really surprised when I read it.

The first system that used digital distribution was Intellivision's PlayCable, in 1981. That and the Sega Channel (1994) allowed consumers to download games via coaxial cable. It kind of works like a subscription to cable TV, except this cable sticks into your console and allows you to download games into a special memory cartridge.

Nintendo had its own system for the SNES (Super Famicom) called Satellaview, which worked kind of like the other systems above, but instead, the console received data from a satellite feed.

The first truly online system, believe it or not, was the Nintendo 64. The N64's game network was called RandNet, and it was only available in Japan. You'd plug a coaxial cable to a modem cartridge on your N64 (which is docked on a peripheral called the 64DD), and you could actually use the system to surf the internet, aside from downloading digital content.

The problem with these systems was that, at the time, the memory storage capacity was so limited that it could only download really short or small games. The N64's storage was actually a bit large at 64MB, but that would probably just hold only one or two full-length games at a time, making purchases of full games from the network not feasible.

Digital distribution works very well for both customers and companies, mostly because it significantly lowers retail prices. Cheaper games equal happy gamers and more sales. But the research I've done still points to a strong preference for games on physical formats (e.g., discs) despite acceptance of downloadable games. Of course, that preference might change in succeeding generations, so maybe one day, all games will be only available via download.

For a more detailed look into the history of downloadable console games, click here.



  1. @JM - Do you remember the XBAND TELEPLAY for the SNES and Genesis?Used to have that :D

  2. Talaga?! Wow! I heard about that, but never had one of those... Binibenta yun dati sa pinas?

  3. @JM - haha nope, my mom gave it to me as a bday gift. Latest online gaming daw, pag dating dito useless :))

  4. Sayang... anong ginawa mo dun sa Teleplay mo? Binenta mo?

  5. Jepoy, were you on the SNES or the Sega Genesis Xband? I know of Teleplay, but that was a different service all together.


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