These days, on-demand gaming is a huge thing with players. Xbox Game Pass, for instance, offers a phenomenal value for $9.99, which is only going to get better with day-one game releases joining the service. And Sony still has a decent thing going with its cloud-based PlayStation Now, even though its pricing could use a little bit of adjustment. We’re also hearing that Google may be joining the fray with its own service.
However, well before any of these services were around, there was…the Sega Channel! Yep, long ago, before anyone even heard of the word “broadband” or “MOBA”, Sega teamed up with cable companies across the U.S. to offer its own on-demand gaming service – and for several years, it thrived.
So how did a service that got its start in the 90’s pave the way for what we see in on-demand gaming today? Let’s take a look:
The first rule about an on-demand gaming service is to make it affordable – which is probably why PlayStation Now is lagging behind Xbox Game Pass, since it’s about twice the price ($20) on a monthly basis.
When Sega Channel launched, users had to pay $25 for a one-time activation fee and pick up a converter from their local cable company to slot into their Sega Genesis. Once that was done, they simply hooked it up via a splicer with their cable connection, turned on the system, and went into gaming.
The service was only $12.95 a month, an ideal service that offered roughly fifty games per month, including a few exclusive to the service, which we’ll get into later on. That’s a tremendous value, especially considering most Genesis games ran about $50 at the time.
With fifty-plus games to choose from on a monthly basis, Sega had some great value already going for the Sega Channel. But it also offered special promotions where players could try games weeks before their release – similar to what EA Access and Origin Access do now on Xbox One and PC, respectively.
Before their release, Primal Rage, Triple Play 96, Earthworm Jim 2 and Mortal Kombat 3 were available to play, and they were excellent trial versions of the games, giving people a chance to see what they were about before they came out. That’s a practice some companies have adapted to today, with open betas and exclusive trials through respective services. And they aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
One big draw to the Sega Channel was that it allowed Sega to “release” games, as it were, that didn’t have a chance on the retail market. For example, the publisher didn’t know how to cater cult classics like Alien Soldier and Pulseman to the market.
But the Sega Channel allowed them to do that, introducing a number of games to the service that allowed folks to check them out, even if they couldn’t necessarily buy them. Some services these days are like that, particularly EA Access, which offers up exclusive trials to its service, as well as a multitude of classics from the EA Vault.
While the exclusives didn’t last, they added extra perks to a service that was already popular enough in its time.
As Sega continued its Sega Channel service, it felt that expansion was the way to go, offering more games on a monthly basis by switching out the titles every two weeks.
While some were annoyed by the practice – especially if they had gotten used to a game that had been taken off – some found it to be an extra value, as they could play games that weren’t offered before. The line-up, as a result, changed to 70 games a month, instead of the usual 35.
Sadly, the plan didn’t last too long. Sega shut down the channel just a few months later, in the hopes of introducing a variant of it for the Sega Saturn. But it never came into fruition, and players had to go back to buying games again.
Sure, Sega Genesis games may not be big on space like, say, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games. But thanks to some ideal partners behind the technology, Sega Channel subscribers were able to upload games very quickly – and were even entertained by tips from “counselors” on the service along the way.
That kind of speed is vital now, especially to a service like PlayStation Now, which relies more on an expedient download set-up, instead of taking up hard drive space. Despite the high prices, the service has served players well, and Sony continues to add new titles on a monthly basis.
In essence, Sega Channel really paved the way for on-demand gaming as we know it today. Hell, we’d probably still be playing if it were available, if only to enjoy another round of OutRunners with a friend.
Here’s to you, Sega Channel!