By: John Michael Bennett
I loved the Sega Channel. Some of my best childhood memories are playing that clunky device that went into the Sega Genesis with a cable cord hanging out. It wasn’t pretty, but it was the future—and my past.
The Sega Channel was an innovative device that Sega released for its Sega Genesis console at the height of its popularity. For a monthly fee, the device allowed you to play Genesis games through an online service. Around 50 games were available each month, and many of them switched out monthly for new content. That’s right; in the 90s you had the ability to stream video games on a Sega Genesis. And it wasn’t a list of terrible games—I remember playing all the Sonic titles on there, as well as other classics such as Aladdin. Furthermore, many gamers are often frustrated by not getting some games from Japan. But the Sega Channel often featured games that hadn’t been released in North America.
This service was offered in few markets, with the number of peak subscribers being around 250,000. However, Cable Atlantic in Newfoundland and Labrador was one of the few companies that chose to carry this device—that’s right, Cable Atlantic CEO Danny Williams was known for more than debating Paul McCartney on CNN, taking down flags, or bringing AHL hockey back to NL.
When I was younger, spending time with my Dad was always fun—he was the kind of guy who you wanted to be your friend even if he wasn’t your Dad, and to this day, I’m proud to call him both. But when you’re younger, getting tangible items was always a bonus because new toys were awesome. And my Dad walked in with the magical device that had 50 Sega games on it.
With this many games at my fingertips, I quickly became immersed in the Genesis and everything that the system had to offer. If a friend said “I bet you’ve never played THIS game before,” by the next day, I could claim that I had. In a time of Genesis versus the Super Nintendo, I loved both—but the Nintendo games would cost my parents “an arm and a leg,” which was the only currency I really understood at that age. But my Dad only had to pay—I believe this conversion is correct—about a finger for me to have all these games.
Unfortunately, this device was recently at a bad time. Despite the Genesis being first released in 1989, the Sega Channel didn’t enter beta until 1993. This was not the only downfall—Sega flooded the market with many devices, including the Sega 32X, Sega CD, and Sega Saturn very quickly, not to mention the later ill-fated Sega Dreamcast.
But Sega was onto something. Now, “cloud gaming” as it is called may be the future. Playstation Now launched in beta last year, and had its official launch in January 2015. This service features a monthly fee to play a variety of games available through online streaming. While it’s touted as being the next big thing, and it will be big, it reminds me of the Sega Channel and what could have been. But hey, on a side note, there are a few Sonic games on Playstation Now!
I miss Sega and what it once was. Proven by the popularity and rise of cloud gaming, Sega was once again ahead of its time. The Dreamcast and Sega Channel were technology for years down the line—now we are stuck with Sonic turning into a werewolf, or Knuckles on steroids. Neither of which are very appealing and hopefully not representative of being ahead of its time.