Even Nintendo experimented with online connectivity a long time ago.
Long before Microsoft's Xbox Live or the Playstation Network, Nintendo dabbled with an online connection with their Famicom console in Japan. Within Nintendo, these ideas were limited to the Japanese market, however, this did not stop an ambitious group of developers in the United States from coming up with an online solution of their own. Whilst these first attempts at connecting gamers to the outside world were primitive, it helped set the precedent not only for Nintendo, but other console hardware and software publishers to come.
The Famicom Network System, launched in 1988 in Japan, allowed Famicom owners to connect to a Nintendo server via their home phone lines. The device connected to the Famicom through the cartridge slot and the expansion port located on the front of the system. Through the service, people could do banking transactions, stock trading, and even check out game reviews and previews. This revolutionary piece of technology was Nintendo's attempt to own the online market before it even existed. Unfortunately for those of us not living in Japan during the late-80s or early-90s, we did not and will not have the chance to experience this interesting peripheral first hand.
Nintendo did, however, allegedly have a modem tested in the United States by the Minnesota State Lottery. This would have allowed NES owners to buy lottery tickets and play from the comfort of their own homes, but it ultimately did not come to pass due to the fact that minors would be able to play the lottery illegally and anonymously. Between the features implemented in the modem in Japan and alleged testing in the United States, Nintendo had a basis for connectivity that was implemented into peripherals years later.
In the early 1990s in the United States, a group of developers led by Keith Rupp saw the potential of implementing online capabilities into the Nintendo Entertainment System. After working briefly with Nolan Bushnell on the project, Rupp formed a development studio called Baton Technologies and decided to take a chance and develop what would become known as the Teleplay Modem. The idea behind the Teleplay Modem was different from Nintendo's own online solution as it was strictly made for head-to-head competition against another player anywhere across the country. The device connected to the NES via the expansion port located at the bottom of the console. The Teleplay Modem was also compatible with the other leading game consoles of the time, the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis and supported cross-platform compatibility. The team garnered interest from several third parties, such as Electronic Arts and Sierra Software, but ultimately being unable to get a license from Nintendo or Sega led to the demise of the product before it went into production. In 1993, AT&T announced a partnership with PF Magic and Sega of America to develop the Edge 16 modem, which was compatible with the Sega Genesis and Panasonic's 3DO. The Edge 16 would never see a release, and the investors behind the Teleplay Modem and its development pulled out before the device could be produced.
Let's face it. In recent times compared to the competition, Nintendo is behind when it comes to online connectivity. While the Famicom Network System was not capable of allowing players to compete online against one another, it was definitely ahead of its time. It is very hard to believe that Nintendo was one of the pioneers for pushing online connectivity in the home console space all those years ago with the Famicom in Japan. Baton Technologies and Keith Rupp's idea with creating a device in which players could compete on a national level from the comfort of their own homes is one of the foundations of what drives the online console space today. These ideas inadvertently laid the foundation for online console access as we know it today.
Photos courtesy of retrogamingconsoles.com.