Most people who grew up in North America and Europe point to the Wii as Nintendo's first major foray into offering online services for their console. Though its scope was somewhat limited when compared to the Xbox Live and PlayStation networks, the Wii offered weather forecasts, news, and an online store in which players could buy and download retro games as well as other unique games.
The service also had a killer soundtrack.
The Nintendo Network, which first made its debut on the Nintendo 3DS, expanded on Nintendo's online offerings. The eShops for both the 3DS and the Wii U now allows players to purchase digital versions of full-retail games, and though the friend system for both consoles is still incredibly cumbersome, Nintendo has, for the most part, entered the modern world of online gaming.
Though Nintendo has been lambasted in recent years for their cumbersome online offerings, there was a time when Nintendo was on the forefront of online gaming.
The Famicom (the name the NES was actually able to connect to a proprietary modem way back in 1988 in Japan. Those who had the modem were able to check stock prices, see weather forecasts, download content for games, and even place bets on real-life horse races. Unfortunately, the modem failed to have a strong presence in the market due to competition from PCs and the inability for everyday consumers to fully grasp the benefits offered by having a connected console.
At least the commercials weren't creepy or confusing or anything like that.
Though Nintendo of America had began working with AT&T to set up a similar network in the States, the lackluster sales of the modem in Japan put a kibosh on any plans for implementation in North America.
Undeterred, Nintendo of Japan gave online gaming another try in 1995 with the release of the Satellaview for the Super Famicom, or SNES. Interestingly, the peripheral did not connect to a telephone line. Instead, owners of the peripheral would have a paid subscription to a certain TV station. The station would actually broadcast games, magazines, and even voice over narration for popular Super Famicom games via satellite signal at specific times of the day. This meant players would have to plan their schedules around the content they wanted to access.
At its peak, the service only had around 116,00 subscribers. Because the service failed to really take off in Japan, it was never brought over to other regions. Another attempt at online gaming was made with the telephone-based Randnet for the 64DD peripheral for the Nintendo 64, but the periphal's commercial failure ensured that, once again, Nintendo's online offerings were limited to Japan.
A Super Famicom with Satellaview connected.
It wouldn't be until the GameCube that players outside of Japan would finally get a glimpse at online Nintendo gaming. While the GameCube did have a broadband adapter, few games took advantage of the adapter, leading to sluggish sales of the adapter, relegating it to relative obscurity.
Meanwhile, although Sega introduced the built-in modem to the console market with the Dreamcast, it was Microsoft's Live service which brought online console-gaming to the mainstream.
That's the funny thing about tech. It's never about who did it first, it's about who can figure out how to market tech to the masses. Xerox may have invented GUI but it was Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who took the idea and turned it into the standard for personal computing. Likewise, Nintendo may have been one of the first console-makers to introduce online gaming, but they just couldn't figure out how to market it to the masses.
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