Free Xbox Game Downloads

And on the Seventh Day, God Created Xbox Live…

Wipe the dust off the game industry’s short 27-year history and become en-lightened by the truth that Capcom vs. SNK: EO was not the first online fighter, Unreal Championship was not the first to offer downloadable content, and 2003 was not the first time Madden met a modem.


Launch Date: Summer 1995

Console: Super Famicom (Super NES)

Description: This Japan-only peripheral plugged into the bottom of the console and downloaded data through a standard television antenna. The service was free, but with a catch. Nintendo would air the data only at certain hours of the day, so customers would have to tune in and download the data in a manner similar to recording a TV program on a VCR. Satallaview games included a remixed version of F-Zero and weekly quests for Dragon Warrior.

Pricing: 18,000 yen

Speed: N/A

What Went Wrong? New downloads of Super Mario, a Mario version of Excitebike, and Square games helped maintain interest in the service, but it ultimately died from lack of software support from other developers.


Launch Date: May 1995

Console: Super NES and Sega Genesis

Description: Before Xbox Live and Guilty Gear, 2D fighter fans could get their online kicks by plugging in an XBand modem. XBand supported a number of big titles including Super Street Fighter II, John Madden Football ’95, and Mortal Kombat II.

Pricing: Modem $19.99, plus $4.95 for 50 connections per month or $9.95 for unlimited use

Speed: 2600 baud rate modem

What Went Wrong? “I think that sales just weren’t high enough. The product was awesome but it came out too late,” says Eric Snider, former XBand programmer. “A little while before I left, there was a deal that Electronic Arts was going to buy the company, but it fell through.”

Sega Channel

Launch Date: Winter 1994

Console: Sega Genesis

Description: With a special cartridge from General Instruments, users could connect their Genesis to a cable box and download dozens of new games, even a few rare titles like the Japan-only, extra-difficult Mega Man: The Wily Wars.

Pricing: $15 per month

Speed: N/A

What Went Wrong? At its peak, Sega Channel had over 250,000 subscribers in the United States and was making strides in Japan and the U.K. In classic Sega fashion, Sega’s addiction to new hardware and peripherals doomed the service when the company launched a new online portal for its Saturn console.

Net Link

Launch Date: October 31, 1996

Console: Sega Saturn

Description: Always itching to develop new gadgets, Sega released an Internet-ready modem for Saturn that enabled Web surfing and e-mail, with promises of online gaming down the road. Sega released a Net Link–enabled version of Sega Rally Championship nearly a year after the modem launched.

Pricing: Modem retailed for $199.99, plus $19.95 per month for online service

Speed: 28.8Kbps modem

What Went Wrong? Sega had trouble fulfilling its promise of online gaming, leaving customers with an expensive and cumbersome Internet browser. But is it any question why it failed? Shoichiro Irimajiri, then the CEO of Sega, declared the Net Link to be “inter-tainment in a box—a mix of Internet apps and online gaming.” When you use words like “inter-tainment,” you’re asking for failure.

Nintendo 64DD

Launch Date: Winter 1999

Console: Nintendo 64

Description: Never released outside of Japan, the oft-delayed 64DD peripheral let gamers pimp out their N64 with a rewritable optical disk drive and narrowband modem. They could use the modem to upload their artistic creations in Mario Artist and log on for a round of golf in Japan Pro Golf Tour 64, the only game that supported online play.

Pricing: 30,000 yen

Speed: 28.8Kbps modem

What Went Wrong? The 64DD was destined to fail. The add-on was released just before Nintendo announced its next console, GameCube. It also suffered from lack of software. Only nine games would be released for the 64DD, including Sim City 64, Doshin the Giant, and a few Mario Artist titles.


Launch Date: September 2000

Console: Sega Dreamcast

Description: Sega took a bold step in online gaming by shipping its Dreamcast console with a built-in 56K modem—however, it took an entire year for Sega to put it to use. On Dreamcast’s one-year anniversary, SegaNet was launched. The online portal let players frag together in Quake III Arena, play b-ball together in NBA 2K1, and party together in Phantasy Star Online.

Pricing: $21.95 per month

Speed: 56Kbps modem

What Went Wrong? SegaNet was one of many casualties when Sega killed Dreamcast prematurely and announced it would shift its focus to developing games for its rivals.


Launch Date: November 2004

Description: The ultimate evolution in online console gaming? Infinium Labs’ Phantom console requires a broadband connection and monthly subscription fee. In return, gamers can download new games onto the system’s hard drive, circumventing a trip to the nearest game shop to buy new releases.

Pricing: Free when consumer agrees to a two-year, $29.95 per month subscription fee

Speed: Broadband

What Could Go Wrong? A lot. But one of the Xbox founding fathers, Kevin Bachus, is on board to oversee the system’s launch.

Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Xbox Nation.

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