Why the Nintendo Satellaview Matters: The Value of Console Experimentation

Computer hardware is an iteration focused industry in the modern era as the consumer appetite for new mobile phones, tablets, laptops and more exotic devices such as the Amazon Echo are created for an enthusiastic consumer market. It wasn’t always this way; before the turn of the century, computing devices in general and video game consoles in specific were expected to last a long time as a significant consumer investment into a product ecosystem. This created a situation in which companies such as Nintendo strained to add functionality between full console releases, leading to a series of hardware attachment experiments that would eventually bridge the gap between consoles or serve as technical building blocks for future functionality.

Motherboard by Vice examined one such device in the Nintendo Satellaview, an early experiment to add online connectivity to the Super Famicom (the Super Nintendo equivalent in Japan) by tapping into satellite broadcasts to distribute digital content. This came in the form of an expansion base that added RAM as well as a satellite tuning capability that paired with a tuner and antenna to pick up satellite distributed game content during scheduled broadcasting times. The partnership between Nintendo and Japanese only satellite provider St.GIGA was unfortunately short lived due to a lack of consumer adoption, but elements of their planned product roadmap have been proven over time to be of significant interest to gamers.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is remarkable that a hardware device in the 1990’s had the foresight to move beyond the physical game distribution model when the Internet was still in its infancy. There were other attempts like the Sega Channel during that decade, but Nintendo’s plan to supplement their digital game distribution efforts with software experiences such as electronic magazines and non-gaming entertainment applications was a prescient attempt to create a digital-first entertainment platform that wouldn’t become mainstream until the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation of consoles.

While it was never commercially released in the United States where it would have competed with other online services like the XBAND, the Nintendo Satellaview played an important role in creating audience interest and developer consideration for the possibilities of digital game content.

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