Sega Meganet, also known as the Net Work System, was an online service for the Mega Drive in Japan. Utilizing dial-up Internet access, Meganet was Sega's first online multiplayer gaming service, and functioned on a pay to play basis. The system functioned through the use of a peripheral called the Mega Modem and offered several unique titles that could be downloaded, and a few could be played competitively with friends. In addition, it shared technology and equipment with more serious services such as the Mega Anser, used for banking purposes. Though the system was announced for North America under the rebranded name "Tele-Genesis", it was never released for that region. Ultimately, the Meganet service would be short-lived, lasting approximately a year before it was discontinued, but would serve as a precursor to the Sega Channel and XBAND services, as well as a predecessor to online gaming services for video game consoles. Retrospective feedback praises the attempt by Sega to introduce online gaming, but criticizes the service for its logistical issues and lack of titles.
Sega's 16-bit console, the Sega Genesis (known as Mega Drive in most areas outside of North America) was released in Japan on October 29, 1988, though the launch was overshadowed by Nintendo's release of Super Mario Bros. 3 a week earlier. Positive coverage from magazines Famitsu and Beep! helped to establish a following, but Sega only managed to ship 400,000 units in the first year. In order to draw a larger audience, Sega began work on an Internet service, similar to what Nintendo had attempted with the Famicom Tsushin for the NES.
Released in Japan on November 3, 1990, at a cost of JP¥12,800 (approximately US$100) for the equipment, as well as an additional ¥800 monthly, access began to the Meganet service by way of the Mega Modem, a peripheral which attaches to the rear EXT 9-pin port on the rear of the console. From the modem, a cable runs to a dual-port connector, which connects into a telephone line. The Mega Modem also came packaged with a cartridge which allowed for access to the Meganet game library, and approximately six titles were available at launch. It was capable of connection speeds of up to 1200bit/s. Though the service had also been advertised in North America under the name "Tele-Genesis" in publications such as Electronic Gaming Monthly, it was never released for the region.
As another way of attempting to expand the audience for the Mega Drive in Japan, Sega introduced the Mega Anser, a system designed for use with Nagoya Bank in Japan, in 1990. Packaged as an all-in-one system including a Mega Drive, Mega Modem, Mega Anser cartridge and keypad, the system allowed for transactions such as balance inquiries, transfers, and loan information. It initially retailed at a cost of JP¥34,000 including the home console, and a version with an additional printer retailed for ¥72,800.
Due to the system's low number of titles, prohibitively high price, and the Mega Drive's lack of success in Japan, the Meganet system proved to be a commercial failure. By 1992, the Mega Modem peripheral could be found in bargain bins at a reduced price, and a remodeled version of the Mega Drive released in 1993 removed the EXT 9-pin port altogether, preventing the newer model from being connected to the Meganet service.
The Meganet service utilized its own library of titles, independent of the Genesis library. Most of these games never received a cartridge release; however, Columns, Flicky, Fatal Labyrinth, and Teddy Boy Blues each later saw cartridge versions. Several Meganet games would also later appear in Game no Kanzume vol. 2, released for the Mega-CD exclusively in Japan. Most games for the service were small, at around 128kB per game, due to the limits of Internet connection speeds at the time. Downloads were estimated to take about five to eight minutes to complete.
All of the Meganet games were available through the Sega Game Library, accessed through the Meganet modem. Due to issues with long-distance charges through the use of telephone lines, as well as seconds of lag time between commands, only two games featured competitive play: Tel-Tel Stadium and Tel-Tel Mahjong, with the remainder of the games available for single players via download. Due to Sega's reluctance to commit to releasing the service in North America, third-party developers in that region were unwilling to invest in developing games specifically for Meganet. This resulted in a low number of titles created for the service.
|Aworg: Hero In The Sky||Action|
|Ikazuse! Koi no Doki Doki Penguin Land MD||Puzzle|
|Phantasy Star II Text Adventures||Text adventure|
|Pyramid Magic II||Puzzle|
|Pyramid Magic III||Puzzle|
|Pyramid Magic Special||Puzzle|
|Teddy Boy Blues||Action|
Reception and legacy
Retrospective feedback on the Sega Meganet service is mixed, praising the early initiative to develop online gaming for video consoles, but criticizing its implementation via use of telephone lines and issues with Sega's lack of developers for the service. Adam Redsell of IGN commented on the basic features of the service, and despite noting that Meganet received only a few games, stated "[T]hat's pretty damn impressive for 1990". He also notes the influence of Sega in the development of online gaming, with the Meganet service as their first attempt, and credits the Meganet's successor, Sega Channel, with helping to spread broadband Internet.
However, the telephone line network which the Meganet ran on has been criticized for its logistical issues in online gaming. According to Electronic Gaming Monthly, "Even though the TeleGenesis modem has been announced, it has yet to appear and the real usefulness of a device that is used only to play games with friends over the phone lines remains questionable (both have to have the modem, the phone lines must be clear, the phone bills will be a problem if it’s a long-distance call, etc.)" The same issues that plagued the Meganet over the use of phone lines for Internet connectivity would later resurface when Catapult Entertainment launched the XBAND service in 1994.
Ken Horowitz of Sega-16 took note of Sega's reluctance to commit to releasing the service in North America as part of the reason for its lack of titles, noting, "Companies were most likely waiting for confirmation of the modem’s release before they began to commit themselves, and as time has attested, few were waiting to go ahead with development in light of Sega's 'wait and see' attitude." Horowitz went on to criticize this issue as a problem Sega would have again with the Sega 32X in 1994, stating, "History would repeat itself in the harshest of manners only five years later. Sega's expectations of third party support for something it showed little enthusiasm for were entirely unrealistic and ultimately meant that no games would be in the pipeline."
- Redsell, Adam (2012-05-20). "Sega: A Soothsayer of the Games Industry". IGN. Retrieved 2013-11-05.
- Retro Gamer staff (2006). "Retroinspection: Mega Drive". Retro Gamer (Imagine Publishing) (27): 42–47.
- Horowitz, Ken (2006-11-10). "Disconnected: The TeleGenesis Modem". Sega-16. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "[Segahado Encyclopedia] Megamodemu". Sega of Japan. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "[Segahado Encyclopedia] Mega answer". Sega of Japan. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Sega Service Manual: Genesis II/Mega Drive II. Sega Enterprises, Ltd. 1993.
- Horowitz, Ken (2013-04-12). "Teddy Boy Blues". Sega-16. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- "Mega Drive Master List (Sega)" (in Japanese). Sega. Retrieved 2013-11-27.
- "Mega Drive Master List (Sega licensees)" (in Japanese). Sega. Retrieved 2013-11-27.
- "TurboGrafx-16 vs. Genesis". Electronic Gaming Monthly (Sendai Publishing) (8). March 1990.