Sega Net Link (also called Sega Saturn Net Link) was an attachment for the Sega Saturn game console to provide Saturn users with internet access and access to email through their console. The unit was released on October 31, 1996. The Sega Net Link fit into the Sega Saturn cartridge port and consisted of a 28.8 kbit/s modem, a custom chip to allow it to interface with the Saturn, and a browser developed by Planetweb, Inc. The unit sold for US$199, or US$400 bundled with a Sega Saturn.
The Net Link connected to the internet through standard dial-up services. Unlike other online gaming services in the US, one does not connect to a central service, but instead tells the dial-up modem connected to the Saturn's cartridge slot to call to the person with whom one wishes to play. The Netlink will still work if you have an analog phone line.
In Japan, however, gamers did connect through a centralized service known as SegaNet, which would later be taken offline and converted for Dreamcast usage.
According to Yutaka Yamamoto, Sega of America's director of new technology, the Saturn's design allowed it to access the internet purely through software: "Sega engineers always felt the Saturn would be good for multimedia applications as well as game playing. So they developed a kernel in the operating system to support communications tasks."
While the Net Link was not the first accessory which allowed console gamers in North America to play video games online (see online console gaming), it was the first to allow players to use their own Internet Service Provider (ISP) to connect. While Sega recommended that players use Concentric, the Sega Net Link enabled players to choose any ISP that was within its technical specifications. The device was capable of connecting at a 28.8 kilobit/s connection in America and 14.4 kbit/s in Japan. However, it suffered from memory limitations; the modem's static RAM could store only account information and bookmarks, leaving only the Saturn's limited internal RAM for any downloaded data. This makes it impossible to download audio or video clips, save e-mail messages, or put previously loaded web pages into cache.
In Japan, the Net Link required the use of smartcards with prepaid credits. The Saturn had a floppy drive and printer cable converter (both Japan only) which could be used with the Net Link. A web browser from Planetweb was included, and a mouse and keyboard adapter were available to simplify navigation. Sega also released a dedicated Saturn mouse and Saturn keyboard. In addition, to allow users to browse with just the Saturn joypad, Sega produced a series of CDs containing hundreds of website addresses.
Despite the Saturn's relative lack of success in America, the Net Link had a number of users, and five games were released domestically that supported it. Launching at 15,000 yen in Japan and $199 in the USA, it was considered very inexpensive compared to competing online services. In 2017 Fans where able to make the Netlink work a modern highspeed connection with Voip.
Net Link Zone
The Net Link Zone connected to an Internet Relay Chat server irc.sega.com which was changed to the server irc0.dreamcast.com on the release of Sega's Dreamcast. These servers were originally run by Sega employees but were given over to be run by Net Link chat users Leo Daniels and Mark Leatherman.
Games compatible with Net Link
- "Nintendo, Sega, & Sony Under One Roof". Next Generation. No. 20. Imagine Media. August 1996. p. 9.
- "Saturn Surfs the 'Net". GamePro. No. 93. IDG. June 1996. p. 22.
- "Internet Access, Network Games Hit Saturn - For Less than $400". Electronic Gaming Monthly. Ziff Davis (84): 18. July 1996.
- Ramshaw, Mark James (January 1996). "Generator". Next Generation. Imagine Media (13): 31.
- "Saturn to Get Internet Connection Facilities in '96!". Sega Saturn Magazine. 2 (5). March 1996. p. 8.