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Developer Mattel, General Instrument
Type Online service
Launch date 1981
Platform Intellivision
Status Defunct

PlayCable was an online service introduced in 1981 that allowed local cable television system operators to send games for the Intellivision over cable wires alongside normal television signals. Through the service, subscribers would use a device, called the PlayCable adapter, to download the games for play on their Intellivision. It was the first service that allowed users to download games for play on a video game console. PlayCable was not widely adopted, due in part to high costs for users and operators, as well as limitations of the PlayCable adapter. The service was discontinued in 1983.


PlayCable was developed as a joint venture between Mattel and General Instrument.[1] The PlayCable service was deep in development even before the Intellivision was widely released. In 1979, tests of the service were announced for several cities, including Moline, Illinois, Jackson, Mississippi and Boise, Idaho.[2] The service was officially launched in 1981. Subscriptions were available for a monthly fee, allowing users access to a selection of games through cable television providers that supported the service.[1] Up to 20 titles were available each month.[3] Former professional baseball player Mickey Mantle appeared in commercials for the service.[4] Initial estimates by Mattel projected that the service would have 1 million subscribers within five years. However, by 1983 PlayCable only had a small fraction of that amount; fewer than 3 percent of the 650,000 households capable of receiving the service had subscribed. Meanwhile, cable operators complained about the high cost of the computer needed to run the service and the expensive PlayCable Adapters. In addition, Mattel Electronics was losing millions of dollars due to a glut of titles and increased competition.[1] All these factors, combined with the limitations of the PlayCable adapter resulted in PlayCable shutting down in 1983.[5]

Implementation and limitations[edit]

The PlayCable channel was broadcast through a special data channel within the FM Band of the cable line.[6] Special PlayCable adapters would be connected to the cable line. Users would tune to the PlayCable channel, which showed a menu of titles that could be played and used a keypad to select the desired game. The adapter would wait for the code of the selected title to show up in the data stream, then download the game to the adapter's internal memory for play.[1]

However, in time the 6K[7] of memory inside PlayCable Adapters proved to be inadequate. While this amount of memory was sufficient for most Intellivision game titles in 1982, soon more complex games were released on larger capacity cartridges, which the PlayCable could not support.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d Schley, Stewart. "Look ma, no cartridge!". CED Magazine. Advantage Business Media. Retrieved January 3, 2012. 
  2. ^ Fraser, C. Gerald (May 19, 1979). "Cable-TV System to Enable Viewers to Play Games; ABC-TV Leads Networks In Daytime Emmy Awards". New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b Langshaw, Mark. "The History Of Online Console Gaming". Digital Spy. Hearst Magazines UK. 
  4. ^ Connelly, Sherilyn (August 30, 2011). "TV Ads We Can't Forget: Mickey Mantle Goes to Bat for Archaic Gaming Service Called PlayCable". SF Weekly. Retrieved January 3, 2012. 
  5. ^ Lowensohn, Josh (June 5, 2009). "A brief history of downloadable console games". CNET. CBS Interactive, Inc. Retrieved January 3, 2012. 
  6. ^ Weinstein, Stephen B. (1986). Getting the picture: a guide to CATV and the new electronic media. IEEE Press. p. 92. ISBN 0879421975. 
  7. ^

See also[edit]

External links[edit]