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DeveloperMattel, General Instrument
TypeOnline service
Launch date1980

PlayCable was an online service introduced in 1980 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.[3] 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.[4] Former professional baseball player Mickey Mantle appeared in commercials for the service.[5] According to a CED Magazine article, the service was available in thirteen cities in 1981 including Fayetteville, N.Y. However, in spring 1983 the available market totalled 650,000 households. The less than 3% subscription rate was still higher than the rate of Intellivision sales in markets where PlayCable was not available,[1] and Intellivision Productions reports that PlayCable was popular where available.[6] Cable operators complained about the high cost of the computer needed to run the service as well as the cost of the in-home PlayCable adapters; the adapters proved to be inadequate to run the larger Intellivision games being produced.[1][6] In addition, Mattel Electronics was losing millions of dollars due to the video game industry crash of 1983 and stopped all new hardware development in August that year. Initial estimates by Mattel projected that the service would have 1 million subscribers within five years,[1] however PlayCable was discontinued in 1983, three years after it was introduced. [7]

Implementation and limitations[edit]

The PlayCable channel was broadcast through a special data channel within the FM Band of the cable line.[8] Special PlayCable adapters would be connected to the cable line and the Intellivision cartridge slot. The PlayCable adapter would tune to the PlayCable channel, and download a menu of titles that could be played. Users selected a title using the Intellivision controller keypad. The adapter would tune to the channel of the selected title, wait for the code to show up in the data stream, then download the game to the adapter's internal memory for play.[1]

However, in time the 8K of memory inside PlayCable adapters proved to be insufficient for large games.[1] While this amount of memory was enough for almost all Intellivision game titles in 1983, as more complex games were released on larger capacity cartridges, PlayCable could not support them.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g 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. ^ "No. 9 Games by Wire". Next Generation. No. 29. Imagine Media. May 1997. p. 26.
  4. ^ a b Langshaw, Mark. "The History Of Online Console Gaming". Digital Spy. Hearst Magazines UK.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b "Intellivision PlayCable". Intellivision Lives. Intellivision Productions.
  7. ^ Lowensohn, Josh (June 5, 2009). "A brief history of downloadable console games". CNET. CBS Interactive, Inc. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  8. ^ Weinstein, Stephen B. (1986). Getting the picture: a guide to CATV and the new electronic media. IEEE Press. p. 92. ISBN 0879421975.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]