The Sega Channel

The best years of my gaming life came from this service!
February 28, 2007

Before XBOX Live, before PS2 & PS3’s online play, and even before some online PC games, there was the Sega Channel! I’d like to share my memories of one of the best inventions in video gaming history.

Most kids were lucky if the Sega Channel was even offered in their area. Lucky for me, Time Warner Cable ran “test runs” in our area to see how the reaction was. The Sega Channel cost $14.95 per month with a $25 activation fee. No other charges applied. Each month gave you access to 50 games of various genres. A lot of people think each game cost money, but infact $14.95 paid for the whole service per month. There’s a lot of misconception of how the Sega Channel worked. I’d love to give you a huge description of that, but instead, I’d like to share my memories of it.

Back then, Cable TV in my area went up to channel 52. If you mannually entered channel 99 on your remote control you could “see” the Sega-Channel running through its demo! They must have had a Sega Genesis console with the Sega Channel cartridge running all day, and broadcasted it on channel 99. This channel took over my life!! 90% of the time, it would repeat game demo’s. – (You know, when you leave your console to get some food, and the demo runs by itself?) I remember “Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine” ran for almost two weeks. I became obsessed with this game just by watching the demo’s. I wanted to play it so bad but none of the retail stores near me had it! If you were lucky, you were able to witness the Sega Channel being restarted by (someone) at the cable station.

The screen would show a 16-bit image of a Sega Genesis sitting on a table, with a large cartridge purtruding from the top, and a “cord” coming out of into the wall. Then, Sonic the Hedghog jumped out from the left side of the screen, ran across the table, and jumped on the power button. This caused a “lump” (much like water in a plugged fire hose on cartoons) to come through the “cord” from the wall, to the cartridge. This caused Sega-Pat (Sega Channel’s mascot) to leap off of the cartridge, and jump towards you into the screen. The next image was Sega Pat holding a TV and a Genesis remote control with the words SEGA CHANNEL below him. He stood in front of a black background with stars, which shifted back-n-forth. These stars would sometimes slow down. This was an indication of the system loading from the service provider.

Once loaded, the main menu appeared. This was like heaven! Categories like Action, Fighting, Adventure, Family, and Puzzles made my eyes glow! There was also a category called Test Drives, which allowed you to play un-released or new released games, with some limitations.

When I managed to catch this “restart” while watching channel 99, I absolutley had to have the Sega Channel. I went down our local Time Warner Cable office in Jamestown NY with my mom. They had a table set up with so much literature on the Sega Channel. They would also print off a list you could take with you that had each month’s list of games weeks before that month started!

After months of convincing, I awoke on christmas morning. Two of my presents consited of a 13” television for my bedroom, and the Sega Channel!!!!!! (This was also the year I got the Sega Nomad, which was a huge failure.)
I had to install it. I couldn’t wait for my dad any longer… So using my 12 yr. old mind, I figured it out and with an activation phone call (which I had to make the day atfer christmas, grr!), I was online! I can’t describe to you the feeling I got all over my body when I turned on the power, and saw the 16-bit image of a genesis on a table, and sonic jumped out…. Mmmm, It was mine… I wasn’t watching it, or wishing anymore. It was mine!!!!!!!!!!

Aside from my excitement, the Sega Channel did have its problems. Since cable lines were analog back then (before cable internet turned cable lines into much stronger, digital lines), it would sometimes get stuck on the loading screen. My mom would have to call Time Warner so they could send a “boost” through the cable. This worked everytime. It may have been superstition, but everytime I unplugged the Sega Channel from its power source, it never seemed to load the next power up. My mom had a huge phobea of fires, so this would happen all the time and I’d get so angry.

The Sega Channel offered so many titles to choose from, and they changed each month which made it even better!! I remember my favorites being Earthworm Jim (which Sega Channel offered an ‘unreleased’ version of to sega channel subscribers) and Theme Park. I played Theme Park all the time. Theme Park is the game that paved the way for Rollercoaster Tycoon. The whole time you built your park before opening, it looped the circus theme music… over n over n over n over. This drove my parents batty! Some other games I enjoyed were Bomberman, monopoly, road rash, and of course, Skitchen! There were titles for all age groups and gender. Barbie games, My Little Pony, etc. (I’m not gonna lie, I played them just cuz it didn’t cost me anything!)

Games didn’t take too long to load either. Not much longer than a typical PS2 or PC game. Since it was an analog cable system, the closer you were to Time Warner, the faster your service. During loading screens, it would offer you hints and cheats to other games, or that game specifically. I shared a room with my sister at that time and I had the bottem bunk The boards underneith her bed are still littered with black marker, which marked cheats and codes from my Sega Channel years. Cheat magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro would also have two page spreads each month with the current month’s Sega Channel Games which game cheats and hints for most of the games!

I think the Sega Channel was a great invention. Sega went out on a limb and took a chance to offer their customers the FIRST easy and convenient way to play all of their games from the comfort of home. I ended up buying a lot of the games that I loved the most, where if it weren’t for the Sega Channel, I never would have wasted money on renting/buying. Unfortunatly the Sega Channcel only lasted until 1997 when the Sega Genesis was pushed out by the likes of Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, Playstation, etc.

Today’s gaming industry should use Sega Channel as a model to bring back this type of service. You can pay $15 a month for XBOX live, and play games you’ve already shelled out $60 for… Or they can regenerate a service like the Sega Channel and offer a flat monthly rate which gives you access to all licensed titles. It’s a shame that many people weren’t exposed to the Sega Channel. It was the best 2 years of my gaming life, by far. Thanks for sharing this memory with me. Hope you enjoyed.

Credits to: - Sega Channel info, logo, and Time warner logo. – Images (from image search) – Images (from image search)
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