Unlike its rivals Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo has always had a staunch games first philosophy when it comes to hardware. But it hasn’t always been that way. In the 1980s, the company had a brief flirtation with, of all things, the business market.
Booming business and ambitious technology were two of the hallmarks of Japan’s 1980s resurgence, and those two would come together in the middle of the decade when Nintendo teamed up with financial powerhouse Nomura Securities to develop an online network.
They did this through the development of the Famicom Modem, a peripheral for the best-selling console (known as the NES in the West) that allowed users to connect to a network and do, well, not much.
While Nintendo was initially cool on the idea, deciding that it was fun enough to play against either the AI or local opponents, when Nomura offered to develop the network code for an online service Nintendo agreed. Nomura would handle the network and database, Nintendo would manufacture the modem, and once everything was up and running it could then worry about getting games on the service.
The first priority for the modem, though, was business. Because this was in the days before the internet, many Japanese investors keen to keep an eye on their stock prices would have to physically visit a location where a “ticker” was displaying them. The idea of the Famicom Modem — and Famicom Trade, its business-oriented initiative — would be that it could beam this information directly to a consumer’s home.
In addition to that simple feature, it could also allow for stock trading itself, as well as a primitive and early form of online gambling (similar to that seen in the US, only in Japan it was horse racing).
While this was useful to a few limited markets, a lack of working games (Nintendo only created a few unreleased prototype titles) and dodgy hardware meant the Famicom Modem was ultimately a failure, though Nintendo did learn a thing or two it would apply to its next abortive attempt at online connectivity, 1995’s Satellaview (which is another story for another day).
For way more on the service and its implementation, you should check out the freshly-translated article below.
Part 10 — Developing the Famicom Modem [GlitterBerri]