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In the 1980s You Could Download Games for your Atari 2600 from GameLine
In the early 1980s, a cable pioneer by the name of William von Meister and his company, CVC, found themselves in a bit of a technological quandary. They had been experimenting with modem transmission technology, hoping to find a way to utilize it effectively. Their initial venture involved trying to transmit music, but they ran into a myriad of legal issues that led cable providers to pull the plug on the project.
So there they were, CVC, with a sophisticated delivery service infrastructure and nothing substantial to deliver. In a stroke of ingenious adaptation, they decided to repurpose their system to transmit video games specifically designed for the Atari 2600. This revolutionary move allowed users to connect to a centralized system and, for a modest fee, download games directly to their GameLine modules. Each downloaded game typically offered 5 to 10 plays, after which users needed to reconnect to GameLine and pay for another download.
One of the most appealing aspects of this service was its round-the-clock availability. It wasn't merely a matter of convenience; GameLine even provided an opportunity to preview games that hadn't yet hit the store shelves. In terms of pricing, it worked out to roughly 10 cents per play. For gamers eager to sample titles before committing to a substantial purchase of $30 to $50, it represented an attractive proposition.
In terms of hardware, the GameLine device resembled an oversized silver Atari cartridge, featuring a phone jack on the side. GameLine's library primarily consisted of games created by third-party game developers, with one of the standout contributors being the somewhat underappreciated Imagic.
To become a member, one needed to invest around $60 in the hardware and pay a one-time membership fee of $15. In return, members received Gameliner Magazine delivered to their doorstep every month, keeping them informed about the latest developments in the gaming world.
Using GameLine was a straightforward process. You connected it to your trusty Atari 2600 or ColecoVision console with the expansion module and then plugged in your phone line. The next step was registration, which you accomplished by dialing their toll-free number, 1-800-CVC-2100. Once registered, you could navigate the available games using your joystick. When you found a game you wanted to try, your credit card, provided during registration, would be charged accordingly.
Despite its innovative approach and early success, CVC and GameLine did not manage to withstand the storm of the Video Game Crash of 1983, which left the gaming industry in a state of turmoil. However, the story doesn't end there. Some of the key members from the GameLine team would go on to establish Quantum Link, a service that would later evolve into the ubiquitous AOL (America Online). It's fascinating how the roots of some of today's tech giants trace back to the humble beginnings of the VCS era.