Xband Video Game Network
by Michael J. Smith
Over the past ten years the video game industry has been growing in leaps and bounds, including such competitors as Sega, Atari, Sony, Panasonic, and Nintendo. Some feel that the biggest threat may not be coming from the different game consoles, but instead from the Internet.
One company has responded to this threat through the introduction of the Xband video game network, created in 1994 by Catapult Entertainment, a division of BlockBuster Entertainment Corporation. The Xband is basically a telephone modem which allows owners of a Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo game system to compete against other gamers in different locations, in real time, via a telephone line. Xband offers players connection to the network for a very reasonable $3.95 per hour anywhere in the continental United States.
Xband modems and network are designed with an “application-specific integrated circuit chip, signal processing hardware, and a custom phoneline interface which clocks response time at 1/30th of a second. This enables rapid response time for players.
Players plug the XBand modem into the game slot on their gaming console and then plug in the game they want to play into the Xband. Next they dial an 800 number which connects them to the XBand network computers, which contain a directory of gamers waiting to play specific games. If no match is found, the players are put in a queue until an opponent dials in.
The Xband hardware and software costs are relatively affordable, ranging between $120.00-$170.00. The XBand modem alone is very inexpensive, retailing for as low as $9.99 in some nationwide toy stores. A player must also own a Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo game system, currently selling for approximately $89.00. Game cartridges range in price from $19.99 to $69.99.
Catapult has begun to offer extended services to its users, to be more compatible with the computer. They now offer X-mail, a feature which allows members to send messages to any other player on the XBand network or any Internet mail address. To address the difficulty of typing messages on a joy pad, Catapult offers a keyboard that plugs into the joystick port of a Sega Genesis of Super Nintendo game system at a cost of $30.00.
Another challenge for XBand is the compatibility between different game systems. Currently, Sega and Nintendo are promoting their new state of the art systems along with rivals Sony and Panasonic. The lifelines of the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo game systems, however, are probably less than one year. Catapult is addressing this problem by designing systems to be compatible with all of the next generation systems. In addition, Catapult recently signed a deal with Sega to incorporate their system with the Sega Channel, (which uses cable television to download games to the Sega Genesis game system). However, most cable services are not yet equipped to provide two-way communications.
The viability of the XBand network is strong. With the backing of major corporate money such as Viacom, along with the ability to overcome obstacles, the future looks bright. The company should continue to set its sights on the next generation gaming systems being produced by Sega, Sony, Panasonic and Nintendo. In addition, the company should concentrate on getting its members access to the World Wide Web which would provide an extremely low cost alternative to purchasing a personal computer to access the information super highway. Anyone who has ever played a video game for more than five minutes knows how addictive they can be and the same can be said for anyone who has surfed the Internet for five minutes. Needless to say, combining the two could prove to be more addictive than narcotics.