The Gaming Historian

GameLine Let You Download Atari Games

Hello and welcome to The Gaming Historian!

DLC seems to be a hot topic in gaming these days. At E3 2012, it was probably one of the most used terms at the conference. Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony all have their own ways to provide downloadable content to gamers. Atari had their own way too….back in 1983! It was called GameLine.

GameLine is the brainchild of William von Meister (what a name!), an entrepeneur who began in the cable industry. It initially began as a way to provide music to cable companies (via satellite). When the record industry stepped in and threatened legal trouble, the cable companies said “no thanks” to Meister. Looking for a way to use his new technology, he founded Control Video Corporation (CVC) and created GameLine.

GameLine was basically an Atari cartridge with a modem inside. It had a phone jack on the side that would connect to central servers using pulse or tone dialing. For $59.95 and a $15 one-time membership fee, you got the cartridge, GameLine service, and a subscription to GameLiner magazine. The magazine offered tips & tricks, information on new games coming out for the service, and a list of games offered. I’m sure it was much better than Game Informer magazine.

Downloadin’ some games!

Electronic Games magazine called GameLine “The greatest thing to happen to video games since the joystick.” So what happened to this thing? Why didn’t it become a huge success?

Well, it did have a few problems. Each game cost $1 to download and only lasted 1 week. If you wanted to play it after that, you had to pay another dollar! Another issue was support from game developers. Many of the big game companies (Atari, Coleco, Mattel, Activision) refused to give licensing agreements to CVC.  The final nail in the coffin for GameLine? What else, but the video game crash of ’83. The company soon went out of business.

Meister wanted to use the technology not only for video games, but for news, stocks, sports, mail, and even a message board. It is hard to imagine something like this being possible in 1983! What happened next was even more interesting. Some former members of CVC formed a new company, Quantum Computer Services. They created Quantum Link, an online gaming service for the Commodore 64 and 128. After a failed partnership with Apple, Quantum Computer Services decided to position themselves as a company that would provide services to people who weren’t so good with computers. Their new company name?

America Online, also known as AOL.

In the insruction manual for the GameLine, William von Meister stated “Congratulations on taking a major step into the future of video gaming and home information services.” It is amazing what his vision has become: Instant downloading of full games, movies, tv shows, sports, and more: All to your video game console. We have come a long way, huh?

Further Reading