Xbox Live may have been the beginning of dedicated, self-contained networks for consoles, but Microsoft wasn’t the first to market with that idea. Oh, not by a long shot. In 1994, nearly a decade before Live’s debut, XBAND brought SNES and Genesis players together using 2400-baud modems and a little bit of hardware trickery. It was awfully shaky, especially by today’s standards, but at a time when “online play” meant Doom, dial-up connections and PCs, it was an ambitious idea.
For just $5 a month (not counting long-distance and connection fees), players could access XBAND’s dedicated, nationwide network for head-to-head competition in Super Mario Kart, Mortal Kombat II, Doom, and a handful of other games that XBAND’s creators had managed to reverse-engineer. It featured player profiles (complete with “codenames” and icon avatars), 10-person friend lists, leaderboards, news feeds, win/loss records, and even messaging via “XMAIL.” It also featured plenty of lag problems and rampant hacking, but in the end, console gamers and publishers simply didn’t think online play was something they needed, and XBAND’s network was shut down in 1997.