For however many years it was that I owned a Sega Genesis while it was still a viable, current-gen system, I only owned three games for it: Sonic 2 (the obligatory pack-in game), Mortal Kombat, and Mortal Kombat II. That's it. To be perfectly honest, I didn't have a reason to own a lot of other games. I still borrowed games from friends occasionally, but the real reason that buying games became unnecessary was because I had the Sega Channel!
My parents were the ones that actually told my brother and I about it, which was weird because my parents are not into videogames (except for old-school PC adventure games that my dad had a brief fascination with), so the fact that this thing found a spot in our home was a small wonder. As a youngster I didn't follow gaming media or read gaming magazines outside of the occasional GamePro, all I knew was that I loved videogames and I wanted to play more of them. So when my parents told us that we were going to get a new channel that enabled us to play 50 Sega Genesis games every month, we lost our freaking minds. And yes, I literally thought that it was just a new channel being added to our television...I was 9, shut up.
For those of you who were either too young or not fortunate enough to have it offered in your area, you can read about how it worked here, but I just want to talk about my experiences with the device. Almost all of my favorite Genesis games were ones that I first discovered on Sega Channel: Earthworm Jim, General Chaos, Bonanza Bros., Streets of Rage 2, Comix Zone, etc. Even though SNES versions of some titles were and still are considered superior, I first played most of them on Genesis, so in my heart it just feels weird to play Beavis and Butt-Head or Zombies Ate My Neighbors on Super Nintendo. I never had an allegiance to one system or company, but Sega Channel definitely ensured over the course of time that I turned my Genesis on more than I did my SNES.
Since the Sega Channel operated as a subscription service, there was no risk involved in playing a game that you had never heard of. Sure, not every game was a gem, but it didn't matter. I wasn't paying for it, so why wouldn't I give Ballz a shot? Now there's a sentence I never thought I would write. But at the same time, I discovered games I enjoyed that were typically in genres that I hated, like Shining Force II. Having 50 games at your disposal every month was a surefire way to keep a kid entertained for hours on end. I remember several weekends being spent staying up with friends until 4 a.m. full of pizza and Pepsi, just trying out new games. Games were always grouped together by category, so if you were in the mood for a certain type of game, just go to that category and you have at least 5 different games that fit the bill.
I'm convinced these adapters were just re-purposed 32Xs.
The games changed on the first of every month, although there were definitely some holdovers. A lot of games would appear multiple months in succession, but it never took away from the excitement of the new month, it was always like Christmas morning. The only real downside was that you could only save one game at a time, which is understandable given the technology of the day, but it definitely caused a lot of fights between my brother and I. If he had been playing a season of NCAA Football, and then I saved a game of Theme Park, it would overwrite the NCAA Football save and I would get beat up because all older brothers are jerks.
Another reason the Sega Channel was great was because it offered demos (referred to as 'Test Drives'), unreleased games (Nightmare Circus), and Sega Channel exclusive titles (Pulseman, Alien Soldier). These things didn't happen a lot, but when they did, they stood out. Nightmare Circus never did get a release outside of South America, and even though it wasn't anything to write home about, I still feel somewhat privileged to have been able to play it.
The Sega Channel service was officially discontinued in July of 1998, and by that time I was already wearing out my PlayStation. Realistically, I may have been an early adopter, but I only had the service for about a year, but what a year it was! It was $15 a month with an initial $25 activation fee, and these days, I would fight Mike Tyson for one of the three consoles to have this type of thing. I'm a recent PlayStation Plus subscriber, and it's already proven itself to be an incredible value (especially if you're both a PS3 and Vita owner), but if Sony was able to offer 50 games a month (or heck, even half of that) for a monthly subscription, I would gladly give them $15 every 30 days. The same goes for Microsoft and Nintendo. Sadly, that'll likely never happen, at least not until we officially reach the all-digital future, but a man can dream.