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Remembering the Game Factory. Are the programmable cartridges good for anything without a programmer?


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I just posted a totem of my shame and my ignorance for sale on PriceCharting.



It is one of the rarest officially sanctioned cartridges for the Sega Genesis, and is probably totally useless. It is the Game Factory (Blue) cartridge, a relic of a curiously far-sighted experiment by Sega, Blockbuster, and Blockbuster-IBM joint venture New Leaf Entertainment.


You can read a lot more at SegaRetro,  or watch this Gaming Historian video:



but basically the idea was that Blockbuster stores would have a programmer and a connection to a remote server (or maybe physically delivered hard drives, it’s not clear) and would be able to burn games on the fly to the rental cartridges, freeing stores from having to make costly and risky bets on what games would run out and leave customers disappointed and what games would sit on the shelf.


(Yes, yes, other more evolutionarily promising approaches like Satelliview and the Sega Channel were much older, but we’re talking about Blockbuster here.)


Well, it didn’t work out. It was piloted in ten stores in South Carolina and they pulled the plug after a couple months. It didn’t help that it was effectively the end of the 16 bit generation anyway, and besides the memory was expensive enough that they made a low capacity cartridge (the blue one) to save on costs, causing confusion to the poor store clerks who were already being asked to do something way more complicated than they ever did before and causing the stores to have to guess how many popular games would need more storage capacity.




And at this juncture Blockbuster did a very characterically Blockbuster thing: instead of burning all of

the evidence of this program in an incinerator like normal companies would have, they simply funneled all of the prototype hardware into their used game sales network and blasted preprogrammed cartridges and useless, empty cartridges alike halfway across the country.


Which is how I got one at my local Blockbuster. This program was not public knowledge at the time, but not being a total idiot I quickly figured out what the point of this useless brick I just bought was.


I wanted to see what it was, so I opened it up the only way I could with the tools I had on hand: with the crappy old soldering iron. At first I tried to melt out the screw post from the front, but thankfully I came to my senses after several failed attempts and stopped massacring the label. Then I melted out the back.


Behold what I found when it was open:




Good old OG Intel flash memory, a BIOS chip, presumably a microcontroller of some kind, an SRAM chip presumably for game saves, and a CR2032 to keep it powered.


Pretty fancy hardware to manufacture in bulk. I wonder if everything had gone as planned and the 16 bit cart era hadn’t ended if they even

would have saved money vs buying physical copies of games.


Anyway, I don’t think I did anything to kill this board, just foolishly broke the welds on the CR2032 because I thought maybe a new battery would make it work ?


Does anybody know anything about these things? Could it be flashed with an off-the-shelf flash cart adapter? Or did they have some kind of authentication (bios chip argues for yes) that only allowed it to

be written to by their custom programmer? Anybody have one I could borrow? (If not and if you do have a programmer, do you want to borrow this one?)

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