As another installment in a somewhat ongoing series on obscure console history, let’s talk about the expansion port on the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES. In case you’ve never turned over your NES: there’s a little door underneath your NES, which covers up a small raised piece of plastic that’s (relatively) easily removable. Underneath the raised piece of plastic sits an expansion port on the NES’ motherboard. That’s my NES, and since I’ve already taken it apart to look at what’s under the raised cover, I had no need to remove it.
Common wisdom is that the NES expansion port was never actually used for anything, but that’s not actually true. Modeled after the Family Computer Network System for the Japanese version of the NES (the Famicom), through which the NES could display weather, stock information, partake in gambling, and so on, the Minnesota State Lottery and Nintendo tried to bring a similar device to the United States:
The three parties planned to sign up 10,000 homes for the trial, and while Nintendo handed out free modems, in an even sweeter deal, Minnesota also handed out free NES consoles to those involved who didn’t already have one.
For a monthly subscription fee of $10 (remember, that’s 1991 money), users would also get a special cartridge for the NES that let them access the lottery, after which they could play every game that month, right up to and including the big jackpots.
The program ultimately flopped and never made it to the official production or availability stages, and since Nintendo never tried to do anything with the expansion port after this initial test, it would remain unused for the entirety of the NES’ lifespan. Today, though, you can buy a homebrew expansion board that taps into the port.
I’ve been reading up a lot on these kinds of stories, so if you have anything interesting – feel free to submit it. Since I grew up with Nintendo (and PC), that’s where the focus has been so far, so I’d be quite interested in stories about competing companies such as Sega or Atari.