Microsoft's XBLA is considered the benchmark download service right now, with a weekly release schedule and easy-to-navigate storefront. But even though downloading games is considered one of this hardware generation's top features, it's hardly a new concept. A few generations back, both SEGA and Nintendo were experimenting with networked gaming services, such as Nintendo's Stellavision for the Super Famicom in Japan and the SEGA Channel for the Genesis in North America, Chile, Australia, Argentina, and the UK. Even Mattel briefly tried a cable service in 1982 for the Intellivision called PlayCable.
The SEGA Channel, released nationally in North America in 1994, was an exceedingly innovative delivery system for games -- quite prescient to what's happening now with services like Wii Ware, XBLA, and the PlayStation Network. Instead of using the Internet (which was in its pop culture infancy in 1994), SEGA teamed with Time Warner Cable and TCI -- both cable giants in the nineties -- to deliver games over regular coaxial cable.