Published on 15 Oct 2021
There’s a lot of confusion about the release and price of the 64DD and what was the Randnet service about, so it’s time to talk about that, because it is more interesting than you think.
Nintendo had announced the 64DD in 1995, the Nintendo 64 hadn’t even come out yet that they already announced the addon for it. The purpose was to bring higher capacity and big rewritable storage, as well as making it expandable through cartridges (such as the Modem Cassette and Capture Cassette for exemple).
The 64DD was properly introduced in 1997 alongside games, with a slated release for summer 1997 in Japan and a pricing between $100 and $199. Miyamoto himself even estimates the price to be $120. This might be about what the 64DD would cost on its own in retail stores. However this isn’t how it ended up to be.
In around June 1999, in the wake of the launch of the 64DD, Recruit and Nintendo would establish their second joint company called RandnetDD Co., Ltd., the first one was Marigul Management, which would provide financing for game companies.
RandnetDD would handle all marketing and sales of the 64DD including software, management and provider of the Randnet service, which would be internet access, email, online game networks including matchmaking, as well as a content provider for newspapers, music, and more. This would mean that RandnetDD’s sole existence is for the 64DD and its service, making the 64DD bound to RandnetDD and one wouldn’t sell without the other as part of their plans.
Later on, RandnetDD announced their plans for the Randnet service membership to start in December 1999, for the first year, for 2500 yen (~$23) per month, you would rent-to-own the Randnet Starter Kit, comprised of the 64DD itself, an Expansion Pak, the Modem Cassette and Cable, and Randnet Disk (would be sent later), as well as a selection of titles, and of course, access to the Randnet service.
For 3300 yen (~$30) per month, you could rent all of the above but also have a Clear Black Nintendo 64 unit. A 12-month flat rate plan was introduced later for 30000 yen (~$290) and 39600 yen (~$380) (including Clear Black Nintendo 64 unit).
All years after the first would cost 1500 yen (~$14) per month, and all hardware and software ownership would be transferred to the member from that point. RandnetDD actually states that very clearly. Of course, any dialup access fees aren’t included here, but they did set up a nationwide phone number in Tokyo with a 50 yen ($0.46) per minute flat rate, although other phone numbers were available with different fees depending on the distance or time of day.
The membership application form could be managed within select stores, in call centers, and by fax, and was limited up to 100000 members. This wouldn’t be as going as they hoped.
So to make it clear, the 64DD has never been this expensive, the subscription plan included the price of everything you would get from Randnet, it would have been a constant stream of software that you would own, and services. RandnetDD wanted to be innovative, and essentially you could have owned every 64DD game, and they really tried to be competitive.
Every single consumer 64DD title and device released so far were only for Randnet members, I have looked for alternatives but there’s only evidence of 64DDs only being sold through Randnet.
Unfortunately for Randnet, the 64DD was released after the Dreamcast had come out worldwide, and mere months after launch, the Playstation 2 would make its debut in Japan. For me it just seems impossible to beat the next gen hardware with this, especially when the project codenamed Dolphin was already talked about, to be released in 2001 as the GameCube.
I’d say the closest comparison to the 64DD’s launch that I can make is the PlayDate, where you buy the hardware but also an entire season of games.