The C64 Games System (or C64GSfor short) was released in December 1990. Basically it was a re-boxed C64, without a keyboard or any other interfaces, except for the cartridge slot on top. It didn't have much success as you could buy a C64 for not much extra, and the C64GS games would still work on the C64.
It came with one game cartridge containing International Soccer, Klax, Flimbo's Questand Fiendish Freddy's Big Top O'Fun. The carts had a memory of 4 megabits (512k).
The C64GS was not Commodore's first gaming system based on the C64 hardware. However, unlike the 1982 MAX Machine (a game-oriented computer based on a very cut-down version of the same hardware family), the C64GS was internally very similar to the proper C64 with which it was compatible.
Prior to the console's release, Commodore had generated a great deal of marketing hype to generate interest in an already crowded market. Zzap! 64, a C64 magazine of the era, reported that Commodore had promised 'up to 100 titles before December', even though December was two months from the time of writing. In reality 28 games were produced for the console during its shelf life - most of which were compilations of older titles, and a majority of which were from Ocean. Of those 28 titles, only 9 were cartridge exclusive titles, the remainder being ports of older cassette-based games.
While most of the titles that Ocean announced did appear for the GS (with the notable exception of Operation Thunderbolt), a number of promises from other publishers failed to materialise. Although Thalamus, The Sales Curve, Mirrorsoft and Hewson had expressed an interest, nothing ever materialised from these firms. Similar problems plagued rival company Amstrad when they released their GX4000 console the same year.
There were other reasons attributed to the failure of the C64GS, the major ones being the following:
- Poor software support: Most existing software on cartridge did not function well with the C64GS, and enthusiasm from publishers was low. Ocean Software, Codemasters, System 3, Microprose and Domark developed titles for the system, but probably only because the games were compatible with the original C64, providing the titles with a commercial safety net in case the C64GS failed. And failure to reprogram the games for use with the cut-back system was another blame for the fault.
- The C64 computer: The C64GS was essentially a cut-back version of the original Commodore 64, and the games developed for it could also be run on the original computer. The C64 was already at an affordable price, and the C64GS was sold for the same. People preferred to keep with the original C64, particularly since the cassette versions of games could often be picked up for a fraction of the cost of the cartridge versions, and did not seem to mind the much longer loading times as much as Commodore had perhaps banked on.
- Obsolete technology: The C64 was introduced in 1982; by 1990 the technology was way past its prime.
- An already saturated console market: The 8-bit C64GS entered the market in 1990 parallel to newer 16-bit consoles such as the "Mega Drive" and the "Super Nintendo". The "Nintendo Entertainment System" and Sega "Master System" were already dominating the market with more popular titles, and did so until around 1992.
- TV hookup, joystick support and cartridge slots were already found on regular C64 machines. Hence normal C64s were already recognized as game consoles despite looking more like a home computer with an integrated keyboard.