Strange peripherals… the Soft Card

hudsonlogoIn the early 80s, software developers were looking at ways to prevent the copying of their software and games, because after all, copying tapes or floppies was not that hard. One way was releasing games on cartridges, but the big disadvantage was the higher production cost, which would limit their sales.

Trust the engineers however to come up with a creative solution: the software card. Basically, the Soft Card (as it was called on the C64) was a piece of plastic or cardboard, the size of a bank card that came equipped with a built-in ROM chip. The card served both as the packaging and game/software itself, as the card could feature the box art that you’d normally see on the game box.


The only thing that you needed to provide, one-time, to your customer was an adapter that would fit into the cartridge port of your breadbox and that would act as the recipient for the Soft Card.
Electric Software in the UK and Reis Ware in Germany created several types of cards, including “blank” ones that came equipped with either ROMs of 16, 32 or 64 Kbytes capacity or EEPROMs and battery powered RAMs. They even made them as big as 1 MByte!

The concept of software on a card was not unique to the C64 though, as Hudson Soft (a name you may know as they created Lode Runner for the Famicom back in 1984), together with Mitsubishi Plastics, had already created their software card in 1985 (one year before the Soft Cards). The “BEE card” as it was called (as Hudson Soft’s logo featured a bee), was created for use in the MSX computers.


The main differences between theirs and that of Electric Software and Reis Ware a year later, were the capacity (a max of 32 Kbyte for the BEE card) and the connectors (32 in a single row on the BEE card, 38 on two rows for the Soft Card).

Sega also had their own “twist” on the concept when they released the short-lived “Sega card” for use in the Master System.
Hudson Soft themselves expanded their BEE Card in to the HuCard, which would feature the same specs as the Soft Card and was used in the TurboGrafx consoles.

The BEE card and Soft Card effectively were tens of years ahead of their time (just look at today’s SD cards and see the similarities) and provided a lower cost alternative to the traditional game cartridges.
So, why didn’t more software companies adopt the Soft Card? Well, as for the HuCard (or BEE card), it was deisgned to work on the TurboGrafx/PC Engine console (which was developed by Hudson Soft and NEC) and this system was plaged by a very limited support of third party developers and publishers.  The better games for this system also came on CD as the HuCard simply did not provide enough storage capacity.
As for the Soft Card, the ease and reuse of floppies for data storage on the best selling Commodore platform was something that the Soft Card could not fully replace, and the development of low cost data protection mechanisms for software on floppies meant that the 5,25” and 3,5” data carriers were still the cheapest and now also relatively secure means of data storage, so the economics didn’t really work out for the Soft Card.
Hence, it truly is a “strange peripheral”.

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2 Responses to Strange peripherals… the Soft Card

  1. When I first started reading this post I thought to myself “those look like TurboGrafx-16 HuCards” then I get a little more into your post and ta-da! Now it makes sense. Very cool post and history of the HuCard. Do you actually own the “Soft Card” peripheral? That would be pretty cool!

  2. Robby "The C= guy"

    Thanks! No, they’re extemely hard to find. The MSX ones pop-up from time to time, but I haven’t seen one on eBay for the Commodore. There’s an MSX one on sale right now:

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