[MUD-Dev] History of online gaming
Fri Oct 29 12:51:55 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999
Jessica Mulligan is writing a set of articles on this for her Biting the
Hand column (http://www.happypuppy.com/columns/bth/). They're great. Here
are the first two. She works here with me, so I'll see if I can get a copy
of the third in advance. ;)
Happy 30th Birthday, Online Games
For some strange reason, there is this impression in the general public that
online gaming began sometime in 1994 or 1995 with Doom and Warcraft.
This irks me somewhat, but none of us should be surprised at this kind of
myopia. For most members of the general public, the online world didn't
exist until the internet started to explode in 1993 and online games didn't
exist until publishers started adding internet connectivity to computer
games in 1994-95. The press hasn't been much help, mainly because most of
the press is ignorant about online gaming history. As far as they are
concerned, online gaming just coincidentally happened when their advertisers
started producing internet-capable games.
However, the world of online gaming started about 1969. Yes, that's the 1969
that happened 30 years ago. I thought it fitting, in this 30th anniversary
year of the industry, to post a timeline with some of the major events in
online gaming, just to give us all a sense of scope about the industry.
By the way: This is not meant to be the definitive milestone marker, just
something of a draft road map of some major events. If you see an error,
know of a major milestone that I missed or one that you believe should be a
part of the timeline, drop me a line at bth at happypuppy.com.
This one will be in two parts, because there is a lot to cover. In this
edition, we'll cruise up through 1989.
Rick Blomme writes a two-player version of MIT's famous Spacewar for the
PLATO service. PLATO was one of the first time-sharing systems dedicated to
experimenting with new ways to use computers for education. Originally built
in the late 1960's at the University of Illinois/Urbana, it blossomed into a
system that, by about 1972, could host about 1,000 simultaneous users.
Several more games appear on the PLATO service. Multiplayer games that
appeared on PLATO include a version of Star Trek, a Dungeons and
Dragons-style game named Avatar which later became the genesis of the first
Wizardry! PC game and a flight simulator named Airfight.
Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle (www.mud.co.uk/richard/home.htm) head up
development of the first working Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) on the DEC-10 at
the Essex University, Colchester, UK.
Various versions of the Essex MUD are released on the university's
mainframe. In 1980, what is now considered the "classic" MUD is installed
and runs for nine years. Eventually, the popularity of the game with hackers
and non-hackers alike causes computer resources to be eaten at a tremendous
rate and the university restricts playing time to the evening hours.
Although the MUD code is copyrighted, Bartle is pretty liberal about sharing
it with other colleges and universities for education purposes. Someone at
one of those institutions starts passing around the source code to friends.
By the end of 1983, hundreds of illegal copies have been distributed around
the world, starting the free access MUD craze at universities and,
eventually, on the internet.
Kesmai Corporation (www.gamestorm.com) is formed by John Taylor and Dr.
Kelton Flinn and receives its first contract, to develop an ASCII text
role-playing game for CompuServe. The game would later launch as Islands of
Bill Louden, in charge of games at CompuServe, buys an ASCII space combat
simulator called DECwars on DEC mainframe computer tape for $50.00. He hands
it off to Kesmai and it eventually launches as MegaWars I.
Kesmai launches MegaWars I on CompuServe. Finally closed down in circa 1998,
it was the longest-running for-pay online game in history. That honor now
resides with the current incarnation of the Trubshaw/Bartle MUD, MUD II
The first commercial version of MUD is released on Compunet in England.
Islands of Kesmai is released on CompuServe. The game will run for
approximately thirteen years and will eventually spawn a graphics-based
version, Legends of Kesmai, which is available today on AOL and Gamestorm.
The price to play in 1984: About $12 an hour.
Mark Jacobs forms the company that will eventually become AUSI and then
Mythic Entertainment (www.mythicgames.com). He sets up a server system in
his house and installs eight phone lines to run his text-based role-playing
game Aradath. Cost to play: $40 a month. This may be the first instance of a
professionally run, flat-rate online gaming service.
Bill Louden convinces General Electric's Information Services division to
fund a commercial, ASCII-based service similar to CompuServe, using the
evening hours excess capacity on GEIS's mainframe computers. Named GEnie by
Bill's wife (GE Network for Information Exchange), it premiers in October to
much hoopla. It is the first serious competition to CompuServe; price in the
evening hours is $6 an hour for both 1200 and 300bps. This is half of
CompuServe's price for 1200bps access.
In November, Quantum Computer Services (later to rename itself America
Online) quietly launches QuantumLink, a graphics-based online service
exclusively for Commodore 64/128 users. The price is $9.95 a month, plus
about $5 an hour. QuantumLink's graphic interface is a watershed in online
services but, because the C-64/128 is already on the wane, no one seems to
pay much attention. This will turn out to be a huge mistake on the part of
The Golden Age of the online services begins.
Kesmai rewrites MegaWars I, files off the serial numbers and launches it on
GEnie as Stellar Warrior. It is GEnie's first multiplayer online game; it is
not the last.
Jessica Mulligan, working as a volunteer librarian in the Apple II
RoundTable on GEnie, finds Stellar Warrior. After her account is turned off
by GEnie three times for playing too much, she snags a contract to write a
combined Chat-based/Email-based space strategy game. The Rim Worlds War
launches at mid-year; it is the first Play-By-Email (PBEM) game on a
commercial online service.
Kesmai begins pre-alpha testing of Air Warrior, a WWII combat flight
simulator and the first true graphics-based Massively Multiplayer Game, on
GEnie. The Macintosh version is demonstrated on multiple terminals at the
GEnie booth at the West Coast Computer Faire in early 1986 in San Francisco.
The 20,000 attendees are wowed.
QuantumLink begins testing Rabbit Jack's Casino, the second graphics-based
online game in the commercial online services industry. In conjunction with
LucasFilms, development on Habitat begins
Steve Case from Quantum Computer Services begins camping out in Cupertino,
CA, trying to get John Sculley to allow Apple Computers, Inc. to support a
graphics-based online service for Apple II computers. After over 200 days of
persistent nagging, Sculley finally agrees.
Air Warrior is released on GEnie early in the year.
Rabbit Jack's Casino is released on QuantumLink.
Kesmai's file scraping worked so well for Stellar Warrior, they strip the
serial numbers from MegaWars III and launch it as Stellar Emperor on GEnie.
After working with the private BBS-based role-playing and gaming service
Spectre, David Whately sells his idea for a text-based online game to GEnie.
Gemstone goes into alpha testing late in the year and what will become
Simutronics Corporation is born (www.play.net/simunet_public/default.asp).
A stripped-down version of MUD launches on CompuServe as British Legends.
Quantum Computer Services hires Kent Fillmore, President of International
Apple Core, Inc., to start recruiting sysops for it's upcoming Apple II only
service, AppleLink-Personal Edition. He recruits and contracts with Jessica
Mulligan to manage the Apple II Games Forum.
The original Gemstone role-playing game is launched on GEnie as Gemstone II.
Over the next two years, this text-based game will surpass Air Warrior as
the most popular game on GEnie.
Quantum Computer Services launches AppleLink: Personal Edition for Apple II
computers at the May AppleFest Convention in Boston. It also turns down both
of AUSI's games, Aradath and Galaxy II, for its online services, saying it
doesn't want to get into text-based games. Eight years later, it will
reverse this decision and sign on both Gemstone III and Dragon's Gate, the
commercial version of Aradath, after realizing they left millions of dollars
on the table for GEnie and CompuServe to snap up.
Jessica Mulligan, now a Quantum Computer Services employee, writes a white
paper on the gaming industry and recommends that Quantum license the
Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game from TSR, Inc. It does so, and AD&D:
NeverWinter Nights is born, based on SSI's Gold Box series of AD&D games.
Once launched, NeverWinter Nights will run continuously for several years,
even though the technology of the graphics interface is hopelessly outdated.
In its last year of existence as a for-pay game, 1996, it will rake in an
estimated $5 million dollars.
Next Week: The industry takes off.
Happy 30th Birthday, Online Games--Part II
Welcome to part two of the timeline, a 30th birthday tribute to online
games. If you haven't read part one of this time-line of online games, you
can do so by clicking here.
This was intended to be a two-parter, but I'm expanding it out to three
parts, simply because there is so much to cover. In this section, we'll
cover the time period from 1989 to 1993, just before the recent explosion of
online gaming. And to reiterate from Part I:
This is not meant to be the definitive milestone marker, just something of a
draft road map of some major events. If you see an error, know of a major
milestone that I missed or one that you believe should be a part of the
timeline, drop me a line at bth at happypuppy.com.
Bill Louden hires Jessica Mulligan as GEnie's first dedicated games product
manager and gives her virtual carte blanche to sign up more online games.
GEnie signs AUSI's Galaxy II, a real-time space strategy game. On launch, it
immediately becomes the third most popular game on GEnie, behind Air Warrior
GEnie licenses the venerable Diplomacy board game from Avalon Hill and
contracts with AUSI's Mark Jacobs and UNIX/Open Source guru Eric Raymond to
develop an online game, based on Raymond's existing UNIX version of the
GEnie launches A-Maze-ing, a Macintosh based 3D maze combat game similar to
the Amiga-based computer game MidiMaze. This is the first online 3D
"shooter," it won't be the last.
Quantum Computer Services more or less de-emphasizes online games after
launching development of NeverWinter Nights, even though they have several
in development, including a helicopter flight simulator from Sierra, a
version of Hangman from Broderbund and a working version of the wildly
popular board game Cosmic Encounter. Only Hangman sees the light of day.
GEnie signs AUSI to develop a text-based role-playing game. It will
eventually become Dragon's Gate, which is still available today on AOL.
GEnie signs Activision and Kesmai Corporation to develop an online version
of the MechWarrior 3D 1st person computer game.
Diplomacy Online launches on GEnie.
GEnie signs with strategy game legend Jim Dunnigan to develop The Hundred
Years' War for the service. Dunnigan delivers the definitive turn-based
online strategy game, allowing up to 300 players to relive the medieval war
as French, English and other European noble families in campaigns that can
last for over 400 real-time days.
GEnie begins negotiating with Origin Systems to develop an online version of
Ultima, to be called Multima, and introduces them to Kesmai as the
GEnie signs with Clem Chambers and Alan Lenton to bring the British-based
space trading and adventure game Federation II to the service. It launches
late in the year and rapidly becomes quite popular.
CompuServe signs with Spectrum Holobyte to develop an online version of the
Falcon F-16 flight simulator. It will remain in development for years,
including working versions shown in 1991 and 1992, but will never be
released to the public. CompuServe offers no explanation.
GEnie signs with Simutronics, John Weaver of RS Cards and Scott Hartsman
(now a VP at Engage) to convert the Gemstone III code into a persona-based
chat system, a sort of role-playing game with no rules. Named ImagiNation,
it launches into beta later that year. GE's lawyers forget to trademark the
name, an omission that will come back to haunt them.
GEnie begins an experiment called Basic Services, in which about 25 percent
of all products on the service, including message boards and chat, are
offered for a flat monthly rate of $8.95. It is so successful that, on the
first day of flat-rate service, so many people attempt to log in
simultaneously at the 6pm start time that the entire GEnie service crashes.
It is a precursor to what will happen tp AOL when it changes to a flat rate
service in December, 1996. History repeats itself. Again.
Dragon's Gate launches on GEnie in February and rapidly moves into the top
three game spot on the service, alternating on a monthly basis with number
two Air Warrior.
Testing the waters with the competition, Origin Systems begins negotiating
with Quantum/AOL to develop the Ultima online game. Origin closes
negotiations with GEnie and begins negotiating an agreement with Quantum.
The deal eventually falls through and the Multima project goes on the back
burner for several years.
Ken Williams, CEO of Sierra Online, announces the upcoming Sierra Network,
designed to be a private online gaming dial-in service to feature Sierra
Founder Bill Louden leaves GEnie after seven years as general manager. This
is the beginning of the end for GEnie.
MPG-Net, a privately owned company funded by wealthy online games enthusiast
Jim Hettinger (now CEO of iEN), launches a new dial-in gaming service with
The Kingdom of Drakkar, a top-down view graphic role-playing game. It
rapidly becomes popular, signing up more than 3,000 players who pay between
$3 and $5 an hour for access.
GEnie launches CyberStrike from Simutronics. It is Simutronics' first foray
into graphics-based games, going head-to-head in competition with
Multiplayer BattleTech from Kesmai.
Quantum Computer Services integrates its Macintosh, Apple II and PC services
into one service, renames that service America Online, renames the company
America Online, Inc. and goes public.
The Sierra Network, Sierra Online's foray into online gaming, launches with
a flat-rate subscription model of $14.95 per month. The only content is a
series of such wildly exciting two- to four-player games as Nine Man's
Morris. Subscriptions are few and far between. Over the next two years, TSN
will try many pricing schemes until its pricing structure is more
complicated than a Rube Goldberg device, and will rename itself the
ImagiNation Network (INN) when it realizes GE forgot to trademark the name.
The Golden Age of the proprietary, closed loop online services such as
CompuServe and AOL is already ending. Although there will continue to be
good growth for two to three more years, a project originally funded by the
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is about to change the way
everyone in the world communicates and exchanges information. This change
does not include room for proprietary online services.
The Golden Age only lasted about six years.
STATE OF THE ONLINE WORLD:
Setting the stage for 1993
At the end of 1992, there are an estimated 3 to 10 million homes that
actively use modems to subscribe to online services. The range is so wide
because no one has really been keeping an accurate count. The top five
services, in order of publicized subscriber numbers, are Prodigy,
CompuServe, America Online, GEnie and Delphi.
On university mainframe computers around the world, students are
constructing MUDs and inviting other students to log in and have some fun.
By the end of 1992, there will be over 50 MUDs available on the old
DARPA-Net, a distributed network mainly used by academics and government
Computer game publishers are experimenting with multiplayer products. There
are several instances of two-player, modem-to-modem games, including Empire,
Perfect General, Falcon, Command HQ and Fire Fight. Now, they are adding
LAN/IPX code on top of TCP/IP protocols to games in an attempt to move up to
four and even eight players.
Commercially, there are about 14 to 16 for-pay multiplayer games available
on the online services, with another eight or nine in development. The total
gross income of all of them together amounts to between $10 and $15 million
annually. There are also a wide range of trivia and word jumble games
available, including NTN Trivia on GEnie and variously homegrown word and
trivia games run in chat sections by interested subscribers.
1993 will change everything.
NEXT WEEK: It's 1993; do you know where your wallet is?
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