A Brief History of Online Games
Computer games have existed almost as long as computers, starting with OXO, a Tic-Tac-Toe-playing program, in 1952. Similarly, online games have existed almost as long as computer networks. Early computer games required players to share a single terminal, but once multiple linked terminals were created, games sprang up to take advantage of the possibilities offered by this new technology.
These games were written by and for computer programmers and college students, since few other people had access to networked computers at this point. The University of Illinois’s PLATO system, which linked multiple user terminals to a mainframe, was developed and refined in the 1960s and early 1970s. PLATO spawned many of the features we associate with the Internet, including message boards, chat rooms, instant messaging — and online games. PLATO’s users created a wide variety of multiplayer games, including space and air battle simulators, tank warfare games, and Dungeons & Dragons-style dungeon exploration.
In 1978, a student at Britain’s Essex University developed a program called MUD, short for “Multi-User Dungeon.” Based on popular text adventures such as Zork and Colossal Cave, MUD allowed multiple players to explore and role-play in a massive dungeon setting. MUD quickly spawned numerous copies and variants, and these various MUDs are still popular today — in fact, you can still play in the original version on the Web. MUD hugely influenced many popular single-player computer games of the time, including Ultima and Wizardry, and a direct line of descent can be traced from MUD to modern massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) such as World of Warcraft.
The next step in online gaming came in the development of commercial networking services such as The Source, CompuServe, GEnie, and QuantumLink (later America Online). For the first time, access to a university or other large computer network wasn’t necessary to participate in the Internet. People could join in from their own home computers, and it wasn’t long before users found themselves able to interact with each other in CompuServe’s Islands of Kesmai and other multiplayer role-playing games.
In the 1990s, Intel’s new Pentium processor made it possible to display complex graphics in an online game. This lead to the growth of networked first-person shooters such as Quake, Doom, and Half-Life, as well as elaborate graphical MMORPGs such as Ultima Online and Everquest.
The 1990s also saw the growth of online gambling sites, including casinos, sports betting, and online poker rooms, as the introduction of the World Wide Web revolutionized the way people interacted over the Internet. Despite the crudity of early gambling sites, they were wildly popular as soon as they were introduced. Many people are now devoted to online pokies and other gambling games as a hobby, and have even made good money at it.
Another development around this time was the introduction of Flash, which made it much easier to play games using a Web browser. Before that, browser-based games had tended to be slow, graphically limited, and prone to connection problems. Flash made it possible to create browser games that worked as smoothly as regular video games. Moreover, Flash was easy to use, which made it possible for amateur video game designers to create their own games and use the Web to distribute them.
Today, online games — both professional and amateur — are popping up everywhere you look, on smartphones, tablet computers, and on Facebook and other social media sites. Online gaming, once almost exclusively the province of computer experts, is now available to everyone. You are only a brief search away from a social media game or casual gaming site where you can register and play with people from all over the world. And the future promises only more depth and variety in the gaming experiences available online!