The History of Online Gaming
11 min readJan 20, 2017


The history of online gaming dates back to the some of the first mainframe computers.

As computers were built, games were designed to test them.

As networks were created, games were also designed to test them.

From NASA to MIT, games were developed and tested as computers and the internet evolved.

Here, we are going to dive into a history lesson. The history of online gaming.

The Humble Beginnings of Online Gaming

The Worlds Fair introduced us to so many things. I am still delighted by “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland.

This is where the story of computer and online gaming begins.


The Worlds Fair of 1939–1940 introduces us to Nimtron. A computer allowing you to play the mathematical game of NIM.


We now have the first computer game. NIMROD, created in 1951. This was an evolution of the game presented at the Worlds Fair. Shortly after, we receive our second computer game. OXO, created in 1952.


This provides a turning point in gaming. With the creation of Spacewar!, we now have the first game playable on multiple stations.


The first at home game console, “The Brown Box”, is released. The console does not take off, as it is a bit ahead of its time.

During this same period, arcade games begin to catch the attention of Americans. Sega and Taito release the games Periscope and Crown Special Soccer.

It did not take long to realize that playing a game alone is not nearly as fun as playing with your friends.

The network effect in computers is not a new concept, although it is one of the latest buzzwords in Startups. The network effect has been a natural desire in computers. We see it as early the first games.

Host-Based Networks, Time-Sharing, and the Internet

Three important technological innovations take place over the course of the late 1960s to 1993. We begin to see host-based networks and time-sharing, which both lead to the creation of the internet as we know it today.

All three innovations are quickly used by the gaming community. The desire to create a network effect was strong in the early days of gaming.

Host-based networks play an integral role in shaping the internet as we know it. They also play an integral in multiplayer gaming. A host-based network is one where a computer is connected to and relies upon a host. Such as a mainframe computer and client computers, also known as nodes.

Time-sharing is the concept of spreading a computers processing power across multiple terminals. This concept follows the host-based network design.

The third innovation is the first internet message. In 1969 UCLA sent its first message to the Stanford Research Institute. The message was “login”, which only “lo” was received. This is also the first incident of packet loss.


ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) begins to implement the future internet protocol. Data packet switching, which later provides TCP/IP, gives us a system of 15 nodes and email. At the time, unbeknownst to ARPANET, this will lay the essential groundwork for the Pokemon Go launch.


Atari is created, which sets the benchmark for game development at scale.

During this period, we also see multiplayer game development begin. Over the course of the next decade, we will see over 15 game development companies start.


To kick off the next 7 years, we get the creation of Dungeons and Dragons. This opens up the role-playing game (RPG) category.

At the same time, NASA creates its first game. MAZE, which is created by NASA interns, is one of the early first-person shooter games.

As gaming begins to take off, 1973 sees the first game sold, Pong by Atari.

Empire, which was played over the PLATO network, offers the first time a game could be played on multiple screens. This creates the first time-sharing consoles.

Spasim is released, which is a 3D shooter game that had the ability to connect 32 consoles. The stage is beginning to be set for multiplayer games.

In 1974 we get the first computer game hobbyist magazine, Creative computing.

During the years of 1973 to 1975, Xerox helps develop one the first local area network (LAN). Built with Ethernet, Xerox receives the patent. This becomes the beginning of packet-based computer networking.


The 1970s show us the release of personal computers and gaming consoles.

In 1975 we have the joystick hit arcade games, which revolutionizes how games are played. The joystick is released for the game Gunfight.

In 1977 the Atari VCS is released. This opens the concept of the game cartridge.


We begin the next couple of years with the release of the DEC-10s system. For the concept of time-sharing, this mainframe system provides the foundation.

The capability to develop games with 32 simultaneous players has now been reached.

We see time-sharing services begin to pop up, which look a bit like our current internet service providers (ISPs).

British Telecom also begins to do its part in encouraging online gaming. With the development of the multi-user dungeon (MUD), we see the emergence of the virtual world. British Telecom allowed the game to be played at night on the open network from 2 AM to 7 AM.

In 1980, Atari releases Space Invaders for the Atari VCS. As consumers had grown bored of Pong, this game makes Atari relevant again.

It is interesting to note that in 1981 we see more computer game hobbyist magazines start. There are two that take circulation during the 1980s. Computer Gaming World and Computer and Video Games.


We have now hit “The Year of the Computer” as declared by Time Magazine.

At the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics show, William von Meister releases modem-transfer technology. The technology used telephone lines to transmit data. It is used for gamers to download multiple games from programmers. The technology was released in the CVC GameLine.


The internet is officially created on January 1, 1983. Online gaming can now commence.


The 1980s see the release of personal computers. Bill Gates creates Donkey and provides the BASIC code to encourage programmers to develop their own games.

In 1984, BITNET develops MAD. This is the first game to be accessed by a world-wide computer network.

SGI Dogfight, which becomes the first game to use the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), is released in 1986. The game was limited to a single network, as broadcast packets were used.

In the same year, workstation computers received graphics capabilities. This is occurring while we have the release of X Windows Systems, which opens the door for XTrek. Xtrek was a 2D space battle game.

In 1987, Atari joins the multiplayer party. With the release of Midi Maze, the Atari ST allows you to connect up to 16 consoles. This is the first time we see the concept of a “death match” in gaming.

1989 proves to be a big year for the internet and online gaming. IP Multicast is developed and gaming across the internet becomes possible.

It does not take too long for Sega to try and capitalize on IP Multicast. Sega releases its Meganet online gaming service in 1990. This provided multiplayer online gaming. Sega also created NetLink for online access to its Sega Saturn and Sega Dreamcast systems.


This kicks off our decent into an awkward trial and error period for online gaming. It begins with CERN releasing the World Wide Web software into the public domain.

In 1993 we have the birth of the “LAN Party”, which is still massively popular today. With the release of Pathway to Darkness, and multiplayer capabilities over a network, people cannot help themselves but create the network effect in gaming.

Lastly, we get Doom, which is an instant success. As a first-person scenario (FPS) shooter game, it popularizes the “death match”.

Online gaming, in its most primitive and widespread form, begins to take shape.

With gaming hunger outpacing technological advancement, we begin to see a series of attempts at connecting gaming to the internet. It leads to thinking that the 90s was just an awkward time for all of us.

The 90s Was an Awkward Time for Everyone

With music like Rednex playing Cotton Eye Joe, and our gaming consoles desperately trying to let us play games over the internet, the 90s is a bit awkward. Nothing seemed to work and catch on as a trend.

Even Green Day had a few awkward albums after it released Dookie.

But in gaming, what is most memorable about the 90s is the proliferation of role-playing games (RPGs).


Through the early to mid-90s, Sega, Nintendo, and Atari tried to push online gaming forward. What they found was the internet was expensive and not quite fast enough. This process began as early as 1993.

The first-person shooter game, Marathon, was released for the Macintosh at the end of 1994.

During the same year, the first pay-to-play service over the internet is released. The release was Avalon MUD, which was a multiplayer RPG.

1994 is the year of the RPG movement. Warcraft was also developed during this time, which goes onto become one of the biggest online gaming franchises.

Nintendo makes an attempt in Japan for online multiplayer support in 1995. They released the Satellaview for Super Famicom, but this was only available in Japan.


We see two important games released during this year. Kingdom of the Winds and Quake. They expanded the RPG category and the first-person shooter category. Quake was the first multiplayer first person shooter game.

At this period, Windows ’95 is released with great success. What also occurs is affordable Ethernet cards come onto the market. These two events provide a big break for online gaming.

Over the next couple of years we see a few popular multiplayer online games released. In 1997 we have Ultima Online, and in 1998 Starcraft and Lineage are both released.


In ’99, not only did we have Woodstock ’99, which proved to be the last hurrah for late 90s music, but Nintendo also had a big break for online gaming.

Nintendo released an add-on feature for the Nintendo 64, arguably one of the best Nintendo Consoles, for online gaming. This meant Super Smash Bros online.

Also, the first game to prove commercially viable in the multiplayer online gaming space was Everquest. It was the 2nd most successful after Ultima Online.

As the internet was improving, the dot-com bubble was getting ready to bust. The conclusion of the 90s meant one thing for online gaming. We are about to have an explosion.

The Tipping Point for Modern Gaming

As the 2000s began with the dot-com bubble bursting, you might have thought tech was risky. What actually occurs is online gaming begins to do what gamers have been waiting almost 2 decades for.

The network effect.

The start of the 2000s will see the release of gaming consoles with internet capabilities built in. This trend will continue to today, and only become a bigger part of the gaming experience.


At the turn of the Millennium the Sega Dreamcast was released. This is the first game console with true internet capabilities. Unfortunately, it did not take off. The theory is that they were just a bit ahead of their time.

2000 also saw the release of the Sony Playstation 2. This had internet capabilities, but with the already popular Sony Playstation, it had no trouble with success.

In 2001, the Nintendo GameCube was released with online gaming capabilities.

In the same year, the RPG category evolves with the release of Runescape.


With the Dreamcast being too early, we see 2002 as the year that online gaming takes off. This is the year Xbox is released.

The release of Xbox, with Xbox Live, begins to see online gaming adoption. Halo played a big role in making this happen. The game was so popular, and encouraged online gameplay, online multiplayer gaming flourished.

Also, with the release of Halo, LAN Parties receive a massive revival.


As the Playstation Network (PSN), Xbox Marketplace, and Wii Marketplace begin to gain traction, the way games are purchased and updated changes.

Halo 2 is released for Xbox to an eager audience. As a result, Xbox live usage quadrupled.

World of Warcraft is released for computer. This becomes a huge, cult-like, success.


The Nintendo Wii is released with WiFi capabilities for online multiplayer gaming. Also, web browser and internet access capabilities are integrated. WiiConnect24 is released.

Playstation 3 is also released in the same year with internet capabilities and the Playstation Network (PSN).


This marks the year that smartphones begin to become popularized. With mobile gaming, gaming is now popular in the mainstream.

Zynga is founded in 2007 and goes on to create Facebook and mobile games.

As the remainder of the 2000s are ravaged by the global financial crisis, the future of gaming is getting ready to take another turn. This time it will not take 2 decades, but less than one.

Mobile gaming becomes the next evolution of online gaming.

Mobile Gaming is the New Cigarette

People are smoking less, but phone usage has gone up. There is an argument that phones are the new cigarettes.

Our phones are what we reach to when sitting at a bus stop. When we have anxiety. When we need to fill space. They’re a drug.

A drug that will launch online gaming into an entirely new world.

Games are built mobile first, and as we have seen with Pokemon Go, there is a lot of money to be made in the mobile game market.


Angry Birds is released on Apple iOS. Created by a Finnish company, this marks the first mobile game to explode in the Apple Appstore.


Nintendo creates the Nintendo Network for the Wii U.


PlayStation 4 is released with improved internet capabilities for online gaming. At this point, Playstation has the capability to share games with friends over the internet. This is the Playstation Share Play feature.


Mobile gaming is projected to produce more revenue than console gaming.


Pokemon Go is released. This is the first augmented reality mobile game, and instantly goes viral. Pokemon Go also changes the way mobile games make money.

As mobile first continues to be the big push of the 2010s, we are already seeing the next possible evolution of gaming.

Virtual reality.

In the Future, I Want My Reality to be Virtual

Virtual reality is still in its primitive stages for the average consumer. Though, the interest by large corporations is high. With Facebook purchasing Oculus, we can see a trend in making virtual reality a platform.


The SAS Library in France provides Virtools VRPack.


Google releases Street View.


Oculus VR is founded.


Facebook purchases Oculus VR.


Valve Corporate announces their own HTC VR headset.


Oculus Rift is released as a headset specifically for gaming.

Much of the VR landscape is unknown and in its primitive stages for mass consumer appeal. What we can say, is there is a lot of hype around the topic.

The history of online gaming follows a similar path to that of the internet. As we are still in the internets infancy, we are also in online gaming’s infancy. What is going to play a role in the success of gaming is how we deal with network latency, bandwidth and throughput. Particularly over our mobile networks.

Online gaming has a detailed history, and the desire for games is as early as building computers themselves. It will be interesting to see how gaming’s future unfolds.

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