How Online & Networked Gaming Evolved Into What It Is Today
Gaming is huge business these days and it’s no surprise as it’s everywhere. You can see this by considering that a huge number of gamers are from backgrounds that you would never have considered becoming gamers in the past. Who are these people? Well, everyone. Since the emergence and dominance of the smartphone almost every adult is a gamer. We have the traditional gamers who are playing PC games and also the console gamers, on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, these people buy games in the traditional way in-store and also can download them online via game stores that are right there on the consoles when you turn them on, in fact, these machines barely function if you don’t have an active internet connection these days. You can also buy gaming subscriptions which give the account holder access to a whole library of games to choose from that are accessible 24/7 from these gaming stores. The other, and newer, demographic is those with smartphones, games such as Candy Crush, or Scrabble or whatever have made everyone, anywhere a gamer. This is largely since it is all online, but online and networked gaming has come a long way from its early days.
In a very real way the first games were pretty much all multi-players as the technology to create other non-playing-characters or NPCs didn’t really exist. If we take Pong as an example as it’s often cited to be the first computer game, although this is disputed and unlikely to be true, it is still a great example to use as it’s so well-known. This was a game where essentially two white lines simulated tennis players and a white pixel represented a tennis ball, and that was pretty much it. So you can see that due to lack of hardware the game was extremely simple, with no characters, no story, no graphics or backgrounds, but still, this was cutting edge technology for the time. It wasn’t really until the 1970s when games such as Computer Space and Space Invaders arrived in the commercial sense that we began to see single-player games with automated enemies.
The earliest multiplayer games that were developed were done so in university computer labs. You would be surprised to learn that networked technology was being developed as early as the late 1960s which laid the way for networked gaming. APARTNET was developed at UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, the UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah and was funded by the Department of Defense. It was over this system that email was first used and they even used the @ symbol to denote a username of the email sender or receiver and we don’t need to say how that developed. No gaming was conducted on this network although it was discussed how games that were, at the time, conducted by traditional mail could be speeded up and played over the network in this way.
Multi-User Dungeons are generally held to be the first multiplayer games that were played over any kind of network. They tended to be very simple in comparison to modern adventure games but given that any kind of networked gaming was unheard of at the time it was still a revolutionary leap. Also, these games would have been very limited in their potential base of players given the availability, or lack of, connections.
The first MUD of any description came along in 1976 by the appropriately labeled name of Adventure, although it is commented on that it wasn’t really a fully-fledged MUD in the way users would expect later one to look like. But it didn’t take long for things to take off and by the late 70s and into the 80s there many more titles appearing on the scene. But things were very different from how they are today and you couldn’t really buy these games they were mostly distributed in universities and played by computing students. You didn’t have today’s vast online offerings, no subscriptions to accounts and very much no online trading, sites like the famous Unranked Smurfs were a long way away.
So for the next few years things didn’t change that much until the 90s and home computing was really taking off seriously. One such advancement that was happening was that processor power made the personal computer much greater for gaming. But to play these games online we would need connection speeds that were not yet realized. So what young gamers tended to do was drag their PCs round to each other’s homes to connect in a LAN (Local Area Network) and play networked multi-player games on these local networks.
But things did have to move on at some point and online gaming was always going to be the next logical step and with the internet coming along it was the perfect time. Some games were playable in an online way early on, but what happened was that the way of connecting to the world wide web was via dial-up modem. The issue with this was that the games that PCs were capable of running were too large and complicated to be communicated via these slow modems. Broadband internet arrived in the late 90s and was a real game-changer. You can even mimic the old LAN connections online allowing you to play in private, closed games.
We are now at the stage where online gaming is massive. It is a huge industry in itself and there are so many ways to play all sorts of games online, such as mobile phone and tablet games, and E-Sports competitive gaming. But the jewel in the crown is the huge MMORPG market which is tipped to reach a global value of over $44 billion by the year 2022. Games such as World of Warcraft and League of Legends are here to stay and there seems nothing is going to change that.