Over the past couple of decades, the online gaming industry has grown exponentially and instilled itself in pop culture. Playing online is now an extremely popular hobby enjoyed globally, and many game franchises and characters are almost universally recognisable.
With an endless variety of games, each with its own mechanics and features, the industry’s mass appeal is of no surprise. Online gaming presents the perfect combination of competitiveness and sociability, offering a uniquely enjoyable experience.
Furthermore, technological advancements across all facets of life mean that games can now be enjoyed through a range of media. Phones, computers and tablets all support online gaming, allowing access to it at any time.
Whilst it’s only recently realised its full potential, this multi-billion dollar industry has an extensive and interesting history dating back to WW2. This article details the fascinating history of online gaming and how it developed into its current state.
The First Ever Games
Early iterations of games served a practical function as well as a recreational one. Games were often designed to test the capacity of different software.
The first ever game that allowed one player to compete against another was first showcased during the early 1940s. Yet to be blighted by WW2, the World’s Fair in New York allowed the Nimatron to be exhibited.
This electro-mechanical machine supported the mathematical game of NIM in which players take turns removing objects from distinct piles. This was mankind’s first foray into recreational gaming and this simple game laid the groundwork for its successors.
The first attempt at developing a home games console that could be sold commercially was in 1967. Ralph Baer’s ‘Brown Box’ could be attached to a TV and supported a variety of games including ping pong.
Despite being unique in its technical capabilities, the console wasn’t commercially successful after its 1972 launch. With the popularity and variety of consoles available today, it shows how our appetite for gaming has drastically increased.
Around this time, there was extensive experimentation with networks, which would ultimately facilitate the development of the internet.
The next innovation for online gaming came in 1973 with the release of “Empire”. The turn-based game was hosted on the PLATO network system, allowing players to compete using their own, separate devices.
The Release of the Internet
Despite having been officially released in 1983, it would take over a decade for the internet to be extensively utilised for online gaming.
In 1987, gaming giant Atari released a first-person shooter maze game called Midi Maze, credited with originating ‘deathmatch’ mode. This could be played by up to 16 different consoles across a network.
The 1990s is when online gaming was truly able to take off due widespread availability of the internet.
Nintendo’s Super Famicom used satellites to transfer data and was one of the first attempts at creating conventional and accessible online play. Other companies soon followed suit; however, slow internet speeds hindered the progress of playing online multiplayer games.
Software that allowed for games to be played on a web browser also started to emerge at this time. One of the first, Earth 2025, was text-based and allowed players to interact and even form alliances.
Around this time, browser-based casino games also started to develop and proliferate, eventually becoming easily accessible at home. One of the most popular, Slingo, combines slots and bingo into an exciting hybrid, with slingo online remaining immensely popular today.
A few years later, in 2001, the revered, browser based Runescape was released. This allowed players to chat, fight and trade in a manner not yet seen.
The release of the Xbox and PS2 is arguably when online gaming was at its peak. These were the first consoles to refine online play and resemble the online console games of today.
The Modern Landscape
Despite a challenging start, consoles with considerable online functions have now become a norm, and most households own one. Playing online has become a vital component of any new release, with some games excluding considerable offline play.
Free, web-based games have also improved immeasurably over the past few years, with many able to compete with their paid counterparts.
The latest iterations of online games also include lifelike graphics, almost indistinguishable from a film at times. No longer mere observers, advancements in VR also allows us to literally immerse ourselves in a game world.
The world of online gaming has seen such incredible technological strides recently that the simplicity of early iterations is unbelievable. Playing online is now more popular than its originators could have ever imagined, with 1.5 billion people with internet access playing video games.
Mobile Online Gaming
The gaming capabilities possessed by a mobile phone has come leaps and bounds from the days of Snake on a Nokia. Even free mobile games represent a huge share in the market.
Even since the start of modern mobile gaming, recently games are almost unrecognisable from classics such as Doodle Jump and Angry Birds. Many technologically demanding games can now be enjoyed from a phone, with newer generations even capable of supporting VR.
The Lasting Effect of Online Gaming
For as long as software capable of supporting gaming has been available, designers have been producing games for recreational purposes. From this, countless classic online games have been birthed across a range of different platforms.
The road to becoming a multi-billion-dollar industry has been a comprehensive and interesting one. Pioneers of online gaming have helped to establish one of the most accessible and enjoyable global hobbies.