The development of online gaming

Online gaming – any game played over a computer network – actually has roots back in the 60s and 70s and the world of role-playing games. It doesn’t seem possible that the blocks and words on black and green screens of 45 years ago would one day morph into global phenomena such as Minecraft and Assassin’s Creed, and addictive games such as Flappy Bird and those at Mecca Bingo.

While research into home gaming was still in its embryonic stages, games were played on a local network between several computers at universities such as Stanford Research institute and the University of Utah. Each university was a ‘node’ on the network, sending packets of information including emails and programmed games.

Early fantasy titles such as Dungeons and Dragons evolved into Multi-User Dungeons by the end of the 70s; crude, text-based affairs, where a single keyboard tap would perform a series of actions against other gamers linked into the network. These games boasted little technological craft, but did at least continue the link between users and other locations.

The games advanced and as the term ‘Internet’ was coined in 1982, so online communication grew in stature – although games were still costing several dollars an hour to run. Veteran gamers will probably find it incredible that online games were even developed for the humble Commodore 64, but technology hitches kept them from advancing to the mainstream.

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1991 it created a platform for words and pictures to be processed into digital pages – and transported worldwide. The early games of bridge and chess at the start of the decade travelled across modems, and by the conclusion of the 90s machines such as the Sega Dreamcast actually had modems built-in – online consumer gaming was born.

The gaming world was quick to latch onto the possibilities that this new opportunity presented, and what started as a small aspect of consoles became a neat addition, and then much sought after, before becoming mandatory.

Once dial-up dialled down into history and broadband allowed faster information transmission for next-gen consoles, loading times disappeared and games reached new levels of depth, improvisations, experimentation and graphical richness. This upward curve will only continue – this BBC report on experimental broadband speeds of 1.4TB per second tells its own story.

At the most simplistic level the online gaming world is built on a divergence between two principles; the addictive, mobile genre of downloadable games such as Bejewelled and Angry Birds which can fill ten minutes at a coffee break or bus stop; and the sprawling, gigantic mega games which consume lives, such as World of Warcraft, Halo, Call Of Duty and the upcoming behemoth that is Destiny.

Games such as Minecraft have literally opened up the building blocks of game construction – levels can be built and explored, friendships established and ruined with gamers who one will never even see, let alone meet. 

The fantasy world envisaged in the early Dungeons and Dragons games continues to provide the backbone for many games nowadays. If engineers and computer technicians had been told about the gaming world of 2014 they may have deemed that fantasy, but it is real – where next for the gamer?

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