Internet Game Timeline

The History of Online Gaming 1969 - 2004

Shot of a young computer gamer focused on his game / Getty Images

This is a timeline of key events in the history of Internet gaming. It includes significant developments in computer games, console games, and Internet technology. It is a work in progress, so if you see an error or you feel something important has been overlooked, please feel free to reach out with the details.

ARPANET, a network with nodes at UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, the UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah, is commissioned by the Department of Defense for research purposes.

Leonard Kleinrock at UCLA sends the first packets over the network as he tries remotely logging into the system at SRI.

ARPANET grows to 15 nodes and an email program to send messages across a distributed network is invented by Ray Tomlinson. The possibilities for speeding up games being played by snail-mail at this time are immediately obvious.

Ray modifies the email program for ARPANET where it becomes a quick hit. The @ sign is used to specify a string as an email address.

Atari is founded by Nolan Bushnell.

Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax sell their first typewritten copies of Dungeons and Dragons, a game which continues to inspire both tabletop and computer RPGs to this day.

Will Crowther creates a game called Adventure in FORTRAN on a PDP-1 computer. Don Woods later puts Adventure on a PDP-10 several years later and it becomes the first widely used computer adventure game.

Telenet, the first public packet data service, a commercial version of ARPANET, makes its debut.

Apple Computer is founded.

Radio Shack introduces the TRS-80.

Dave Lebling, Marc Blank, Tim Anderson, and Bruce Daniels, a group of students at MIT, write Zork for the PDP-10 minicomputer. Although like Adventure, the game is single-player only, it becomes quite popular on ARPANET. Several years later, Blank and Joel Berez, with some help from Daniels, Lebling, and Scott Cutler, produced a version for the company Infocom that ran on the TRS-80 and Apple II microcomputers.

Roy Trubshaw writes the very first MUD (multi-user dungeon) in MACRO-10 (the machine code for DEC system-10's). Although originally little more than a series of locations in which you could move and chat, Richard Bartle takes an interest in the project and the game soon has a good combat system. Roughly one year later, Roy and Richard, at Essex University in the UK, are able to connect to ARPANET in the USA to conduct an international, multiplayer game.

Kelton Flinn and John Taylor create Dungeons of Kesmai for Z-80 computers running CPM. The game uses ASCII graphics, supports 6 players, and is a little more action-oriented than the early MUDs.

The first definitions of the term "Internet" surface.

Intel introduces the 80286 CPU.

Time magazine calls 1982 "The Year of the Computer."

Apple Computers unveils the Lisa. It is the first personal computer sold with a graphical user interface (GUI). With a 5 MHz processor, an 860 KB 5.25" floppy drive, a 12" monochrome screen, a keyboard, and a mouse, the system cost $9,995. Even though the Lisa came with an astounding 1 Megabyte of RAM, it is a financial disaster and the home computer does not get revolutionized until the release of the Mac OS 1.0 about a year later.

The first Microsoft Mouse was introduced concurrently with Microsoft Word. About 100,000 units were built, but only 5,000 were sold.

CompuServe hosts Islands of Kesmai, a reinvention of Dungeons of Kesami, on its network. The cost of participation is a whopping $12 per hour! The game lasts, in various iterations, right up to the turn of the century.

MacroMind, the company that would eventually evolve into Macromedia, was founded.

On March 15, becomes the first registered domain.

Microsoft Windows hits store shelves.

QuantumLink, the predecessor to AOL, launches in November.

Randy Farmer and Chip Morningstar at Lucasfilm develop Habitat, a multiplayer online adventure game, for QuantumLink. The client runs on a Commodore 64, but the game doesn't make it past beta in the US because it is too demanding for the server technology of the time.

The National Science Foundation creates NSFNET with a backbone speed of 56 Kbps. This allows a large number of institutions, especially universities, to get connected.

Jessica Mulligan starts Rim Worlds War, the first play by email game on a commercial online server.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is introduced by Jarkko Oikarinen.

AberMUD is born at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth.

Club Caribe, a derivative of Habitat, is released on QuantumLink.

James Aspnes writes TinyMUD as a simple, compact multiplayer adventure game and invites fellow CMU graduate students to play on it. Adaptations of TinyMUD remain in use on the Internet to this day.

Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web, a system by which words, pictures, sounds, and hyperlinks can be combined and formatted across different platforms to create digital pages quite similar to word processor documents. From CERN in Switzerland, he posts the first HTML code in a newsgroup called "alt.hypertext."

Stormfront Studios' Neverwinter Nights, a game based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, launches on America Online.

The Sierra Network launches and brings a variety of parlor games such as chess, checkers, and bridge online. Bill Gates is said to have played bridge on the service.

Wolfenstein 3D by id Software takes the computer game industry by storm on May 5. Even though it wasn't actually 3D by today's standards, it is a landmark title in the first-person shooter genre.

Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser, developed by Marc Andreesen and a group of student programmers, is released. Internet traffic explodes at a growth rate of 341,634 percent annually.

Doom is released on December 10 and becomes an instant success.

The Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation are launched in Japan. The PlayStation will later become Sony's best-selling electronics product.

After 4 years as a dial-up game in the UK, Avalon MUD starts offering a pay-to-play service over the Internet.

Sony releases the PlayStation in the United States for $299, $100 less than expected.

The Nintendo 64 is launched in Japan under near riot conditions.

Windows 95 sells more than a million copies in four days.

Sun launches JAVA on May 23.

Id Software releases Quake on May 31, The game is truly three dimensional and special attention is given to multiplayer features. With the release of a free program called QuakeWorld later in the year, play over the Internet becomes gets a great deal easier for modem users.

On August 24, the first version of Team Fortress, an add-on for Quake, becomes available. Within a year over 40 percent of the servers running Quake will be dedicated to Team Fortress.

Meridian 59 goes online and becomes one of the first highly graphical multiplayer games played in a persistent online world, although it had a limit of 35 simultaneous players. It was conceived by a small company called Archetype Interactive and then sold to 3DO, who published the game. It used a 2.5D engine similar to that of Doom, and while it has again changed ownership, it is still available and still loved by many RPGers. Meridian 59 may also have been the first online game to charge a flat monthly rate for access, rather than charging by the hour.

Macromedia shifts its focus from software for making multimedia content for CDs to making multimedia software for the Web and releases Shockwave 1.0.

Brad McQuaid and Steve Clover are hired by John Smedley at Sony's 989 Studios to begin work on EverQuest.

Sony sells its 20 millionth PlayStation, easily making it the most popular gaming console of its time.

Ultima Online is released. Developed by Origin and based on the extremely successful Ultima franchise, many online gaming pioneers are involved in this project, including Richard Garriott, Raph Koster, and Rich Vogel. It uses a 2D top-down graphics engine and eventually reaches over 200,000 subscribers.

Macromedia acquires the company that makes FutureSplash, which becomes the first version of Flash.

NCsoft, a small Korean software company, releases Lineage, which will grow to become one of the world's most popular MMORPGs, with over 4 million subscribers.

Starsiege: Tribes debuts as an online-only first-person action game. Fans adore the combination of team-based gameplay, expansive outdoor terrains, multiple play modes, customizable characters, and controllable vehicles.

On August 1, Sierra releases Half-Life, a game built around the Quake 2 engine.

Sega Dreamcast is released in Japan on November 25th. Although it gets off to a shaky start, it is the first console sold with a modem and gives console users their first taste of online gaming.

The Dreamcast is released in the US.

On March 1, Sony launches EverQuest, a fully three-dimensional MMORPG. The game is a huge success, and in the following years it sees many expansions and attracts more than half a million subscribers.

In early April Sierra releases Team Fortress Classic, a modification for Half-Life based on the extremely popular Quake Team Fortress mod.

On June 19th, Minh "Gooseman" Le and Jess Cliffe release beta 1 of Counter-Strike, another modification for Half-Life. The free mod goes on to set records for the largest service footprint of any game on the Internet, with 35,000 servers generating over 4.5 billion player minutes per month.

Microsoft releases Asheron's Call on November 2nd.

Quake 3 Arena appears on store shelves just in time for the Christmas rush.

Billy Mitchell achieves the highest possible score for Pac-Man when he completes every board and winds up with a score of 3,333,360.

Sony launches the PlayStation 2 in Japan on March 4. In two days, the company sells 1 million consoles, setting a new record. Japanese gamers begin lining up outside stores two days in advance. Unfortunately, demand exceeds supply and not everybody gets a console, including those who preordered.

Sega releases Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast, which makes it the first online RPG for a console. Icons and preselected text translate between languages.

World War II Online goes online in June.

Microsoft gets into the console business in November with the release of the Xbox. Although there was no network available to connect to at the time, the Xbox is equipped with a Network Interface Card which will accommodate a high-speed Internet connection.

Anarchy Online gets off to a rough start with a storm of technical problems, but the game overcomes this and attracts a solid player base. It was the first game I know of to use "instancing," where parts of the world are duplicated for exclusive use on demand.

Dark Age of Camelot launches to a warm reception by players and the media. The game grows at a remarkable rate and quickly surpasses Asheron's Call to become one of the three largest MMORPGs in North America.

3DO publishes Jumpgate, an online space simulation game.

Blizzard starts talking about World of Warcraft, an MMORPG based on their popular RTS series.

On September 10, the release of Battlefield 1942 kicks off an extremely successful franchise of multiplayer war-themed shooters.

Electronic Arts and Westwood Studios release Earth & Beyond, a sci-fi MMORPG set in outer space. The title peaks at less than 40,000 subscribers, and approximately two years later, on September 22, 2004, it closes its doors.

Asheron's Call 2 launches on November 22. The game never equals its predecessor in terms of popularity, and roughly three years later Jeffrey Anderson, the CEO of Turbine Entertainment, announces that the game will close by the end of 2005.

The Sims Online goes live in December, adapting the world's best-selling PC game to Internet play. Despite optimistic predictions from analysts, the title doesn't live up to sales expectations.

Between August and December Playstation 2, Xbox, and GameCube all introduce some kind of online capabilities for their consoles.

On June 26, LucasArts and SOE launch Star Wars Galaxies, an MMORPG based on the universe from the "Star Wars" films. Sony also brings EverQuest to the PlayStation 2 as EverQuest Online Adventures, which uses a world separate from that of the PC version.

Project Entropia, an MMORPG developed in Sweden, launches with a secondary market revenue model, where game currency can be bought and sold with real currency.

Square Enix releases the PC version of Final Fantasy XI in the US on October 28. It later becomes available for the PlayStation 2 and allows PC users and console users to participate in the same world. The PS2 version of the game is sold with a hard drive.

Other notable MMORPG releases include Eve Online and Shadowbane, both of which feature open PvP systems.

Halo 2 arrives with unprecedented hysteria and manages to single-handedly quadruple usage of the Xbox Live online service.

NCSoft makes significant strides in the North American MMORPG market with the publication of Lineage 2 and City of Heroes.

Doom 3 and Half-Life 2, which includes a remade retail version of Counter-Strike, hit store shelves.

SOE launches EverQuest 2, the sequel to EverQuest, which still has around 500,000 subscribers at the time.

World of Warcraft in released in North America on November 23, and despite doubling server capacity within weeks of launch, the game has difficulty meeting demand. At the same time, Blizzard's first MMORPG breaks sales, subscriber, and concurrent player records in the US, with similar results upon the game's release in Europe and China the next year.

More From Us