An event with mass network gaming

Mazewars to Warcraft: A 5 Minute History of Network Gaming

In Blogpost, gaming, history by Digital Bunker Overlord0 Comments

The meteoric rise of esport is “so 2016”, a recent phenomenon only clocking over 20 years of history. It’s hard to imagine life without the ability to effortlessly live stream, chat and play our favourite computer games versing friends and foes around the world.

Heck, what was even life without the Internet?

With some of the biggest esport superstars barely even alive when dial up Internet was a thing, we wanted to take a step back in time to check out what network gaming was like through the ages before it was the epic spectacle it is today.

A 5 minute retrospective history of network gaming. Let’s go!

1970s : Mazewars

Back when the Internet was not the Internet, but its predecessor the ARPAnet, computers looked like this:

An Imlac PDS-1 computer from the 1970s playing Mazewars

Somewhere In between sending the first ever email and creating the first online porn using ASCII characters, a 3D first person shooter (FPS) game was published by a couple of super smart interns at NASA.

The FPS was called Mazewars, and player avatars were an Illuminati-esque eyeball which would walk around a one-point perspective maze and try to shoot each other. The game looked like this:

Considering that the most popular computer game at the time was Pong, a couple of lines and a dot bouncing around, a 3D networked FPS was insanely ground breaking.

1980s : MUDs

Personal computing was becoming the new sensation (hello Microsoft and Apple). And the Internet could be dialed up on a whim at blistering speeds of 300 bits per second.

The sweet sounds of dial up Internet sounded like this:

Multi-User Dungeons, or MUDs grew out of this generation of digital users and was a text based, role player game.

Players in MUDs would type in simple commands, like “get sword”, and multiple users would go on fictional adventures to explore lands, find treasure and whatever else they felt like doing.

With no fancy graphics, MUDs were simple yet richly immersive. They created virtual worlds that encapsulated online as an extension of human imagination.

Their textual endeavours looked like this:

A screenshot of a text based MUD game

The pinnacle of 80s MUDs was a game called Island of Kesmai, that cleverly used ASCII characters to add a graphical interface.

1990s : MMPORGs

The 90s, besides being the most terrible/awesome decade of fashion and music, was the time of 8-bit (and beyond!) graphical interfaces in online gaming.

While MUDs were popular and multiplayer, they weren’t yet massive. Graphics cemented the idea of virtual reality to a wider public and the 90s became the race to attract the biggest player base.

Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMPORGs) created persistent realms, where rather than completing an overarching goal, game play was based on player interactions.

The first games to achieve their squad goals of mass status was Ultima Online, clocking over 100,000 players online after its release in 1997.

2000s : World of Warcraft

The new millennium swept the world with the Y2K bug, the bursting of the “dot com bubble” and the mass proliferation of the home computer and affordable Internets.

The decade that followed set the humble beginnings for Internet stalwarts, such as Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), Wikipedia (2001), 4chan (2003) and Reddit (2005).

The social age of the Internet also saw the insane heights of MMPORGs. Most notably, a game published by Blizzard entertainment called World of Warcraft (WOW).

The development of WOW stretched across most of the decade, beginning from 2001 and peaked in 2010 with 12 million subscribers.

WOW is a virtual world where players create avatars, interact with each other and their environment, and work together to complete quests like killing dragons and whatnot.

MMPORGs such as WOW brought network games to the mass public and introduced the notion of a social world rich in human interaction, operating in a digital space.

2010s : Competition and Esport

The power of computers and high speed, ubiquitous Internet paved the way for rich realism and detail in graphics in online gaming.

Rather than relying on the endless complexities and immersive investments of MUDs and MMPORGs, the mechanics of game play could be simplified and game play could be a fast paced spectacle. Games became more about skilled competitive play.

Counter-strike, Call of Duty, Street Fighter, StarCraft, DOTA 2 – all games that require fast mechanical motion and graphical detail became readily available to the mainstream via a broadband Internet connection.

The masses could connect across distances to not only play against each other but to also watch, create and chat.

The Future

Esport represents the current exciting manifestation of the technology industry and the digital zeitgeist, with its mainstream growth and mass accessibility.

With cool technology such as the introduction this year of Virtual Reality (VR) sets to watch Defence of the Ancients (DOTA 2) matches, it’s a seriously exciting future ahead for gamers.


Image Credits:


  1. Sweden Jönköping – Dreamhack Lanparty winter 2007 D-hall, view to mainstage by Martin from Tyrol is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
  2. “DigiBarn TV: Maze War @30 (2004) Tom Uban plays Imlac Maze (3)by bruce damer, YouTube Video.
  3. You haven’t lived until you’ve died in MUD. — The MUD1 Slogan”, screenshot from Wikipedia.