PC Gaming in the Early Days of the Internet

Zug Zug

Okay you whippersnappers, gather around for story time!

Once upon a time it was the mid-nineties, and personal computers were just starting to take over the world.  A little software company called Microsoft was on the rise with its recently released Windows '95, America Online was introducing the world to the Internet, we carried around big bulky books called Encyclopedias instead of Wikipedia, and Google was barely an idea on a napkin.

Sergey!  Stop!  That's a multi-billion dollar napkin!

At this time battle.net didn't yet exist as an entity - Blizzard would usher this in with Starcraft, Diablo II, and World of Warcraft.  The massively popular Blizzard game at that time was Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness.  This was a very basic Real-Time Strategy game featuring mineable resources and two playable factions (Horde or Alliance), with a campaign mode featuring a decent AI.  Multiplayer options were limited unless you had a LAN setup, and LAN Mob was still 20 years in the future.

Marty you're out of time!

Those a little more technically inclined could get 2-player multiplayer matches to work.  You see in those days most household Internet was dial-up - you would plug your computer's modem into one of your home's phone jacks and use your phone line to connect to the Internet.  With a bit of tweaking myself and some friends discovered we could dial into each other's computers and establish a "hand shake" connection, which made multiplayer game play possible.

Of course in order to get this working you needed to dedicate your phone line to it, and for those of us not rich enough to afford a second phone line this meant informing everyone in the house not to pick up the phone, as this would often cause a disconnect and mean having to start all over again.  In a time before cell phones and texting, picking up a house phone to call someone was one of the only ways to communicate.  Tying up the phone line for hours on end didn't go over so well with family members such as siblings with very active social lives, making multiplayer online PC gaming a delicate exercise in diplomacy and tact.

Negotiating tactics

Also if you had the fancy schmancy "call waiting" option on your landline and received an incoming call it was Game Over as your modem would fizzle and go dead.  Assuming you could get your modem strings just right, manage to lock your siblings in the bathroom and get everyone else in the home to cooperate, a multiplayer connection could be made allowing some relatively lag-free gaming.  If you made it to the end of a match without getting disconnected or running into a random blue screen of death it was a near miracle.

When high-speed Internet services like cable and DSL became available in the late-90s gamers flocked to them, and more stable internet hubs like battle.net formed, ushering in the era of online PC gaming we see today.

So what drove us early PC gamers to go through all the hassle for just a chance at a game (or two if you're lucky)?  Simple - Blizzard is ruled by dark lords capable of creating extremely fun, borderline addictive gaming experiences.  This held as true in 1995 as it does today, with Overwatch and a revamped WoW dominating our gaming hours all summer.

Blizzard HQ

We've come so far in online gaming, but I often ponder what gaming will look like 20 years from now.  Augmented reality, holograms, virtual reality, and super-fast fiber Internet are all in their infancy but could each on their own revolutionize how we game.

Have any memories from the old days or thoughts on the future?  We'd love to hear about it, leave us a comment below.
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