Ars Electronica 2007
Festival-Website 2007
Back to:
Festival 1979-2007


Online Games

'Andreas Lange Andreas Lange

Ever since there have been computers, people have been playing with them, and ever since those computers have been linked up in networks, people have been playing online games. On one hand, networking has enabled digitally-supported play to get back to the very roots of gameplaying: after all, it’s been the advent of network games that has made it possible to play not only against the machine but also against human adversaries and alongside human teammates. What’s new, however, is that playing together is no longer tied to a specific locality. Instead, play goes on in a virtual game world that can feature any number of forms, skins and interfaces, which the players can customize pretty much at will.What had initially been restricted to purely textual worlds due to limited bandwidth and processing capacity and assumed a distinct form solely in players’ imaginations has subsequently developed into incredibly detailed and globally accessible game universes that thousands of processors are constantly generating anew.

Online games are in the process of morphing from the pastime of a few specialists to a part of everyday life that we take completely for granted. They have long since ceased being “just” games; rather, as communications platforms, they’ve developed in a wide variety of directions. Today, they serve as our virtual shopping malls in which customers can purchase real merchandise for real money, as well as our online singles bars. They are simultaneously workplace and playground, museum and pub, concert venue and conference room. How one behaves in them and the objectives one pursues are matters left up to the mentality of the individual user. They confront us with issues that are by no means exclusively germane to the virtual world, but rather assume increasing current relevance in a capitalist society in which the process of globalization is accelerating. These questions have to do with our personal identity and our self-image, with our understanding of society and the possibilities of participation in it, with the relationship between private property and common property and between the private and public spheres,with surveillance mechanisms and the possibilities of evading them, and with questions having to do with access to resources and information, and with equality of opportunity. All these issues are brought forth in online (gaming) platforms with unusually intense clarity—as if in a caricaturist’s distorted image—and they’ve occupied the focal point of discussions that have been going on in and about this domain. Let's take advantage of the opportunity that presents itself here and peer into this crystal ball.What’s at stake in this game is nothing less than our mutually amicable coexistence, whereby the virtual level will be increasingly difficult to distinguish from the “real” one.

Translated from German by Mel Greenwald

Compiled by Andreas Lange


Milestone: First online game

Developer: Roy Trubshaw, Richard Bartle (Essex University, UK)
Year: 1979

Development: Externally accessible: 1983; commercial development beginning in 1984 as “MUD1”
(for C64 and Compuserve)


Milestone: First online game in which users could design the world themselves

Developer: Richard Skrenta (Northwestern University, USA)

Year: 1988

Development: Monster served as the model for “TinyMUD,” which James Aspnes programmed in 1989, and which was, in turn, followed up in the ‘90s by a whole series of mostly non-commercial variants such as “TinyMush,”“TinyMUX” and “TinyMUSE.”


Milestone: First online game with graphics

Developer/ Publisher: Randy Farmer, Chip Morningstar/ Lucasfilm Games

Year: 1986–87 Lucasfilm Games

Development: originally developed for the C64; beginning in 1988, as Club Caribe on Q-Link, the online service of Quantum Communication (approximately 15,000 inhabitants in 1990); beginning in 1990, as Fujitsu Habitat in Japan; beginning in 1995, as Worlds Away on Compuserve

Alpha World (Active World)

Milestone: Oldest still active, 3D-graphic online world

Developer:Worlds Inc. (USA)

Year: Since 1995 (Active World since 1996)

Development: In the first six months, approximately
35,000 inhabitants

Features: limited property rights, multi-user peer-topeer construction tools, teleportation, user-generated content with predefined objects, bots with AI

Second Life

Milestone: Most popular metaverse to date
Developer: Linden Research, Inc.(USA)

Release: 2002

Features: User-generated content, currency system, voice chat and text chat

Access: free of charge; fees for real estate ownership based on property size Number of avatars set up: 7,782,228
(as of July 3, 2007)
Fee-paying users (premium customers):
57,702 (as of January 2007)

Project Entropia
(now Entropia Universe)

Milestone: Metaverse with game elements; first metaverse with ATM card

Developer: MindArk PE AB (Sweden)
Release: 2002 (in development since 1995)

In-game revenues: US$165,000 (2005)
Number of avatars set up: approximately 580,000 (as of June 2007)

Access: free of charge; services fees are charged per in-game action and for cash withdrawal transactions

Home (Sony/PS3)

Milestone: First Metaverse for a video game console

Timetable: Announced March 3, 2007 for Fall 2007 (open beta phase beginning April 2007) Use: Download portal (games, films, music), high-score list, online games, casual games, chat room, advertising portal

Communication: Text chat, voice, gestures, segmentation by (language, market) regions probable

Functions: Avatar design, item purchase, own apartment, upload own images, videos, music, no 3D CAD


Milestone: Open-source 3D online platform

Developer: Open Croquet Consortium (including computer pioneer Alan Kay)

Year: since 1994, officially since 2001

Development: Currently still in beta stage; is being developed further on an ongoing basis for a variety of different uses and applications by various projects and firms.