Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About the History of Online Gaming

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About the History of Online Gaming

We’re going to look at how people began connecting online from the time the first version of the internet connected a small community of people with a shared interest and how that’s lead the gambling industry to become a multi-billion dollar industry in 2020.

Electronic gaming

Activision Blizzard logo History of Online Gaming

Activision Blizzard logo

Electronic gaming has created billions of dollars for developers. Millions of people worldwide go online to indulge in a huge variety of online environments. The most popular was, and is, World of Warcraft from Activision Blizzard. This multiplayer online game (known as an MMOG) attracted crowds in their millions. This made Activision around a billion dollars every year from subscription fees from 2007 – 2010. MMGOs differ from traditional computer games. They rely on a decent internet connection and can only be played by logging in via the server that hosts the game itself. The more popular an MMOG, the more servers needed.

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Social element

There’s a social element to these games, allowing thousands of people to interact. Sometimes this can be more important than the game itself. Finally, MMGOs most typically run on a subscription basis. So this means you pay a monthly fee to access the game having already initially invested in the software to run it. Some offer a monthly patch which delivers new game content, and this soothes the burn of the continual payment for the same game title. Some games are free, but players are burdened with advertisements.

Multiplayer games connecting people worldwide

World of Warcraft logo History of Online Gaming

The World of Warcraft logo

Early internet

MMGOs like WOW make the most of high-end processing and quality graphics possible through modern desktop computers and laptops. Online gaming itself, though was created for use on the earliest versions of computers. In the 70s, many Universities in the States had a primitive version of what we now know as the internet. It was a way of connecting multiple computers to one central computer and allowing them to all interact in real-time. In the early 80s, this capability spread to universities in England and a text-based adventure game called MUD – multiuser dungeon – was created. External users began connecting to the game and online gaming as we know it was born.

Adding visuals

Developers used the MUD design and began adding visuals, player groups and chat functions. These features, now considered basic, were the most innovative ideas of the time. These spawned the evolution of online gaming, which lead to the first ‘real’ MMGOs. Early MMGOs included EverQuest from Sony in 1998, and even Ultima Online the year before. These games experienced slow but steady growth. A game called Lineage was an exception, but this was due to the advancement of internet speed in South Korea which boosted the game’s popularity. This popularity wasn’t free, though. It wasn’t unusual for Korean players to literally die of exhaustion. They played for so long and neglected their basic human needs in the face of a new disease. Internet addiction. Game developers then began funding counselling centres for those suffering from internet addiction, in an attempt to avoid the placement of legislation.

Team play and humour

In 2005, China forced game designers to employ mandatory penalties on players who spent more than 3 hours at a time playing. When WOW came along in 2004, the market was demanding change. Themes were consistently surrounding swords, knights and sorcery, with few exceptions. WOW offered team play and humour. This greatly appealed to novice and casual gamers who hadn’t tried MMGOs before. WOW became a burden for Blizzard when they chose to suspend an account belonging to a transsexual player on the grounds of freedom of speech violations which sparked debate. Should those who own a virtual reality world have the right to restrict speech? Are they still technically public spaces where US law stands and are therefore subject to the prohibition of discrimination?

The rise of digital economies

Ultima Online logo History of Online Gaming

The Ultima Online logo

Secondary economy

Game publishers built a secondary digital economy that exists outside of their virtual realities. For example, a castle from Ultima Online had designers scratching their heads when it sold on eBay for thousands of dollars. There soon became a thriving market for digital assets and by 2006 it was worth a billion dollars. Players dedicated hours, even days and weeks to building wealth within the game. Be it currency, weapons, power, skills, land, medical supplies, you name it. These built up the characters and players were happy to exchange real cash for these items. The buyer and seller would agree on a price and meet in the game to exchange using an e-wallet of sorts to complete the transaction.

Second life

Companies in China have made this a full-time occupation, employing people to farm ‘gold’ by playing the game to stockpile resources that they go on to sell to other plays in other countries. MMGO developers now monitor this behaviour and put bans in place where necessary. Similarly, eBay has restrictions and bans the sale of virtual items. Sony, however, influenced this secondary economy with the introduction of the Station Exchange. This is a place where virtual items can be sold and bought for EverQuest games.

Sony wasn’t the pioneer of this, though. Linden Lab was the first to design this kind of game when they launched Second Life. Second Life was similar. Second Life wasn’t a game as such and more a virtual life. The Sims launched an online version, but it performed poorly. Second Life was a huge success in 2003. The difference between the two being the use of economies. The Sims offered very little goals and Second Life encouraged users to utilise their talents to make money. A monthly subscription fee bough players an allowance of the in-game currency, Lindens. This had an exchange rate for US dollars of around 250:1 Players bough items in the game with their Lindens. These items could be further customised and resold. Like in China, some made a full-time occupation of this.

Gaming gets social

We all know how fast social media became popular when it arrived. Game developers took the opportunity to make money on websites like MySpace and later Facebook to make Flash-animated web-based games. Remember those annoying requests for Farmville? These were simple games with cartoon graphics. They held mass appeal and offered players multiple incentives to recruit other players. This was really an opportunity for advertisers and developers who profited from selling in-game currencies for real cash, which helped players to improve their score.

We cannot imagine a world that isn’t online. The internet itself is only around 20 years old. There are people who aren’t that old who have never had a need to be online. There is also a generation who will never know life without being online. As long as the internet has been around, and people have used it for gaming, they have also used it for online gambling.

The history of online gambling

Ancient Roman Gambling Dice History of Online Gaming

Ancient Roman Gambling Dice

The internet has paved the way for online businesses. The gambling industry has been revolutionised. There are thousands, maybe millions of online gambling sites in every country around the world. These range from sports betting to casino games. The Romans enjoyed gambling, that’s how far back it goes. They even inspired many game developer to create Roman inspired slot games. The real introduction into the mainstream is when cowboys began playing poker and Vegas casinos opened up their doors to people to play blackjack and roulette. Now you don’t have to get on a flight to put on a bet, all you need is your smartphone.

Online gambling in the 90’s

Early 90’s

Microgaming logo

Microgaming logo

The first online gambling sites began popping up online in the early 90s. The internet was experiencing inevitable commercial success. A lot of previously physical businesses were going virtual and this was a prime opportunity for gambling. The first instance of an online casino was in 1994. Strangely, no one can tell us which casino it was and if it’s still in operation now. All we know is Microgaming was responsible for the development and launch of the first known online gambling website which was in partnership with Cryptologic. It was during a time of legal change which meant online gambling sites could acquire an office and launch from Antigua and Barbuda.

Late 90’s

In just one year, from ’96-’97, online gambling sites grew from a total of 15 to 200. Popularity soared and the industry has only ever grown since. Games were rudimentary at the time, as you’d expect. But they were good enough for the time. There was much less regulation and less frequent policing. You’ll find a lot of the pioneering online gambling sites don’t exist today because they couldn’t stand up next to the now strict regulations. The late 1990s saw the rise of online poker sites. Now the online casino industry was worth around $800 million. Multiplayer gambling became available online just before 2000 and the introduction of interaction between players is what helped grow MMOGs into the billion dollar a year industry.

How online gambling looks today


There have been many sites that have left a lasting impression on the online gambling industry. Some grew and evolved and some lost touch and failed. Those who remain adopted the latest technology as well as adhered to the regulations and are thriving. They offer the most optimised and user-friendly sites and apps. Those playing 20 years ago would be amazed at the detail in the graphics of today. The functionality the software offers the players. The range of themes and the vast categories of games on offer. The range you get today is mind-boggling and still growing. Imagine telling someone before the internet was invented that they would be able to play a real-money game of poker from the comfort of their own sofa? And by using a device with no wires and a 7-inch screen they could touch – they’d probably call you mad.

Early 2000’s

Come the early 2000s, though, new developers and operators were popping up all over the internet. The market was highly competitive. So, welcome offers became more attractive, bonuses got bitter, loyalty and VIP schemes evolved and online gambling providers were constantly competing to make their site better than the next. Which was great for the users! This was spawned progressive jackpots. Multiplayer games had particular development attention. Themed slots grew in choice and live casinos became the new thing. The more people flocked online, the more the operators had to offer a unique casino experience that was authentic and exciting. This is when we began seeing more mobile casinos. The rise of smartphones allowed players the ultimate freedom to play their favourite games wherever they liked. iPhone users found this a dream come true.

WSOP poker chips

WSOP poker chips

Online poker

Those who benefited most from the mobile experience were poker players. The more practise they could get, the more chance they had of getting into the World Series of Poker. If they won, they’d walk home with millions of dollars. The WSOP is now the biggest online tournament you can enter. Online gambling, as an industry, continues to generate billions of dollars every year. Many countries are reluctant to regulate it, still. There are some close associations between land-based casinos and legislative bodies. These countries don’t want to get involved or be shut down. This will happen eventually as we see more legislation of online gambling. The market was worth around $57.3 billion in 2019-2020 and only the best, but most reliable and regulated will get a slice of that.


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Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About the History of Online Gaming
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Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About the History of Online Gaming
The history of online gaming including facts and myths.

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