Sunday, August 1, 2021

Microsoft Solitaire – A Legend 30 Years On

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Playing video games on computers has been a popular activity for more than 30 years. Throughout the 1980s, home computers like the ZX Spectrum and early consoles like the Atari 7200 and Nintendo Entertainment System helped to get people interested in the medium. 

However, for the most part, video games remained the domain of men under 30. Publishers weren’t bothering to create content for other demographics, since they felt these people wouldn’t be interested. 

Then in 1990, Microsoft bundled a simple game with their Windows 3.0 operating system which changed everything. The game, Microsoft Solitaire, would go on to be played by almost every computer user in the world. 

Why Solitaire?

The world of computing was very different in 1990. Most machines used an operating system called DOS, which used a command-line interface, requiring users to enter text commands to open files, perform operations, and change settings. 

The keyboard was, essentially, the only input device that computers had. 

That changed with Windows. It uses what’s called a Graphical User Interface (GUI), which means it uses graphics on the screen to help the user interact with the machine more easily. This required a mouse, a relatively novel device that moved a cursor on the screen. 

To help users get to grips with this new piece of hardware, Microsoft created Solitaire and other games like Minesweeper to practice their mouse skills while having fun. 

Solitaire featured clicking and dragging, single clicking, and double clicking, the three main mouse commands in Windows. Minesweeper was designed to help users practice right clicking. 

Massive Hit

Being bundled with Windows, Solitaire became a huge hit among users, who often didn’t have any other games to play. This meant millions of workers looking to shirk their duties for a while had a built-in application for wasting some time, while many others played at home for fun. 

According to Microsoft, over its lifetime, Solitaire has been played in “more than 200 markets”, which is an impressive feat since there are only 195 countries recognized by the United Nations. This has been helped by the company translating the game into 65 different languages. 

Even in 2020, with much more choice available, around 35 million people still play Solitaire every single day. 

Inspiring Other Games

Solitaire pioneered the concept of playing card games on your computer, which has turned into a huge industry. Four years after the release of Windows 3.0, Barbuda and Antigua passed the Free Trade and Processing Act, making it possible to operate online casinos for the first time. 

This led to the creation of many mobile apps and websites like Vegas Slots Online that offer card games like blackjack, poker, and baccarat. In Europe, these sites have become big business, generating around €20 billion of revenue each year. 

Despite all these other options, Solitaire still remains incredibly popular. 

Boss Mode

It is widely believed that Wes Cherry, the Microsoft intern that was tasked with programming the original Windows 3.0 version of Solitaire, originally included a “boss mode” into the game. This would be a button that would open up a fake spreadsheet in case your boss or a co-worker came past your desk or office. 

The feature wasn’t included in the final release, likely because Microsoft executives would have been concerned it would have upset one of their core customers. 

If it had been included, boss mode may have helped protect several people from being fired. One of these was Edward Greenwood IX, a New Yorker who worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2006. Greenwood was caught by the Mayor with the game open on his screen,

leading to his immediate dismissal. 

Legacy

Microsoft Solitaire lives on as one of the most popular and best-known video games of all time. It was even admitted into the World Video Game Hall of Game in 2019, alongside other famous titles like Doom, Pong, World of Warcraft, Tetris, and Grand Theft Auto III. 

Today, you can play Solitaire on Windows, iOS, Android, and through your web browser, making it one of the most accessible games in the world.

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