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MSN Games
MSN Games logo.png
MSN Games.png
Type of site
Web Games
OwnerMicrosoft
Created byMSN
Microsoft
URLzone.msn.com
CommercialYes, ad funded
RegistrationOptional
LaunchedAugust 7, 1996; 25 years ago (1996-08-07)[1] (as Zone.com)

MSN Games (also known as Zone.com - formerly known as The Village, Internet Gaming Zone, MSN Gaming Zone, and MSN Games by Zone.com) is a casual gaming web site, with single player, multiplayer, PC download, and social casino video games. Games are available in free online, trial, and full feature pay-to-play versions.

MSN Games is a part of Xbox Game Studios, associated with the MSN portal, and is owned by Microsoft, headquartered in Redmond, Washington.

History

The first version of the site, which was then called "The Village", was founded by Kevin Binkley, Ted Griggs, and Hoon Im. In 1996, Steve Murch, an employee of Microsoft, convinced Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer to acquire the small online game site, then owned by Electric Gravity. The site was rebranded to "Internet Gaming Zone" and launched in 1996.

It started with a handful of card and board games like Hearts, Spades, Checkers, Backgammon, and Bridge.

For the following 5 years, the Internet Gaming Zone would be renamed several times and would increase in popularity with the introduction of popular retail- and MMORPG-games, such as MechWarrior, Rainbow Six, UltraCorps, Age of Empires, Asheron's Call and Fighter Ace.

The website also featured a community forum which was set-up in 2006. This lasted until the closure of MSN Groups in 2009.

Microsoft announced in July 2019 that it would be shutting down the Internet series of games built into Windows operating systems. Windows XP and ME games were shut down on July 31, 2019, while the remaining games on Windows 7 were shut down on January 22, 2020 (a little over a week after Microsoft ceased support for Windows 7).[2]

CD-ROM matchmaking

MSN Games announced in early 2006 the retiring of support for CD-ROM games, chat lobbies, the ZoneFriends client and the Member Plus program, scheduled for June 19, 2006:

"...as of June 19, 2006, we will be retiring our CD-ROM matchmaking service, along with the original versions of several classic card and board games: Classic Backgammon, Bridge, Classic Checkers, Chess, Cribbage, Euchre, Go, Classic Hearts, Reversi, and Spades. We’ll be sad to see them go! These games are like old friends: they gave us our start, and helped us grow from an innovative little entertainment site to a truly stellar online gaming experience. But over the years, it’s become more and more difficult to maintain the aging hardware and software that supports them. We held out absolutely as long as we could, but it was finally time to make that decision."

"...Along with our old servers, the ZoneFriends tool will be taking a long-overdue retirement. All of our remaining (and future!) multiplayer games will be integrated with MSN Messenger. So, wait, does this mean no lobbies? That’s correct, at least for now. The old lobby system was built into our earliest classic games, and is to current game technology what a biplane engine would be to a stealth jet: similar, but essentially incompatible."

"...Officially, the Member Plus program has ended."[3]

In a series of public chats held with various administrators and developers of the Zone, MSN outlined its plan to shift its gaming environment into Windows Live Messenger, a more frequently updated client than the outdated ZoneFriends messenger used on the Zone. However, due primarily to MSN's inability to provide a timeframe for the expected replacement of chat lobbies, tournaments, and its Member Plus volunteer moderator program, thousands of players appeared at each session to express their discontent, and began an online petition in an attempt to stop MSN's scheduled changes. As with previous changes, however, MSN continued to stand firm in its commitment to the retirement of its services, citing outdated hardware and lack of economic viability for the old products.

Although alternatives exist to the Zone for CD-ROM gameplay, many Microsoft game studios embedded Zone links and functionality into their games, including Rockstar San Diego' Midtown Madness and Ensemble Studios' Age of Empires game series. Ensemble only began their switch to an in-game matchmaking system with the release of Age of Mythology. Age of Empires III (2005) also had in-game matchmaking.

Games as recent as Flight Simulator 98 and Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds utilized the Zone's lobby system for matchmaking. For many such games, no replacement service has been announced. The first game in the Flight Simulator series to use in-game matchmaking is Flight Simulator X, released early 2007, leaving a gap of several months without MSN supported matchmaking services.

Competitors

The Zone's first competitors were AOL's Games.com, as well Mplayer.com (and its successor Gamespy), Pogo.com and Sega's Heat.net. Formerly, the site competed with other similar free-game sites, such as Yahoo! Games and msngames.org.

Volunteers

MSN's competition with AOL Games resulted in the creation of a Volunteer Program for the Zone, which AOL also offered. The idea was to have volunteers moderating chat lobbies, hosting tourneys, offering tech support, and interacting with the gamers to collect general feedback. Volunteer Moderators for the Zone were initially designated as members of the "Zone Team", or zTeam, with assorted tokens assigned to five different teams: the Gaming Team (!), Helproom Team (+), Tournament Hosting Team (%), zStar Team (*), and Tech Support Team (?).

Because of legal complexities when AOL was sued by their volunteers—and the volunteers won the case—MSN Games reformed their policy by contracting a third-party company to manage the program. In 2001, Participate Systems won the contract and would continue to lead the program until its official disbanding. During the volunteer program's conversion to its new management, all previous token designations were replaced with a single "+" token and a new name, the "Member Plus", or MPlus program. Participate Systems was acquired by Outstart.com in November 2004.[4]

The Zone sanctioned a number of independent groups to operate tournaments on the Zone, subject to the groups retaining a tokened tournament director and obeying the Zone Code of Conduct. Groups operated in a number of games, including backgammon, cribbage, chess, hearts, and others. Some of these groups (for example RTW Online's Thunder and MrFixitOnline's Smackdown series of tournaments in the Age of Empires series of games) created an intense following, and the associated intercine rivalries. A few, such as GammonZone and Warpgammon (backgammon) and Pegging Pals (cribbage) even survived the demise of the Zone and migrated to other servers.

Citing MSN's statement regarding the closure of CD-ROM games on the Zone on June 19, 2006, the Member Plus program was also disbanded at that time, due to the removal of chat capabilities from game lobbies and the end of support for the ZoneFriends client.

Setbacks

Legacy

See also

References

  1. ^ "Zone.com WHOIS, DNS, & Domain Info - DomainTools". WHOIS. Retrieved August 2, 2016.
  2. ^ Fingas, Jon (July 14, 2019). "Microsoft is shutting down its internet board and card games". Engadget. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  3. ^ "Beyond the Zone – MSN Games Looks to the Future". MSN Games. Archived from the original on February 28, 2007. Retrieved November 6, 2021.
  4. ^ "Home".
  5. ^ "Archived copy". geocities.com. Archived from the original on October 27, 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2022.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "Most Valuable Professionals Create Stronger Connections between Microsoft and Customers". February 11, 2003.