It’s a game that almost everyone has played; one that’s been featured in countless films and TV shows, and has become instantly recognisable. It’s completely free, and until recently, it came pre-installed on the hundreds of Windows computers sold every year.
The game, of course, is Microsoft Solitaire. It’s a game that everyone has played, but very few people know much about, even though it turned 30 years old earlier this year.
The Origins of Microsoft Solitaire
Microsoft Solitaire was first bundled with Windows 3.0 back on 22nd May 1990 and came pre-installed on every consumer copy of Microsoft Windows after that up until Windows 8 on 1st August 2012. It was re-added in Windows 10 when Microsoft released it in 2015 after the public outrage caused by its removal.
It was included as a way to help teach users how to use the mouse that was required to use Windows 3.0. While this seems like a strange concept today, back then, computers mostly used command-line interfaces that only needed a keyboard.
Being able to drag and drop was an important skill when using the new operating system, so the game was designed to train users to keep their finger pressed while they moved the mouse.
Despite being one of the most played games of all time, the original game, which was called Windows Solitaire, was coded by an intern at Microsoft.
The fact that the game was pre-installed on billions of computers around the world and that it was easy to learn, even if you’d never played it before, made it incredibly popular.
At the height of its popularity, Microsoft claims that 100 million people played the game around the world each day. Even today, there are many people that still play it regularly. The software giant has reported that 35 million people play the game each month, which puts it on par with popular modern titles like Grand Theft Auto V.
Inspiring Other Games
While Microsoft Solitaire was one of the first popular card games to appear on PC, the genre became incredibly popular in the years that followed. Around five years after Windows 3.0 was released, consumers began to get access to the first online casinos which offered popular card games like blackjack and baccarat.
Shortly after, a period known as the poker boom took place, seeing games like Texas Hold’em grow in popularity around the world. Today there are dozens of sites that let users play in poker tournaments and ring games; many have also begun to let users play on their mobile device. The features of these games are far more advanced and in-depth than Microsoft Solitaire, with online multiplayer functionality and better graphics.
Other pre-installed Microsoft games haven’t had the same success though. The popular 3D Pinball Space Cadet game that came pre-installed on Windows 2000 and Windows XP hasn’t inspired an entire industry of online pinball games, though there are some available for smartphones.
Wes Cherry, the intern who coded the original Windows Solitaire for Windows 3.0 is rumoured to have included a “boss mode” into the game. This would have hidden the game and brought up a fake spreadsheet on the screen instead to prevent people from being caught playing the game at work.
The feature was removed from the final version, probably because Microsoft didn’t want to upset their biggest market.
This would have been a handy function to have for many people who have played the game at work. Unfortunately, for at least one worker, playing Microsoft Solitaire has cost them their job.
Back in 2006, an assistant to the then-Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, was caught playing the game and dismissed from his job soon after. Commenting on the incident, Bloomberg said “I expected all city workers…to work hard” and that playing the game during business hours was “not appropriate behaviour”.
While it may not be the first title that comes to mind when thinking about retro games, Microsoft Solitaire is as retro as they come.