NetWits

NetWits was the first multiplayer casual game released on the web. Developed for Windows95 and the Microsoft Network, NetWits shipped to millions of MSN users in the Fall of 1996.

As the game designer and creative director of NetWits, I conceived the original idea of an online gameshow that would be “broadcast” to thousands of players simultaneously, bringing them together in easy-to-learn social games where they could chat, interact and compete for fun and prizes.

The host of NetWits was the ineffable Vic Marvelous, an original character designed to give the feeling of a classic game show host and animated with traditional hand-drawn cels converted to digital assets. Vic led players through each round of play, giving verbal feedback and and a helping hand with the interface.

Each night of the week, contestants could log on to the Microsoft Network and play a different NetWits game: Crosswords was a multiplayer word jumble; Push Your Luck was a fast-paced maze game; Switcheroo was a social riddler; I Challenge That was a dueling card game; and Top of the Mark was a slippery strategy game.

As one of the first web products to feature in-game sponsorship, NetWits broke ground in terms of online business models. Sponsored by Expedia during its first season, nightly prizes included a round trip ticket anywhere in the U.S. from the online travel agency.

When it was released, NetWits received immediate critical acclaim, not only for it’s stylish retro look and sound and classically elegant gameplay, but also for it’s cutting edge technology. The game featured a rich, responsive interface in a time before the availability of Shockwave or Flash. In fact, the team spend over a year developing one of the earliest massively multiplayer server systems and a custom client solution with graphics that went far beyond what the web had previously supported.

NetWits garnered a number of honors and awards, including design distinction in the ID Magazine Design Review, the Communication Arts Annual Review and “Best of the Web” from Time Magazine in 1996.

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