Solitaire, Minesweeper, Hearts, FreeCell – The Secret Behind These Games

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Aug 24 2015
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Humankind cannot live without games. The gaming industry is estimated to worth about US$88 billion this year (2015) and is expected to skyrockets to US$110 billion by 2018. Apple iOS developer made an impressive US$10 billion in revenue for the fiscal year 2014, although not the entire figure goes to game developers.

Nokia Snake Game

Still, games such as “Game of War” generate US$1.5 million in revenue to the game developer – every single day. Clash of Clans is making US$1.1 million every day, while Candy Crush Saga milks about US$900,000 on daily basis. But those were revenue the developers are making on iPhone only, mind you.


Games have always got people hooked and entertained. One of the reasons why Nokia phones were so popular in the 1990s was because of “Snake”. In case you weren’t born yet when your father was using Microsoft Operating System back in the early 1990s, do you know that Microsoft had invented four very popular games?

Microsoft Windows Solitaire Game

Yes, the first GUI-interfaced Windows 3.0 was preloaded with Microsoft Solitaire. Although the game (sometimes called “Patience”) has existed since the late 1700s, the digital version made it into Microsoft Windows in 1990. But here’s the actual reason why Microsoft had it bundled together with the operating system.


Its real objective was to get users used to the idea of “drag and drop”. Unless you belong to the command-line generation such as UNIX, a new generation of computer users need to be trained, without them even realizing that they were learning the concept of “drag and drop”. The fact that you can skilfully drag and drop today goes to show how Solitaire has done a good job.

Microsoft Windows Minesweeper Game

Next game – Minesweeper – introduced in 1992 to Windows 3.1. The game’s challenge is to use your logic to defuse mines in a grid without blowing yourself up. And do you know that Bill Gates was so addicted to Minesweeper that he used to sneak into a colleague’s office after work to play? Bill had actually uninstalled the game from his own PC because he spent too much time playing instead of working (*grin*).


Believe it or not, Bill Gates had managed to clear the Minesweeper in 5-seconds. But the real reason why Minesweeper was there in the first place was quite mind-boggling. It was there to teach users about the left and right mouse buttons, and to foster speed and precision in mouse movement. Isn’t this impressive?

Microsoft Windows Hearts Game

The Windows for Workgroups 3.1 was introduced in 1992 and it came with another game – Hearts. This version of Microsoft operating system was the first network-ready version of Windows, and used Microsoft’s new NetDDE technology to communicate with other Hearts clients on a local network.


Again, Hearts wasn’t just a card game. It was a genius way to get people interested in (and hopefully impressed by) the networking capabilities of their system. It was supposed to tell the IT world that Microsoft was in the business of LAN (Local Area Network) too. Of course, there was already the popular Novell’s NetWare computer network operating system.

Microsoft Windows FreeCell Game

Finally, there was FreeCell, released for Windows 3.1 as part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack Volume 2. You may have had treated it as a normal game, but here’s the 23-year-old secret. It was bundled with the Win32s package that allowed 32-bit applications to run on the 16-bit Windows 3.1.


In other words, FreeCell was there to actually test whether a new “thunking layer” – a patch to enable 32-bit applications to run on a 16-bit Windows 3.1 system – was correctly installed. If it was, you could play the game; otherwise, it wouldn’t load. Of course, Bill Gates didn’t explain it because it was actually a stealth test of the company’s software.

Bill Gates - Young with Computers

Amazingly, after decades of “training” and “testing” Microsoft users via the four popular games, those games have became part and parcel of Microsoft fans. So much so that when the games were removed from Windows 8, people were literally running “amok” screaming for blood. Hence, with the new Windows 10, Microsoft has brought back Solitaire.


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