Everyone knows that this is Microsoft Windows Solitaire, installed on hundreds of millions of PCs and being played by hundreds of thousands of office workers and airline passengers right now to relieve the boredom. Intended originally by Microsoft to humanise the Windows interface, literally “to soothe people intimidated by the operating system”, it grew in importance as a training tool for the then unfamiliar WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) way of doing things that today we take for granted.
There are now three different Solitaire versions installed with Windows. In fact they are the first, second and third most popular games in the world in their own right! In order of current popularity they are Spider, Klondike and Free Cell. Many major corporations now de-instal these games, so great is the productivity loss attributed to employees addicted to playing them instead of working.
Spider is a two deck version of the game and is a relative newcomer to Windows, first coming with the Plus pack for Windows 98 and now with Vista, ME and XP. (Unsuprisingly the Vista version has several major bugs.) Played with real cards it was, famously, the favourite of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Klondike (the original and most famous Windows version) was developed in 1988 by then intern Wes Cherry, who famously received no financial benefit from his work, half the card backs were designed by his then girlfriend Leslie Kooy. The card deck itself was designed by Macintosh pioneer Susan Kare. It was release as part of Windows 3.0 in 1990.
Freecell as a game is much easier to complete. It was invented in the 1960s by a then 10 year old Paul Alfille, in 1978 he had coded it on to a mainframe. And then it went viral. Alfille sold the rights to Freecell to the University of Illinois, but Microsoft never paid the university any royalties. It was first included with Win32s, then with Microsoft Entertainment Pack Volume 2 and then the Best Of Microsoft Entertainment Pack before it was made a part of Windows 95 and has been a fixture in Windows ever since.
So Microsoft never paid a cent for the IP rights to Freecell, Spider has no IP rights to buy and they acquired the code for Klondike for free. It is amazing that the most played game in the world has this history. Especially compared to the many millions that game publishers still pay for celebrity and film rights to brighten up otherwise lacklustre games.
And now there is a gold rush of companies putting solitaire on the latest darling of game publishing, the Apple iPhone. Ambrosia Software’s Mondo Solitaire, Acid Solitaire from Red Mercury, Gameloft Platinum Solitaire, Maverick Software Yulan Mahjong Solitaire and four more. Yes, the Apple App Store is launching with no fewer than eight different publisher’s take on solitaire, with doubtlessly many more to come. And it is hardly surprising that so many people have had the same good idea at the same time. It is the world’s most played game.