With a foundation for creating, delivering and sifting through web content thus established, internet entrepreneurs then set about trying make money from this new invention. With so many eyeballs looking at so many screens, advertising soon swarmed the net like a plague of popup locusts, but the established commercial concerns immediately discovered that the denizens of this new virtual market were far more interested in conducting business with each other than with any large corporation.
Launched in 1995, eBay, the world's first online auction house, provided a means by which two people on opposite ends of planet could buy and sell from each other without ever meeting in person or even seeing the item to be sold, or the money used to purchase it. It was the most radically innovative new use for web technology ever devised, and after only five years the site hosted more than 4 million auctions, generating over $300 million in revenue; all brought home by a company that doesn't manufacture a single thing.
eBay makes its billions by charging a small fee for every item bought or sold, and its clientele consists of web travelers searching for a long-lost items, hard-to-find trinkets or powerful icons of cultural significance. Buyers need only enter a description of the item they seek, and eBay's search engine helps them complete their quest, connecting them to a seller and providing the means by which the two can complete the transaction. It is simple, efficient and fun; possibly even addictive, fueling a secondary market for therapists specializing in online auction addiction recovery. Some of whom accept eBay's PayPal as payment for their services.
Today, many people who've never even heard of adventure games nevertheless spend their every waking hour playing one. They seek lost treasures on eBay, play Flash-based mini-games when the boss isn't looking, interact with characters from all over the world via instant messaging services, type search terms into Google to retrieve arcane lore and use email to collect and keep track of assignments.
The history of gaming is one of a continual lessening of demands upon the player; an ever-widening accessibility which has brought more and more players into the market, widened the scope of the media and moved the industry into a position rivaling that of Hollywood for "dollars spent" and "eyeballs served," the watermarks of the language of advertising. While traces of the adventure games of the past can be found across the entire spectrum of gaming genres, the true inheritor of the crown is not really a game at all, but the web itself. Containing information, stories, puzzles and games and propelled by the simple mechanism of clicking and exploring, the web has become the single most successful form of entertainment in the world, played by gamers and non-gamers alike, most of whom use it every day. There are even old-fashioned stories there, too, if one should care to look for them.
Al Lowe's hooker has, in other words, been supplanted by literally thousands more, each accessible with less frustration, interface-wise, and (graphically speaking), far more titillating. But after more than two decades of evolution, the magic formula remains the same.
Russ Pitts is an associate editor of and frequent contributor to The Escapist and is the host and producer of The Escapist's podcast, Escape Radio. Pitts is the former producer and head writer of TechTV's The Screen Savers, and has played every game console ever made.