Microsoft Solitaire: How a Bored Intern Created the Most Played Game Ever

By: Holger Sindbaek · Designer & Developer ·


microsoft solitaire

More than thirty years after its initial conception, Microsoft Solitaire is alive and well. More than 20 billion (that's with a "b" and not and "m") games of Solitaire are played each year through Microsoft's Solitaire Collection, making Solitaire the most played video game of all time. That's the equivalent of 38.194 games of Solitaire being played every minute or every single person on earth playing a hand of Solitaire roughly twice a day, making Solitaire one of the most, if not the most, played video-game of all time.

Such numbers are just astounding, but given how every Windows machine has shipped with Microsoft Solitaire pre-installed, it starts to make sense. I remember being a kid, turning on my mom's computer, playing Solitaire was basically the only entertaining thing to do (this was pre-internet times). Solitaire is a game that can be played by young and old alike, and with such a mass appeal, it makes sense that's the game has become such an icon in popular culture.

The game was never destined to become such a massive success though. It was just an intern's spare time project, still, it made its way up to the very top of Microsoft, where Bill Gates decided to include it with Windows 3.0.

Humble beginnings

The year is 1988 and Wes Cherry, an intern at Microsoft, decides to alleviate his boredom by writing Solitaire for Windows. As he says himself "There weren’t many games at the time, so we had to make them", and so he did. Though being an intern at Microsoft in those days was a time-consuming job, he still found time to come up with a working prototype.

Wes Cherry

He even included a "Boss key" in the initial version, which was a key you could press that would open up a fake Excel sheet to make it look like you were working on something. The feature didn't get included in the final version, but seeing how playing Solitaire at work, in the worst cases, has led people to get fired, including the feature might have been a good idea.

The game caught the eye of Bill Gates's and Susan Kare, the famous graphic designer who designed the interface for Apple's original Macintosh, was brought in to design the cards and interface of the game. Bill Gates liked the game and gave it his stamp of approval, though he complained that it was "too hard to win".

The game was released in 1990 alongside Windows 3.0 and Microsoft officially said Solitaire was pre-installed to get people used to using a mouse. In those days, the mouse had just come out and people were just getting used to it, so having a game like Solitaire that would teach people to grab, drag and release using a mouse, was thought to be a great way of introducing people to this new concept. In reality, it was just to include something fun in the new operating system.

The game became an instant classic, giving seniors a way to keep their minds sharp, young people a way to train their minds, and giving employers sleepless nights over all the time being wasted at the office.

Wes never received any royalties on the game, which is common practice in the industry, but one can't help wondering if he doesn't regret not trying to get a small royalty the time he wrote it. But he's a happy man these days, who's moved away from working at the computer and now owns and runs his own cidery.

Solitaire in popular culture

Solitaire has been on people's radar for so long that's it's become a part of popular culture. In the cult show "The Office", which depicts the prototypical modern office, many of the characters are seen playing Solitaire. According to the actor Bratton, playing a character also called Bratton, having Solitaire open on their computers started as a way to block the internet window, which the actors would have open in-between shoots where they'd browse the internet to pass time. Bratton ended up playing "about a thousand" games of Spider Solitaire throughout the shooting of The Office, and supposedly he go "really good at that game".

microsoft solitaire

Solitaire has become so popular these days that we even have National Solitaire Day (May 22 if you're wondering), a day Microsoft founded to celebrate one of its most beloved programs. In 2018, the Registrar at National Day Calendar proclaimed the day to be observed annually on May 22nd. If you're wondering if there are any guidelines on how to observe this national day, you're out of luck, but I suggest you play a game of solitaire and if you manage to win, tweet your playtime with the hashtag #NationalSolitaireDay.

Personally, I've spent countless hours in my childhood trying to win the game, so I could see the captivating Microsoft Solitaire win animation. Nowadays, we have a huge variety of entertainment that is available at the click of a button, but despite that, Solitaire never seems to grow old.

If you would like to play with a real deck of playing cards check out our wide selection here.

Looking for more games to play check out our list of game rules here.

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