Codex Gamicus
Neverwinter Nights
File:Neverwinter Nights (1991) Coverart.png
Developer(s) Stormfront Studios
Publisher(s) Strategic Simulations, Inc.
Designer Designer Missing
status Status Missing
Release date 1991
Genre Multiplayer, Role-playing
Age rating(s)
Platform(s) DOS
Arcade system Arcade System Missing
Credits | Soundtrack | Codes | Walkthrough

Neverwinter Nights was the first multiplayer[1] online role-playing game to display graphics,[2] and ran from 1991 to 1997 on AOL.

In 2008 Neverwinter Nights was honored (along with EverQuest and World of Warcraft) at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for advancing the art form of MMORPG games. Don Daglow accepted the award for project partners Stormfront Studios, AOL and Wizards of the Coast.



Neverwinter Nights was a co-development of AOL, Stormfront Studios, SSI, and TSR (which was acquired by Wizards of the Coast in 1997).

Don Daglow and the Stormfront game design team began working with AOL on original online games in 1987, in both text-based and graphical formats. At the time AOL was a Commodore 64 only online service, known as Quantum Computer Services, with just a few thousand subscribers, and was called Quantum Link. Online graphics in the late 1980s were severely restricted by the need to support modem data transfer rates as slow as 300 bits per second (bit/s).

In 1989 the Stormfront team started working with SSI on Dungeons & Dragons games using the Gold Box engine that had debuted with Pool of Radiance in 1988. Within months they realized that it was technically feasible to combine the Dungeons & Dragons Gold Box engine with the community-focused gameplay of online titles to create an online RPG with graphics. Although the multiplayer graphical flight combat game Air Warrior (also from Kesmai) had been online since 1987, all prior online RPGs had been based on text.

In a series of meetings in San Francisco and Las Vegas with AOL's Steve Case and Kathi McHugh, TSR's Jim Ward and SSI's Chuck Kroegel, Daglow and programmer Cathryn Mataga convinced the other three partners that the project was indeed possible. Case approved funding for NWN and work began, with the game going live 18 months later in March 1991.

Daglow chose Neverwinter as the game's location because of its magical features (a river of warm water that flowed from a snowy forest into a northern sea), and its location near a wide variety of terrain types. The area also was close enough to the settings of the other Gold Box games to allow subplots to intertwine between the online and the disk-based titles.

Cost and playerbase[]

The game originally cost standard AOL hourly rates to play. Depending on the user's rate plan, this could be USD$6.00 per hour for a flat rate plan, or $8.00 per hour during premium (daytime) hours or $4.00 during off hours.[citation needed] As the years progressed, Internet connection costs dropped, AOL and NWN membership grew, the servers became faster and the hourly player charge declined. As a result of these upgrades, the capacity of each server grew from 50 players in 1991 to 500 players by 1995. Ultimately the game became a free part of the AOL subscriber service.

Near the end of its run in 1997 the game had 115,000 players and typically hosted 2,000 adventurers during prime evening hours, a 4000% increase over 1991.[3]

Expansion and popularity[]

The original Neverwinter Nights was expanded once, in 1992 by programmer Keith Ledbetter. At about this time AOL’s subscriber growth started to expand exponentially, as the adoption of email by everyday Americans drove new sign-ups. AOL diverted all its efforts into keeping up with the exploding demand for modem connections and online capacity. All game development at AOL other than NWN was suspended, and the game's player capacity was enhanced through server-side improvements and the addition of new playable areas. The game remained one of AOL's most active areas until a disagreement arose between AOL and TSR over future rights to the game. Thousands of dedicated NWN players rose in protest, some in national media, but to no avail. The gates of Neverwinter were closed in July 1997.

Much of the game's popularity was based on the presence of active and creative player guilds, who staged many special gaming events online for their members. It is this committed fan base that BioWare sought when they licensed the rights to Neverwinter Nights from AOL and TSR as the basis for the modern game.[4]

NWN gained incidental media attention from AOL tech and marketing staff by appearing in the Don't Copy That Floppy campaign by the Software Publishers Association.


The game was reviewed in 1992 in Dragon #179 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 4 out of 5 stars.[5]


  1. Bainbridge, William Sims (2004). Berkshire Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. 2. Berkshire Publishing Group. pp. 474. ISBN 0974309125. "It already had the game Neverwinter Nights, but that could handle "only" five hundred simultaneous players; the demand was much greater." 
  2. NeverWinter Nights - Press Releases -
  3. Gamers Claim AOL Is Playing Bait-and-Switch
  4. Neverwinter Nights Interview
  5. Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (March 1992). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (179): 57–62. 

External links[]

fr:Neverwinter Nights (jeu vidéo, 1991)