Heat.net was once Sega’s (apparently now-defunct SegaSoft‘s) PC gaming platform. It was the equivalent of Steam, which in the 90s was quite an accomplishment. Before Heat.net, basically all games had to be played over a network or by dialing into another computer directly. This usually resulted in games being played online only from time to time, and only with specific people with the same interests. Heat.net allowed many network games to be played online with little or no change, like Hamachi (which was released years later).

On Heat.net, there was a global lobby and lobbies for individual games, where you could find and add friends. There may have been some kind of matching system, but I remember you could choose who could be on your team. I got my friends at school to join a Warcraft II clan so we could play big matches, learn to work as a team, and so I (ProtoArmor below) could have an experience that complimented our albeit limited social life, instead of imitating one in a shallow and unsatisfying way like text-only relationships (such as those limited to social media, or Heat.net itself). Though the concept was new and confusing even for PC gamers of the time, it had the Sega name behind it. A girl we met online also teamed up with us. This was a surprise since there were basically zero girls at our school who shared introverted interests (games, comics, trading cards, or anything like that). Later on, we found out that one guy in another grade who seemed to be only into sports was also into Warcraft II, and he wanted to team up with us (BerSERKER19 below). We even had a “secret” page on my website where the members could see more strategies than on our official clan page, by typing in a certain address. Online gaming opened up new possibilities for connections with other people.

Armory of Faith Clan Roster

On Heat.net, players could get store credit just for clicking ads or other activities. This system could be exploited, since you could click ads as fast as they could be served without any follow-through required. Even Heat.net’s prize page itself had some phrases like, “this might not last long,” and “these are crazy times!” You could not only buy games, but also computer accessories. Earning points on a gaming site to have physical prizes shipped to you was amazing and still would be. At the time, nearly all games were purchased on disc, since most people still had dialup (56kbps), 768kbps DSL, or a similar internet connection. However, Heat.net would actually ship you a boxed game. Even a game here and there, from a physical store, would proudly display Heat.net compatibility on the box.

One day I noticed that the site started going to an adult web page (now it is a parked site with affiliate links to food, but tomorrow it could be anything so to be safe, just avoid it unless a reputable company buys it). Cybersquatting was even easier back then–since professional cybersquatters weren’t that common, random companies could buy successful domain names that went unpaid. Shipping physical goods for ad clicks without timing limits nor verification of follow-through is probably what brought SegaSoft down in 2000.

I really felt a sense of loss when I found out Heat.net had gone down. Even if they limited the prize system more, the concept itself was good, which is now clear from the popularity of Steam and similar ventures. I’m sure that Heat.net could have been profitable if games were only purchasable with real money, or if the points system was limited some other way from the beginning. The points were already inflated, but they were easy to get, so maybe limiting points to special situations such as contests, referrals, or gift cards may have worked out. By creating a hub for online gaming with social features and a game store, Heat.net charted new territory and left marks on the path for others’ success.