In the 19th century, the Oregon trail was a route used by many pioneer settlers as they attempted to make their way west and start a new life. It’s fitting that The Oregon Trail computer game was also a pioneer in the industry when it was created in 1971. The game was so revolutionary that the first iteration didn’t even have the benefit of a computer monitor. And yet The Oregon Trail game series has proven to be so popular that it’s still going 46 years later. It’s easily one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time, and yet its creators did not reap the financial rewards of that success.
Hodges Usry has released a brief video that fully explains why the creators of The Oregon Trail have never been paid for their creation. Don Rawitsch, a senior and student teacher, came up with the game while he was still attending Carleton College in 1971. He went on to recruit his fellow student teachers, Bill Heinemann and Paul Dillenberger, to help him finish the game. Rawitsch used The Oregon Trail as a learning tool for his class, and it quickly proved to be immensely popular with students and teachers.
Three years later, Rawitsch revisited and updated The Oregon Trail while working for the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium. However, when he uploaded the game to MECC’s network, the game became the property of the company. This ended up becoming a major boon for MECC, as The Oregon Trail became even more popular as it was released and distributed consumers as well as school children across the country.
As noted in the video, Rawitsch has no regrets about how things played out for him. “Paul, and Bill, and I didn’t set out in 1971 to make a great computer game,” said Rawitsch. “We were motivated to help kids learn.”
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Image: The Learning Company