DOS is considered the first “mainstream” operating system for home computers. Because it was the primary operating system for IBM’s PC, DOS surged in popularity and Microsoft had sold over 100 million copies by 1993. In addition to being the OS of choice for business clients, DOS was also quite popular with PC gamers.
How many DOS games are there? The Wikipedia list contains 2422 entries, but over 2500 DOS games have been uploaded to the Internet Archive. Since indie developers and enthusiasts created a lot of homebrew titles with limited or zero circulation, it is hard to nail down the exact number of DOS games.
The foundation for DOS was laid by Tim Patterson- an engineer at Seattle Computer Products who copied the CP/M API to create QDOS. When IBM approached Bill Gates to develop an OS for their PC (model 5150), he simply purchased 86-DOS from Patterson (a rebrand of QDOS). Back in 1981, neither Microsoft nor IBM could have anticipated how popular this operating system would become.
How Many DOS Games Are There?
Most guesses put the number between 2400 to 2500, although there are probably more than that. Several DOS games have been lost to the pages of time because the original floppy disc or codebase went missing. Some games have been meticulously reconstructed, using feedback from the original creators and chunks of code pasted from archives.
There are DOS games that never got published or distributed commercially because they were created entirely by one guy as a fun project. The code for these games was lost when the computers they were created on died. It is impossible to track down homemade games or obscure indie projects from the 1980s.
Hence, most of what you see on Wikipedia or the Internet Archive are commercially available DOS games. And there are literally thousands of them. So if you’re a retro PC gaming enthusiast, don’t worry- you’ll likely grow old before you run out of unique DOS games to play.
What Are The Best DOS Games?
The obvious picks include classics like DOOM, SimCity 2000, X-COM: UFO Defense, Civilization, C&C: Red Alert, etc. But it really comes down to the game genres that you like, more than anything else. DOS has shooters, platformers, RTS, RPGs, racing games, and just about anything else that you can think of.
If you want the best DOS game for a particular genre, simply look up the top picks for that genre. Then, you can visit retro game sites like DOSGAMES to get a quick online test of what the game feels like. If you want, you can even play the whole thing online.
But I recommend purchasing the game if it’s still available for sale (check sites like GOG, these contain DRM-free downloads for old games). A lot of these old DOS games you purchase will require DOSBox for emulation. In fact, you should probably download DOSBox anyway, if you’re going to play DOS games on your PC.
The First DOS Game
If you’re talking about the first game to be released commercially for DOS, it’s probably Microsoft Adventure. This was released at launch for the IBM PC in 1981, alongside a bunch of other software (VisiCalc, MS Basic, etc.). However, there were older games from the late 1970s that got DOS ports.
While these aren’t exactly DOS games, they did eventually arrive on DOS. One such game is Rogue, a text-based dungeon crawler that was originally released for Unix computers in 1980. Rogue is the first game to establish the “roguelike” template, with its randomized levels and permadeath.
When Did DOS Games Stop?
DOS started going out of favor during the early 1990s when Microsoft released its Windows 3 series of GUI-based operating systems. And things went downhill after Windows 95 launched with the DirectX graphics API. By that time, 3D games were starting to gain momentum and DirectX was simply a better way to make these games for PC.
In December 2001, Microsoft stopped providing updates for DOS and formally declared the OS obsolete. Both Windows 95 and 98 had a DOS boot stage, with the ability to natively run DOS software. Starting with XP, Windows operating systems lost the ability to run DOS games natively (XP was based on the NT core).
Is DOS Still Used Today?
Outside of retro PC emulation and DOSBox gaming, not really. These days, there are much better options for hardcore users who want an experience that is closer to the metal. Most enthusiasts and developers simply use Linux.
Playing DOS Games On A Modern PC
If you try to run a DOS executable on your modern Windows 10/ 11 PC, you’ll end up with a whole bunch of nothing. Because your computer has no clue what it’s looking at. So, you’re going to need an emulator to run your DOS games.
The best and most popular one is DOSBox. Sure, it isn’t the most faithful recreation of the DOS experience. But it’s explicitly designed for DOS gaming and offers the best performance across the widest range of old games.
DOS is an old operating system, and its software isn’t natively supported by modern Windows versions. However, there are over 2000 DOS games to be played. And while most of these feature clunky UI with questionable design choices, they provide a window into the early days of PC gaming.
Old roleplaying games like Fallout 1 are still packed with meaningful player choices and excellent storylines. Daggerfall makes good use of procedural generation and can be used as a learning project for amateur game designers. There’s a lot of fun to be had with old DOS games, and you have plenty of ways to run them on modern PCs.