Trade Wars vs. Legend of the Red Dragon: Which was the most popular?


When I was on the Bobby Blackwolf Show in February, we discussed TradeWars 2002 and Legend of the Red Dragon. Early in our back and forth on LoRD, I said: “It became… you know, depending on who you talk to, probably the number one or number two game out of BBSes.” Blackwolf followed up by saying: “TradeWars is usually number one, LoRD is number two.”

I don’t think anyone would dispute that TradeWars 2002 and Legend of the Red Dragon were the two most popular BBS games. But which was the most popular? Is it even possible to know?

The most players

To me, “most popular” means “had the most players.” So let’s start there.

Seth Robinson, author of LoRD, once made his own estimate along these lines. He said in an interview with that LoRD was being played about 1 million times per day at its peak. He based his estimate on registrations, his guess at pirated copies, and how many players an average game had.

But that figure is pretty squishy.


A better, apples-to-apples comparison would be the number of registrations sold to sysops.

John Pritchett includes this figure on the statistics page at his TradeWars Museum wiki. According to one of his graphs, the total number of registered TradeWars 2002 games from 1990-2011 was close to 20,000.

Robinson has never, as far as I can tell, stated publicly how many LoRD registrations he sold. So, we can’t compare those figures.

Update: Robinson tweeted today “I think LORD had 15k-20k legally registered systems, somewhere in there. Piracy was a real problem, especially with my simple keys.”

So registrations for the two games were in the same neighborhood.


At this point, maybe we should take a step back. Popularity is subjective — and it changes over time. What if we define “most popular” as “best-remembered”? Is there a way to measure legacy?

Turns out there is a way, although it may not give us definitive answers.

Wiki Trends is a new data site that lets you compare Wikipedia articles’ pageviews over time with a cool interactive chart. (Check out my Visualizing 314 series to see something similar)

My interest was piqued by a tweet from Scott Weingart in which he said “No really, this does for wikipedia popularity what google ngrams did for books.”

As you probably know, Wikipedia is my best frenemy. I created the Break Into Chat wiki because WP editors began deleting BBS door game articles. Those deleted articles cannot be charted using Wiki Trends.

But Wikipedia still has articles for the biggest BBS games. So, let’s use Wiki Trends to compare pageviews of the TradeWars, Legend of the Red Dragon, Solar Realms Elite, and Barren Realms Elite articles.

Chart comparing pageviews for the Wikipedia articles about Trade Wars, Trade Wars 2002, Legend of the Red Dragon, Barren Realms Elite, and Solar Realms Elite.

Chart comparing page views for the Wikipedia articles about Trade Wars, Trade Wars 2002, Legend of the Red Dragon, Barren Realms Elite, and Solar Realms Elite.

I was surprised to find that the LoRD Wikipedia article has been more popular than the Trade Wars article over the last six years.

But even with this wonderful data, we still don’t have a solid answer. Why? Because there are two separate articles for “Trade Wars” and for “Trade Wars 2002.” The former is a more all-encompassing article that begins with the original Chris Sherrick version of Trade Wars and discusses its many derivatives. The latter is focused entirely on Gary Martin’s version of the game.

Should we just add the pageview totals for the two? Probably not, since many who landed on Trade Wars probably clicked through to the Trade Wars 2002 article.

What’s your take?

Ultimately, we end up where we started: with a fun, subjective question. It may indeed have a definitive answer, but we can’t grasp it with the data that’s available now.

I’m curious what you think? Did you have a favorite? If you were a sysop, did you ever have a sense of one game being more popular than the other on your board?

3 thoughts on “Trade Wars vs. Legend of the Red Dragon: Which was the most popular?

  1. unaclocker

    TradeWars was out WAY before LORD. There was TradeWars 1000, and I think there was a smaller one before 1000, but that’s before my time. I believe TW was based on a game idea in some magazine, or so I read at one point in the past. Was Yankee Trader written by a different person? Seems like they were competing games, but nearly the same. TW2002 was revolutionary when it came out. It, to this day, has to be the largest deepest and most involved doorgame ever created. All the sectors, all the planets, spacestations, aliens, the ability to have so many people not just playing, but literally playing at the same time and interacting in real time. Man what a game.
    LORD was good, it brought a little bit of DnD to the BBS scene.One of my door games was a blatant ripoff of it’s game play style, but when there’s a winning formula, it only made sense to run with it. 😉 But yeah, EVERYBODY played LORD, whereas TW2002 had more of a niche. So LORD was more popular, but TW (all it’s varieties) had a longer life and TW2002 can win for “better game” on several fronts.

  2. Jason Stevens

    Well I think it is a matter of ‘when’ you are talking about … You have trade wars in 84. and Lord in 89. Which those 5 formative years were like an eternity in BBS time.

    I also found the Pascal Source to the TW200 game, and spent a weekend porting it to C. It’s single player only, and I didn’t really try to understand the source, but rather port each procedure 1:1 as best as I could. I even preserved the insanely small data types, although because of the way Turbo Pascal Packs it’s floating point data, I wrote a small tool to dump the TW200 database to ASCII, and a simple C program to import it into the format the C runtime can Understand.. Which was interesting in it’s own right as many C compilers cannot understand eachother’s binary representation of floating point numbers – even though they were the same ‘size’ with the same MIN/MAX.

    On my lame board, I was asked to buy/install TradeWars long before someone asked for LORD. So I do own both. Although it is kind of funny that the people who own the rights to both of these are so incredibly passive aggressive about selling new licenses for the old stuff.

  3. J. David Ramsey

    I first began using BBSes in early 1993, and at that time in my local-calling area, Trade Wars 2002 was the most popular door game. In fact, none of the BBSes in the area had Legend of the Red Dragon installed until sometime in the summer of that year[*]. I know it was that summer, because I remember playing it the first time right before heading out to the day’s band-camp practice, and then being distracted from learning my marching drill because I was thinking about playing the next day’s turns. Soon, LoRD appeared on virtually all of the boards that featured games.

    I started my BBS in December 1993, and launched with only two registered doors: Trade Wars 2002 and Legend of the Red Dragon. I quickly found what unaclocker already said above. Nearly everybody who played doors played LoRD[**], but a smaller-yet-still-large contingent remained fanatical about TW2002.

    By the time I took down my board in 1997, however, TW2002 use had dwindled significantly. LoRD, on the other hand, was still the most popular game, in terms of players-per-day. I’d point out, though, that by then, very few people seemed to regard LoRD as their favorite game, whereas a large percentage of the TW2002 players left still preferred Trade Wars over all other doors. I think the LoRD players tended to favor other games they also played, like Usurper or Exitilus.

    So, on my BBS, LoRD was easily the most popular by number of regular players. BUT… My BBS probably spent many, MANY more minutes dropped out to Trade Wars 2002 than it did to LoRD—possibly even more than any other board activity, aside from file transfers. The variability of TW2002 combined with its relatively complex strategy meant its followers would be more devoted to it than the mostly casual players of the elegant-but-predictable LoRD.

    In other words, I don’t think I can help answer the question, except maybe to pose a new one. Is something greater if it has a larger number of devotees, or is it greater if it becomes part of the general background of the experiences of nearly everyone?

    * Our calling area only had 20-30 open-access BBSes at any given time during the peak years for BBSing, so it was possible for us to be familiar with all the boards’ offerings, save some of the private boards I may not have known about.
    ** Funnily enough, the more turns-per-day LoRD was set to, the fewer daily players would play. This wasn’t so noticeable when LoRD was a fresh game, but by about early ’95—about when the novelty of the “new” v3.x features wore off—a SysOp could wreck a game by increasing the turns, especially if he/she was also running one of the similar, competing games like Usurper.


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