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Bill Gates on writing ‘DONKEY.BAS,’ the first-ever PC game

Young Bill Gates
Gates in 1990.


  • IBM wanted Microsoft to provide games for its original
    PC — so Bill Gates took the task upon himself, working late
    into the night to produce the first PC  game
  • The game Gates and company came up with was
    “DONKEY.BAS,” an extremely simple and silly game about a car
    dodging donkeys in the road. 
  • When Apple got their first look at the IBM PC, they
    thought “DONKEY.BAS” was particularly embarrassing, to the
    point where they couldn’t believe Gates put his name on


It’s the stuff of Silicon Valley legend: In 1980, a young Bill
Gates convinced IBM that his tiny startup, Microsoft, was

the perfect choice
to provide
the operating system for its new PC.

The problem was that Microsoft didn’t actually have an
operating system to sell. So Gates scrambled to buy one from a
startup working on an operating system called 86-DOS, or “disk
operating system.” It
renamed the software PC DOS and sold it to IBM for $430,000

As part of the deal, though, IBM wanted Microsoft to provide a
version of BASIC, a programming language for beginners, along
with a few simple games to show it off. What it came up with was
“DONKEY.BAS,” a silly game about a car that has to avoid donkeys
in the road.

It also happens to be the first PC game ever developed. Behold:

(The “.BAS” part just means that it was written in BASIC.)

Here’s how Gates described the
process of building
“DONKEY.BAS” in a 2001 keynote:

“Actually, it was myself and Neil Konzen at four in the morning
with this prototype IBM PC sitting in this small room. IBM
insisted that we had to have a lock on the door, and we only had
this closet that had a lock on it, so we had to do all our
development in there, and it was always over 100 degrees, but we
wrote late at night a little application to show what the BASIC
built into the IBM PC could do. And so that was DONKEY.BAS. It
was, at the time, very thrilling.”

Andy Hertzfeld, an early Apple employee,
memorably recalled the first time the Macintosh team saw an IBM
and being especially unimpressed with the selection of
games onboard. He singled out “DONKEY.BAS” as the “most
embarrassing game,” saying that “the concept of the game was as
bad the crude graphics that it used.”

Hertzfeld said of
discovering this terrible game was made by
none other than Gates:

“We were surprised to see that the comments at the top of the
game proudly proclaimed the authors: Bill Gates and Neil Konzen.
Neil was a bright teenage hacker who I knew from his work on the
Apple II (who would later become Microsoft’s technical lead on
the Mac project) but we were amazed that such a thoroughly bad
game could be coauthored by Microsoft’s cofounder, and that he
would actually want to take credit for it in the comments.”

In 2001, to show off how far the company had come, Microsoft
built a 3D version of “DONKEY.BAS,” called “DONKEY.NET,” where
the aim is to hit donkeys with a car. You can download a
version of it
, but it’s difficult to get running on modern

ibm pc


But if you want to play the original “DONKEY.BAS,” you’re in
luck. MIT is hosting a browser-based
, while an enterprising developer built an iPhone
and Apple Watch version
that you can buy for 99 cents. You
can also play another early DOS game, “GORILLAS.BAS,” in the

Gates became a massive fan of another classic Microsoft game: He
such a fan of Minesweeper
that he had to delete it from his
computer to stay productive — still, he would end up sneaking
into his executives’ offices to play it.

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