Swatch net.hunt

A story about the (almost) forgotten days of the Internet by Andreas Wiethoff

Turn back the clocks to April 1996:  Los del Rio ("Macarena") and Michael Jackson ("They Donīt Care About Us") are on the charts.  Ugh.

The internet is much much smaller than today:  Less than 10 mio. hosts (computers) are connected to the internet (compared to more than 400 mio. hosts today).  So much less people are surfing around...

Swatch has just designed a new watch with artist Nam June Paik.  It is called Zapping:

Zapping watch

In order to promote this watch, the first ever online game called Swatch net.hunt is initiated starting April 1, 1996. 

NetHunt Logo
Before April 1st, each player has to find two more players (all three from different countries!) and form a team.   net.hunt is an online treasure hunt where Swatch will hide the 10 pieces of a mosaic all over the Internet. One new piece at exactly 0.00 CET+DST (Central European Time + Daylight Saving Time) on the following dates (1 piece per date): April 1 (no joke!), 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14.   The first team in time to find all ten pieces of the mosaic (according to the time on the incoming e-mail protocol) is the winner of the top prize:

Each member of the winning team will have the opportunity to visit one of his team-members - no matter where he lives. Swatch will cover all of the travel expenses for the mutual visits.  Now that's a great prize!

2nd to 10th place:  A Zapping art special
11th to 100th place:  A cyber T-shirt  (back then, the word "cyber" was really hip :-)

As I am an avid Swatch collector already since some years (but with a modest collection of Scuba and Chrono watches back then [unlike now :-]), I am excited about the chance to win a Swatch watch or possibly even a free holiday.  So I decide to join the game. 

I pick two names at random from the list of participants:  Brian from the USA and Michelle from Australia.  If I should win, it would be a long journey :-)  So I email with Brian and Michelle about a possible name for our team.  I suggest:  "The Penguins" (because I collect penguins [not as seriously as swatch watches, though]).  Brian writes: "hey, that's funny:  I collect penguins, too!" :-)  What a coincidence!  So the name is decided quickly.

April 1st comes and I go to my university computer at midnight.  I was studying at the time and the only chances for a quick internet access back then was at universities and at bigger companies.  No DSL or cable modems at private homes, only modems with a transfer rate of 14.4kb/s!   I doubt that you can imagine that :-)

The game starts without problems, the Swatch webserver does not break down (this happened very often in those days...).  A first hint is given out and we have to find the webserver where the Swatch puzzle mosaic piece is placed.  It turns out that the game is really really hard (can you imagine an internet without Google? :-),  and the hints are really sophisticated.  Sometimes, it helps that our team consists of three people with a different cultural background (America, Australia (in fact, Michelle is from Asia), and Europe).  One of mosaic pieces at a later day is related to an asian comic and so on.

Our team manages to find the first nine pieces.  A lot of discussion about the net.hunt on the Swatch forum (yes, it existed in 1996 already, and in my opinion, it was more usable back then than it is now...).  I don't remember all the details about the different puzzle pieces but I remember that it was a lot of fun surfing around finding the individual pieces. 

Finally, the deciding night of April 14th comes.  Again, I go to my university computer at midnight.  The final hint is given out...  We are searching and searching and searching, and after about three quarters of an hour, we find the final piece.  It was sooo difficult but a lot of fun (because it was not yet another stupid easy quiz).  It turns out that our team, The Penguins, finishes in sixth place!  So after some weeks (Swatch is never in a hurry :-), we receive a Zapping swatch.  And as you can see from the picture below, it is a somewhat special swatch because it has no number but an "E.A." (epreuve artiste) stamp!


So this game costed me about two additional weeks for my thesis at the university :-) but I still have this nice souvenir from those days... 

The net.hunt T-shirt looks like this (note the wrong slashes on the back of the T-shirt!):

The net.hunt game was a huge success:  one some days, more than a million(!) users from more than 75 countries participated at the game according to the organizing agency I-D-Gruppe from Germany.

In Italy, a special CD-ROM was distributed:

As a tribute to this great first ever online game and as a small tribute to the late Nam June Paik, I have reconstructed the original net.hunt website from the Internet Archive.  You can find the questions, the solutions, the winners and so one.  Take your time to check it out!  Click on the logo below to enter and to get a glimpse of the internet back in 1996:

NetHunt Logo

Some months later in OCT-1996, I participated at the Access To Space event in Luzern.  I got fully infected by the Swatch virus and I wrote a little report about the event.  Back then, there was not much info to be found about Swatch on the internet.  I started to collect news and infos from all around the world and I put it online since then.  Here you can find all the old news, back to 1996!  And if you want to see how much my page has changed during the years (not much), you can consult the Internet Archive Wayback Machine again...

Fast forward to FEB-2007:  I still email regularely with Brian from the USA, we have swapped a lot of swatch watches during the years, and we were fortunate enough to meet at several Swatch The Club events during the years!  In the winners list from April 1996, I recognize Otto from Austria (he finished at #23 [Webswatchers] and Markus from Germany (he finished at #20 [Dreamteam]).  Did you participate at the net.hunt game as well?  If yes, please send me an email...

Andreas Wiethoff

Thanks to Keith from Australia for the pictures of the T-shirt.

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