Online gaming on PC has been around forever, but it took quite a while for it to be the norm on consoles. Older generations tried it ala Sega Channel and other outlets, but it really wasn't until the Network Adapter for Playstation 2 arrived in 2002 which is when it started to hit its stride and lay the groundwork for Xbox Live and PSN moving forward. If you're newer to gaming or younger than myself, you simply might take online gaming for granted. Hell, you might even take being online for granted also. It would be unfathomable to launch a console today without online capabilities, but back in the PS2 era, internet in homes wasn't as large and online gaming on consoles was still in its infancy.
Sony released an accessory that you could buy for your fat PS2 (slims came later and then eventually had the Ethernet port built in) which allowed you to connect it online and play games with your friends and others all around the world. It was a very different landscape back then though, as this wasn't the unified PSN or Xbox Live subscription that you know today, but instead a service that was left in the hands of developers to create an experience and run their own servers for each game. Because of this unique setup, this did eventually lead to many games having their online capabilities shut down permanently as the cost to keep servers running for few players was too high.
The Network Adapter was unique in the sense that it had a port for dial-up and broadband, and since this was released in a time where dial-up was still somewhat common, it was needed. Later in the console's life, the online capable games did slowly migrate to broadband exclusive only, especially if you wanted to use a microphone to chat to other players. We don't think much of it these days, as everything is turned on and just works, simply setting up the Network Adapter to your PS2 did take some leg work to get up and running. It was a nice change that eventually games had this utility built straight into the game to get you up and running with as much ease as possible.
First you had to physically plug in and screw it to the console, then use the included setup disc and save your ISP settings before even attempting to play a game online. The Network Adapter was also the device you needed to later attach a hard drive to the system as well, which was another step completely. The settings had to then be saved to your memory card, which back then capped at a whopping 8MB, which doesn't seem like a big deal, but if you had a lot of games or played online you most likely also had a memory card collection as well.
The first big game that utilized this new online connection was SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs and was one of the first to actually also include voice chat (if you were on broadband). This really was one of the first games I can remember my friends and I setting up our online play dates almost daily once we all had one. I was trying to remember what game might have cone before on console that myself and many friends had, but this really was the first that became quite popular.
Once SOCOM proved what capabilities this accessory could add, it seemed many games were starting to include online play or some form of it. Eventually all of the sports games were playable online with your friends, but there were a handful though that I put to the stress test with hundreds upon hundreds of hours played online: Everquest Online Adventures (I believe one of the first console MMO's aside from Phantasy Star Online), Champions of Norrath, Champions: Return to Arms, the Tony Hawk series, Resident Evil Outbreak File #2, and Final Fantasy XI.
It's funny looking at back the list, as there really was only a handful of games I played online with the adapter, but it no doubt had a big part of cementing my love for online gaming that still exists this day. Looking back, it was obviously primitive compared to what we're used to today, but it was a very important first step into making online console gaming what it is currently. I have very fond memories of playing PS2 games online, and I have the Network Adapter to thank for that.