Happy 30th Birthday, Tetris!
Tetris should never have become a hit, let alone a global sensation. But you just can’t keep a great game down.
Today, Tetris celebrates its 30th birthday. Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov says despite the obstacles, he knew the legendary puzzler was destined to be something special the moment he released in on June 6, 1984.
“I felt it was a very addictive game when the first prototypes left my computer,” he told Yahoo Games. “I couldn’t stop [playing], and then I saw my friends couldn’t stop playing.”
They certainly couldn’t. Available on more than 50 platforms in more than 185 countries, Tetris has sold more than 140 million retail copies since its debut, far and away the most of any single video game. It’s a pop-culture beast, counting the likes of Beyoncé, Patrick Stewart, and The Simpsons as fans. It’s in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Heck, it’s even been played on the side of buildings.
But it almost didn’t happen.
Initially written while Pajitnov was working at the Soviet Academy of Sciences Computer Center in Moscow, Tetris began as a program to help assess the power of a Russian computer called an Elektronika 60. The name was a portmanteau of tennis and tetra, the Greek word for “four” (there are four bricks in every Tetris block).
Pirated copies soon began spreading across Europe, prompting a nightmarish licensing struggle between the Russian government and a number of European game publishers. The big loser? Pajitnov, who got cut out of millions in royalties raked in by the Kremlin.
That all changed thanks to Henk Rogers. As the owner of Bullet-Proof Software, Rogers was responsible for bringing games from around the world to Japan. He fell in love with Pajitnov’s creation and went about securing the Western rights for the PC and the original Nintendo Entertainment System. But where he really saw potential for it was on the upcoming Game Boy system.
To get those rights, he had to fly to Moscow and meet with Elektronorgtechnica (ELORG), the state-owned bureau in charge of importing and exporting software.
"I wasn’t supposed to talk to any Soviets, and they weren’t supposed to talk to me," he says. "I certainly wasn’t supposed to do any business. So when I knocked on the door, it was a big surprise to them."