The Story of the Best Selling Video Game of all time: Tetris

Tetris has its origin in the Dorodnitsyn Computing Centre (Research Lab). It was one of the foremost research institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, located in St Petersburg, Soviet Union (Now Russia). Created by software researcher Alexey Pajitnov in 1984, Tetris is a simple tile-matching game that took the world by storm upon it’s release.

It was developed for Electronika 60, which was a computer, made in the Soviet Union. This period was the final stage of the Cold war Era and computers were becoming more popular as well.

The game wasn’t intended as a commercial product just like the creation of the music record. But it was to be distributed freely among academic institutions around the Soviet Union and the economic bloc of countries aligned with the USSR in Eurasia, Africa, and the Americas that demonstrated use cases for the software.

As USSR was a communist state, so Pajitnov did not technically own the program as the game was under the ownership of the state. Pajitnov along with the help of a colleague, Dmitry Pavlovsky, and a teen computer programmer, Vadim Gerasimov continued to work on the game project even though commercializing it would have been a risky move under the Soviet government. Gerasimov further ported the game from the old and bulky Elektronika 60 to the more widely used (IBM) compatible PCs.

As Elektronika 60 had no graphics output, the individual blocks in the game were made of different text, but with the port in PC, they were able to support color graphics. This brought the game to life.

Pajitnov and Gerasimov had started distributing Tetris for (PC) in 1985 among their friends and colleagues in various math or computer conventions. Soon the sharing spread and the game was smuggled outside USSR to Hungary. During mid-80s U.S and Japan had a more prevalent console market whereas, in Europe, gaming was primarily done on computers. There was a non-existent software market in Russia and most software was usually copied in floppy disks.

Welcome screen of 1987 version of Tetris

In 1986 Robert Stein, a salesman from the UK-based software company Andromeda spotted Tetris at Hungary’s Institute of Computer Science. He was convinced by the potential of the software and he struck an agreement with Pajitnov to sell the games internationally. But legally Tetris was still under the ownership of the Soviet government.  There was one problem, the agreement was only for the PC and not for any other platform and Stein has struck a deal with Sega to launch the game on their platform. Later Henk Rogers, another salesman from the Netherlands wanted to find a good launch game for the Nintendo’s new Game Boy handheld. The Soviet government was not happy with the Stein deal. But Rogers convinced the Soviet government and they agreed and he also formed a good relationship with Pajitnov. Later Andromeda’s license of Tetris was deemed illegal. Nintendo was given the right to launch the game on its console. The GameBoy was a platform to showcase one of the first video games exported from Russia. The game was a commercial hit and it has been ported to the most number platforms to date. The game also holds the record as the best-selling game of all time. In 1996, Pajitnov was able to reclaim the ownership of the rights and formed the Tetris Company, along with Henk Rogers. Even though he missed collecting the potential royalties for Tetris which were over hundreds of millions, he was still able to secure the future royalties.

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