The history of 'Tetris' the great Soviet puzzle

There are games everyone has heard of because they were such a huge success and then there are those which have become historical milestones. The only other candidate worth mentioning is Super Mario Bros, otherwise Tetris takes the cake. Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov in the mid-1980s in the former Soviet Union and would go on to prove that Pajitnov’s intellectual challenge and simple approach fit perfectly within society.

 Coloured blocks

In 1985 Pajitnov was a member of the Dorodnitsyn computer centre as part of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow. The mathematician who was very fond of puzzles and riddles, wanted to create a computer version of the classic game Pentominoes. In this game, a series of geometric pieces made up of five squares must be placed in such a way that they fit into a square or rectangular figure or into a box if the game is three-dimensional. Pajitnov faced a new challenge: what would happen if the puzzle was made vertically and the pieces were falling from above?

As if it had to be solved inside a glass seen from the front and with the possibility of dragging or turning the pieces, Pajitnov began to work on his video game. After understanding the difficulty of using five-square pieces, he decided to use four-square pieces and christened it 'Tetris', a word that combines the Greek word 'tetra' (four) and his favourite sport, tennis. Its official launch took place on June 6, 1985 and in its first version, the game was in black and white and had no music, also used simple figures such as brackets and asterisks to shape the pieces and the vertical box.

The conquest of the international market

Tetris liked it and liked it a lot. It became known among Pajitnov's colleagues within the Moscow Academy of Sciences and was adapted for use on IBM PCs by Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov. Very soon after it had conquered all of Russia. At first it was a shareware, a file that was passed from hand to hand through a floppy disk and without any economic repercussions for its designer. Pajitnov sent his game to the Hungarian Institute of Technology and was discovered by Robert Stein, director of Andromeda Software, who was looking for a game he could market abroad.


An unwritten agreement was reached and the witness was handed over to Mirror Soft, who would be in charge of producing the game and selling it, initially, in Russia. Later, and seeing the enormous success it had meant, other companies such as Spectrum Holobyte, Sega or Atari would end up getting involved. But you have to take into account the context in which all this took place and what was the situation in the Soviet Union.

Problems with intellectual property

When he created Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov told the Moscow Academy of Sciences, for which he worked, and it contacted Elektronorgtechnica (ELORG). This state agency founded in 1971 was responsible for controlling the export and import of software and hardware within the Soviet Union and, according to law, Tetris belonged to the Soviet state. Pajitnov had sold rights which he theoretically did not have and this situation triggered a major conflict between the Soviet state and the various companies involved in which Mikhail Gorbachev himself would end up getting his hands on.

Andromeda Software managed to secure the sale of Tetris for IBM computers all over the world, but the property messes did little to prevent others (almost all except Pajitnov himself) from making a profit. Mirror Soft continued to market what was, in theory, a pirate version of the game and reached an agreement with Atari. The company in turn ceded the rights to Henk Rogers to take advantage of the Japanese market and it was with him that Nintendo would contact when it wanted Tetris on its Game Boy. After many more discussions, the story ended with a transfer of rights (this time legal) for Henk Rogers and a real bomb when it arrived at the Nintendo console.

Tetris' and Pajitnov since then

Tetris became one of the best-selling games in history, the only one that has a version for any medium and a classic among the classics. More versions have been made than can be told, a merchandising market has been created, tournaments are held, and books and documentaries have been produced that tell the story and curiosities of the game. Tetris has gone beyond consoles and is now part of popular culture, a video game without borders.

And what happened to Pajitnov? During the disputes over exploitation rights he had little to say as the owner was the Soviet Union and his anger was with the companies that were profiting more than with the Russian mathematician. In 1991, when the USSR officially disintegrated, Alexey Pajitnov moved to the United States and founded The Tetris Company with his friend Henk Rogers, and his work as the creator of Tetris began to be recognized. The company is currently responsible for administering game licenses worldwide.

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