Was Tetris the Most Addictive Video Game Ever?

James Logie

Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash

Even though Super Mario Bros is the king of all video games, there was a close second which sold almost as well—but was even more addictive.

As of now, it’s sold an amazing 170 million copies beating Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto, respectively.

This is a look back on this monumental video game and what made it dominate the video game world.

How Tetris Came Out of The Cold War

An engineer named Alexey Pajitnov worked at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

Pajitnov loved a game called “Tetrominos” which involved putting geometric shapes in a rectangle without leaving any spaces.

Tetronimos have been around since the early 1900s and were popular with mathematicians.

He wondered if this is something that would transfer over into a computer game and sought out one of his colleagues.

With help from Dmitry Pavlovsky, they came up with a rudimentary computer game using super basic graphics that used no sound.

It was developed and played on an Electronika 60 and due to the limited computing power, they had to use text characters so each shape was made up of text letters.

The problem was, even if you combined lines together--and made everything fit--the screen filled up too quickly.

This is when they came up with the feature that would enable the great gameplay of Tetris; the completed lines would be deleted.

The Early Game Play

They took the concept of Tetronimos and added the function of gravity. The "gravity" would introduce the shapes from the top of the screen and allow them to fall to the bottom.

They went with just four shapes, each made up of four blocks, and this would differ from Tetronimos.

As the levels passed, the shapes fell at increasingly faster speeds. As the game went on--the challenge grew.

Making and clearing lines was simple: but very addictive. Now, what would they call it?

Alexy took the name Tetronimos and combined it with his favorite sport--tennis--to form the word Tetris.

Producing Tetris

Tetris would be ported over to the IBM PC and they were able to start sharing it around on gigantic floppy disks.

This new game was now shared all around the computer center and people loved it.

People spent so much time playing it that began to neglect their work. In the summer of 1985, a color version of Tetris was created and spread like wildfire throughout Moscow.

Somehow, Tetris made its way to Budapest, Hungary where a British software company came across it.

SInce Pajitnov was working for the Soviet government, his intellectual property was owned by the state.

None of them thought this could be a product that could be sold because it seemed too simple.

They thought it was just something to pass around amongst friends. They had no idea it had spread so far.

Due to the Soviet Government owning the intellectual property, Pajitnov would lose out on a lot of money.

The Battle Over Tetris

Tetris became at the center of a rights war between the Soviet government's foreign trade organization and a bunch of Western companies.

During all these battles, the U.S. released a very unofficial version of Tetris. They put it out in 1986, and Tetris would be the first Soviet game to ever be introduced to American audiences.

The intrigue and controversy behind Tetris did not hurt, either. They could market the game as a secret Russian invention that had been kept “behind the Iron Curtain”.

The other big thing is no one had really seen a game like it before. It had only been a few years since the video game resurgence after the great video game crash of 1983.

Most games were still cartoony or violent. Tetris was something completely different.

Tetris required order, patience, and thinking. But like everyone else who ever played Tetris, it became immediately addictive and a huge hit.

But no one actually still had rights to the game.

Winning the Tetris Battle

For years, companies went back and forth with the Soviets to secure the rights. Nintendo secured the rights for Tetris in 1989.

The NES was now a big and established hit and they would bundle Tetris in with various box sets.

They also would use it in a new gaming console which would be responsible for launching Tetris into the stratosphere.

The Game Boy.

There was some hesitation around the Game Boy - which seems funny looking back - but it was thought that including Tetris with it would help the Game Boy appeal to a wider audience.

The Game Boy version of Tetris would go back to its roots using grey-scaled graphics and Russian-influenced music.

This version of Tetris would be the closest to Pajitnov’s original vision for the game. And he still wasn’t getting paid.

It wouldn’t be until 1996 that he would receive money for the game he created. But he helped to create one of the most popular video games of all time that is still played today.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.


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