30 years ago today, a Russian video game designer named Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov invented Tetris while working as a computer programmer for the Dorodnitsyn Computing Centre of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Although Pajitnov had no formal video game design training, he often programmed games in his spare time to test new equipment using simple tasks. His vision for Tetris was humble: create an electronic game where players arranged puzzle pieces in real time by having them fall faster and faster from the top of the screen. He never imagined the game would one day become one of the most widely played of all time.
Tetris was inspired by Pentonimos — Pajitnov’s favorite puzzle board game who’s objective was to fit 12 different geometric-shaped pieces formed out of five squares into a box. Similar to Pentonimos, Tetris uses seven distinctive playing pieces made from four squares. Originally programmed on a Soviet Union terminal computer known as Electronika 60, the game was soon ported over to the IBM PC and became an instant hit amongst the Soviet Bloc’s computer elite. Tetris was passed around by addicted fans and soon spread like wildfire. By 1987, the game had infiltrated PCs in North America and Europe — its first step in global domination.
Tetris’ big break came in 1988 when video game publisher Henk Rogers discovered the game at a Las Vegas tradeshow and became instantly hooked. He wasted no time and immediately had his company, Bullet-Proof Software, begin publishing and distributing the game to the PC and NES in Japan. The game was a huge success for the company and quickly sold over two million copies. When it came time for Nintendo to launch the Game Boy the following year, Rogers and Pajitnov licensed Tetris’ rights to Nintendo so they could be packaged together. With over 35 million copies sold in 1989, Tetris was now considered one of the greatest video games of all time.
The numbers for Tetris are staggering. It has been played in more than 185 countries, has been translated in more than 50 languages, and has been released on over 50 different platforms. Few games have been able to match the success of Tetris, let alone the addictive gameplay. And with over 425 million copies sold on mobile devices and over 20 billion games played on Facebook; Tetris is still growing as new generations discover it on modern platforms.
“I never imagined Tetris was going to be this successful. But the simple, yet addicting nature of Tetris still has me playing it a few times every week. I meet fans from around the world who are also as passionate about Tetris as me, and there is no doubt in my mind Tetris will continue to expand and bring its classic appeal to new players in new ways and on new devices, whatever they may be.”
— Alexey Pajitnov, Creator of Tetris
The future of Tetris is indeed bright. Not only are fans from all over the world holding meetups in honor of the game’s 30th anniversary, a new version of the game lands on Playstation 4 and Xbox One later this summer. Couple this with recent updates to Electronic Arts’ Tetris Blitz and Facebook’s Tetris Battle: Fusion, it seems like Tetris is poised to last another 30 years.
Fun Facts About Tetris
- Tetris is one of the top-selling video games of all time according to the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition.
- Entertainment Weekly – Patrick Stewart is an admitted Tetris “addict.” (October 1995)
- Entertainment Weekly – Beyoncé Knowles says she liked Tetris while growing up. (March 2009)
- “The Simpsons” has included references to Tetris in multiple episodes, including “Strong Arms of the Ma” and “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo.”
- Tetris has been referenced on numerous other popular animated television shows, including “Family Guy,” “Futurama,” “Captain N: The Game Master,” and “Muppet Babies.”
- Tetris has been mentioned on many popular television shows including “The Big Bang Theory,” “Revenge,” and “The Office.”
- Tetris was the first video game to make it into space according to the Guinness World Records 2014 Gamer’s Edition
- The Tetris theme song was first used in the original Game Boy edition. It is an instrumental arrangement of a Russian folk tune called “Korobeiniki.” The Tetris theme song is so famous that it is now a registered sound mark in the U.S. and other countries.
- Tetris has even been played on the sides of buildings! In 2014, Drexel University’s gaming department played Tetris on the LED lights that cover the north and south faces of the Cira Centre building as part of Philly Tech Week, breaking the previous record for the world’s largest working game of Tetris, set in 1995 by the Dutch students of the Delft University of Technology, who lit up 15 floors of their Electrical Engineering Department.
- In 2013, General Motors used the Tetris brand’s famous Tetris pieces and iconic music to promote its 2013 Chevrolet Traverse.
- Even artists love Tetris! In January 2009, an outdoor art exhibit in Sydney, Australia featured giant Tetrimino sculptures that lit up the corridors of Abercrombie Lane.
- Director Adam Cornelius’s 2012 documentary Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters chronicles the lives of several top Tetris players as they prepare to compete in the 2010 Classic Tetris World Championship.
- The Tetris game has been used in over 30 scientific studies, ranging from its effects on PTSD and brain efficiency, to treating amblyopia (lazy eye), and controlling diet and other cravings.
- A fully playable recreation of the 1984 version of the Tetris game is on display in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The Tetris Company presented the game as a gift to MoMA in recognition of the Tetris game’s achievement in interactive design.
- Tetris was featured in the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games closing ceremony, where a huge colorful game of Tetris was played on the stadium floor and the Tetris pieces spelling out the phrase “I’m Possible.”