Product Fun Facts - Tetris

Product Profile

Name: Tetris

Manufacturer: Elektronorgtechnica

Category: Electronic puzzle game

Launched: 6 June 1984

Lifespan: ~35 years (still in production)

Units Sold: > 500 million

Fun Facts

The Name Tetris Means Block Tennis

The name Tetris is combination of the Greek word tetra, which refers to the four squares contained in each type of falling block in the game, and the word tennis.1

Born in a Russian Research Facility

The original creator of Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov, came up with the idea while working at the Computing Center of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, a Soviet government-founded research and development organisation.2

Alexey Pajitnov

Created to Make a Serious Job Fun

Alexey's job involved testing a new type of computer, the Electronika 60. To do so, he wrote a simple game based on a child's puzzle to help evaluate the processing capability of the new computer. In reality, Alexey was simply make a serious but somewhat tedious job a bit more fun.3

Too Dangerous to Sell Initially

Alexey joined with colleagues, Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov to further develop the game and port it to different platforms. They also dreamed about selling the game, but this was somewhat unusual and difficult in the communist Soviet Union, where making and selling something privately was a dangerous affair. In 1980's Soviet Russia, the state owned all the rights.2

Simple Ingredients to Success

The three key ingredients of Tetris were 'simple', 'challenging' and 'fun' and these were enough to hook anyone. “The program wasn’t complicated,” Pajitnov has said. “There was no scoring, no levels. But I started playing and I couldn’t stop.”4

Spread Like Wildfire

Since it couldn't be sold on any commercial market, Tetris' founders simply started giving it away to friends and colleagues to enjoy. People started sharing Tetris through word of mouth and by copying it onto floppy disks. The rate at which this happened was amazing. "It was like a wood fire. Everyone in the Soviet Union who had a PC had Tetris on it," said Pajitnov.3 Before long, Tetris had jumped borders and people were playing in North America and Europe.5

Tetris action

The State Steps In

Given the obvious potential for sales and the early unlicensed nature of Tetris, business-minded folks around the world started scrambling to make a profit from it. Following an approach by one such businessman to license Tetris, Alexey went back to his superiors with the proposal. This resulted in the Soviet state organization that oversaw software and hardware exports, Electronorgtechnica, getting involved.3

The Killer Licensing Agreement

Despite various businesses competing for rights to distribute Tetris, there was one clear winner. In 1988, Nintendo struck a deal that would change gaming history forever. Nintendo secured the rights for the game to be bundled with their new hand-held console, the Game Boy. This decision led the handheld platform to become the most popular portable game system of its time, and in the process, sell more than 35 million copies.6

Tetris Game Boy

Exponential Growth

Following its success with Nintendo, Tetris had cemented itself into the minds and hearts of people all over world. Since then, the game has gone on to sell over 500 million copies across numerous platforms7. Simply staggering! An amazing result for a product with such simple foundations!

Bonus Weird Facts

Credit to Mindy Weisberger for this batch of weird and wonderful footnotes about Tetris 8

It Causes Hallucinations

Have you ever heard of the "Tetris Effect"? This happens when you play a game, staring at the screen, for such a long period of time that images show up when you close your eyes. This effects is also known as gaming-induced pseudo-hallucinations, or game transfer phenomena (GTP). It has been analysed in a 2014 study published in the International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction.9

Tetris effect

That Tune is Actually a Love long

The theme song to Tetris is an ear-worm. If you played the game enough over the years, I bet you can recall the tune right now. Turns out, it is based on a 19th centry Russian folk song called "Korobeiniki". It tells the story of the courtship between a peasant girl and a peddler.

Tetris song

Playing Tetris Makes Your Brain Thick

According to a 2009 study published in the journal BMC Research Notes, playing Tetris thickens the brain's cortex and can contribute to greater cognitive efficiency.10

Tetris brain

Tetris is a Modern Work of Art

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has included Tetris in their collection of video games they consider to be outstanding examples of interaction design. Tetris was selected for its visual quality, aesthetic experience, elegance of the code and design of the player’s behaviour.11

Tetris original

It Was the First Game In Space

Cosmonaut Aleksandr A. Serebrov took his Nintendo Game Boy along with a Tetris cartridge along for the ride on a Soyuz TM-17 to the Mir space station in 1993. Serebrov entertained himself with Tetris in between spacewalks and experiments during his 196 day mission.12

Tetris rocket