From WE Computers Museum
Tetris logo in Russian.png
Tetris logo in English.png
Developer AcademySoft
Publisher Elorg, Spectrum Holobyte
Formats Apple II, Commodore 64, DOS, Elektronika 60
Released Elektronika 60
USSR: June 6, 1984
Apple II, Commodore 64
USSR: 1986
USSR: 1986
Canada, US (Tetris Gold): 1992
Added to
DOS: April 5, 2020

Tetris is an influencial puzzle video game.


Tetris Elektronika 60.jpg

Tetris was first developed by Alexey Pajitnov in the Russian Republic of the Soviet Union on June 6, 1984, while employed as a computer engineer at the Dorodnitsyn Computing Centre of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union.

The original prototype of Tetris was created on an Elektronika 60, a computer that lacked graphic capabilities and was only capable of displaying text.

Later that year, it was converted to DOS by Vadim Gerasimov, who was a high school student at the time. It was expanded by Gerasimov, Pajitnov, and Dmitry Pavlovsky, a computer engineer, from 1984 to 1986.

After the DOS version was completed, it became available at the Institute for Computer Science and Control in the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Students there also ported the game to the Commodore 64 and the Apple II.

Spectrum Holobyte and Mirrorsoft releases

As the game was made in the Soviet Union, a communist country that was largely closed to outsiders, it was irregular for a product to have a worldwide commercial release.

However, a worldwide release happened for Tetris due to a Hungarian-born British man named Robert Stein. Stein often went to the Institute for Computer Science and Control in Soviet Hungary, and during a visit in 1986, he saw someone playing Tetris on one of the computers available in the lab.

Stein acquired the Telex number for AcademySoft, the internal licensing and publishing division of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, from the director of the institute in Soviet Hungary. The Telex was a method of sending printed messages over telephone lines before the fax machine became widely adopted. The Telex message was forwarded to Alexey Pajitnov. After a series of messages back and forth between the two, Stein falsely assumed that he secured the rights to publish Tetris, although a contract was never signed. Stein made a deal with the British media company, Maxwell Communications Corporation. Maxell released Tetris through its Mirrorsoft subsidiary for computers in Europe and through its Spectrum HoloByte subsidiary for computers in North America.

After Tetris was commercially released in January 1988, Stein was contacted by the Soviet organization known as Elektronorgtechnica, or Elorg. The organization informed Stein that he was selling Tetris illegally as he did not have a contract to publish the game. Stein flew to the Soviet Union to meet with Elorg directly. On May 10, 1988, He was granted a ten-year license to release Tetris on "different types of computers".

Atari Games, Bullet-Proof Software, Sega, and Tandy releases

In 1988, Spectrum Holobyte sold its Tetris rights for release in arcades to Atari Games. The Atari Games version of Tetris was released in arcades later that year.

A Dutch-born man named Henk Rogers, who discovered Tetris at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 1988, acquired the rights from Atari Games to sell Tetris in Japan after Mirrorsoft claimed that the arcade and console rights for Japan belonged to Atari Games and any releases on those systems would have to be sublicensed through it.

Rogers, who lived in Japan, released Tetris in the country through his Bullet-Proof Software studio. The studio released Tetris for Japanese computers, including the FM-7, MSX, PC-8800 series, PC-9800 series, Sharp X1, and X68000, in 1988. In December 1988, it released Tetris for the Family Computer video game console in December 1988.

A version, sublicensed by Atari Games, was released for the arcade market by Sega in December 1988.

Atari Games released a port of its arcade game to the Nintendo Entertainment System through its Tengen subsidiary in May 1989.

Robert Stein retained the rights to the home computer versions and further licensed Tandy to release a version of Tetris in North America. The Tandy version of Tetris, developed by ZCT Systems, was released for the TRS-80 Color Computer in 1989.

Nintendo releases

As the Game Boy, was being prepared by Nintendo for launch, Henk Rogers met with Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa and suggested that Tetris should be the pack-in game for the system. Rogers sought to acquire the handheld rights to Tetris for Nintendo by trying to negotiate with Robert Stein. However, Rogers learned Stein had not secured the arcade or console rights from Elorg.

Henk Rogers, Robert Stein, and Kevin Maxwell, the son of the founder of Maxwell Communications Corporation, all traveled to the Soviet Union to negotiate directly with Nikolai Belikov, the director of Elorg for the handheld Tetris publishing rights.

When Henk Rogers met with Elorg director Belikov, the latter was angered upon seeing a Bullet-Proof Software cartridge of Tetris for the Famicom, as he had thought that only the rights to home computer versions had been signed. Belikov originally claimed Bullet-Proof Software had released the game without a contract, but Henk Rogers explained that he had acquired the rights from Atari Games, who had acquired the rights from Robert Stein.

After learning of the complex licensing agreements, Belikov sought to regain the rights and obtain more financially lucrative contracts. During this period, Rogers befriended Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov, and Pajitnov supported Rogers during the contract negotiations. Belikov proposed that Stein would not gain console and handheld licenses, the console rights sublicensed through Stein would be invalidated, and Nintendo would be granted the rights to Tetris for both consoles and handheld systems.

Elorg claimed Stein had not made all the required payments for Tetris sales and had accrued penalties for late payments. Stein signed forms for these payments but overlooked the section that defined a computer as a machine with a monitor and a keyboard.

Rogers flew to the United States so that he could get Nintendo of America to sign the contracts. Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa and its lawyer Howard Lincoln signed the contracts, which had also been signed by Belikov and Rogers.

Nintendo released a version of Tetris for the Game Boy handheld console in June 1989. Nintendo followed this with its own Nintendo Entertainment System version in November 1989.

Console rights dispute

Tengen, the console division of Atari Games, published a console port of the arcade version of Tetris for the Nintendo Entertainment System in May 1989. The Tengen version of Tetris was released for the system on a cartridge that was not licensed by Nintendo.

As the Nintendo and Tengen versions were released on the same system, this led to a complicated rights dispute. Atari Games held the rights from Mirrorsoft to publish an arcade version of Tetris. Elorg, the division under the Ministry of Foreign Trade of the USSR that held the Tetris rights, assigned the rights to publish handheld and console versions to Nintendo.

Atari Games argued that the Nintendo Entertainment System was a computer rather than a console due to the fact that it was called the Family Computer in Japan. On June 22, 1989, a United States federal judge did not accept the argument that the Family Computer was not a console and issued an injunction blocking the sale of the Tengen version of Tetris for the Nintendo Entertainment System, affirming that the exclusive rights to publish handheld and console versions of Tetris belonged to Nintendo.

As a result, publication of the Tengen version of Tetris had to cease and existing copies of the game had to be recalled.

The fact that Nintendo was affirmed to own the exclusive handheld and console versions of Tetris allowed for the uncontested publication of the Game Boy version as a pack-in game with the North American and European releases of the console, which helped sell the system. In turn, the Game Boy helped increase the popularity of Tetris worldwide.

The Tetris Company

In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. Elorg became a private company, still managed by Nikolai Belikov, while Henk Rogers helped Alexey Pajitnov and his family immigrate to the United States.

When the Tetris rights expired in 1995, Elorg purchased half of the rights to the game, while Pajitnov and Rogers purchased the other half. Henk Rogers founded Blue Planet Software in Honolulu, Hawaii, as the successor of Bullet-Proof Software and the exclusive agent for the Tetris brand.

In 1996, The Tetris Company was formed by Rogers and Pajitnov to hold their rights to Tetris and to take the role of the exclusive licensor of the brand. In 2005, Elorg sold the other half of the Tetris rights to The Tetris Company.