LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If you’ve ever worked in an office or own a computer, chances are you’ve heard of Tetris. Born in 1984 and a near-immediate worldwide sensation, the classic puzzle game is set for a modern renaissance of sorts.
In an industry where titles cost millions of dollars to develop and flame out quickly, or lose their grip on popular culture, Tetris — a game that challenges players to rotate and conjoin cascading square and rectangular block shapes — continues to thrive.
Created by Alexey Pajitnov at the Moscow Academy of Science during the height of the Cold War, and developed as a business by gaming entrepreneur Henk Rogers, the puzzle game has sold more than 125 million copies since its first playable version was completed June 6, 1984.
Now, the game’s backers are looking for ways to sustain its winning ways. After finding a generation of players on handheld games devices like Nintendo Co Ltd’s Game Boy and on desktop computers, they are eyeing the swelling legions of smartphones — multimedia handsets with large color touchscreens, such Apple Inc’s iPhone.
“The challenge for us is just continuing to drive growth in the franchise,” said Adam Sussman, Vice President of Worldwide Publishing for Electronic Arts’ EA Mobile division. “Our hope is that as the business evolves to the smartphone, and moves to Apps stores, people will be able to find Tetris and buy it, and we will see a bigger audience consuming it.”
Electronic Arts holds the exclusive license on mobile devices for Tetris, a simple game that many play while commuting or during breaks. Since debuting Tetris on the Apple App Store in July 2008, the game has become one of the top 10 games sold of all time.
That success is a far cry from what Pajitnov had in mind when the computer science researcher created it in a Moscow as a way to test Electronika, at that time a cutting-edge computer for the Soviet Union.
Thinking back to the early 1980s when he first started working on a desktop computer, Pajitnov remembers: I “started to (program) some riddles and puzzles and board games - which I have enjoyed all my life. Tetris was one of them,” Pajitnov said from Moscow recently.
He attributes the success of the game — considered easy to play but hard to master — to its contrast with the plethora of games that involve violence and other bad behavior.
“The game has a kind of creative spirit, instead of destroying, as you do in all the shooting games and most of the other games. (Here) you created something,” he says. “You take the chaos of the pieces falling down in random and put them together in some kind of ordered way. That gives people a very good feeling.”
Pajitnov went on to create other games, including “Pandora’s Box” and “Hexic”, but he still earns royalties for Tetris as does Rogers, who oversees the Tetris brand for Blue Planet Software.
Rogers says the game has limitless potential, and is working on a kind of online global Olympic games of Tetris.
Competition in the Tetris Cup is expected to start next year on a local level in major cities, and he envisions a championship event, perhaps in Hawaii where he is based.
All this for a game that Rogers says is still profitable, and whose cost — which he declined to specify — is a fraction of what is spent by many of the companies at the E3 video game conference in Los Angeles this week.
“I love it,” he says. “People are spending $10 million to $20 million building a game. More power to them.”
Reporting by Franklin Paul; Editing by Edwin Chan and Carol Bishopric