The Soviet Union never had much of a computing industry. However, one of the biggest video game hits of all time was developed only a few miles from Red Square.
Alexey Pajitnov, a programmer at the Dorodnitsyn Computing Centre, developed a computer game for the IBM PC called Tetris. The aim of the game was to manipulate differently shaped falling blocks so that they would create a continuous row of blocks.
Soon after its release in June 1984, Tetris became a hit with Soviet gamers. Pajitnov was prevented from exploiting his game commercially, but pirate copies quickly spread West.
By 1986, Hungarian programmers had produced versions for other computers, including the Apple II. This caught the attention of Robert Stein, who ran the British software firm Andromeda.
While an attempt to cut a deal with the Soviets failed, Stein sold Tetris to Robert Maxwell’s Mirrorsoft anyway. Mirrorsoft published an IBM version later that year, to great acclaim. This would be followed up in 1988 by a version for other home computers.
A move to computer consoles, including Nintendo’s Famicon and the Game Boy, ensured that it achieved widespread popularity.
Ironically, Pajitnov did not receive any money directly. It was only in 1996, when Nintendo helped him to set up The Tetris Company, that he started to collect royalties on his work.
Pajitnov has developed other games, although none of them have come close to matching Tetris’ popularity. Even today many people play licensed versions of Tetris on smartphones, web browsers and iPods.