the puzzle pieces back together: Alexey Pajitnov has a new
game plan for Tetris.
Monika Guttman. U.S. News & World Report. June 10,
to the multicolored strobe lights and pounding music reverberating
through the darkened convention hall, two bearded men compete
fiercely on a Sega video game at the Electronic Entertainment
Expo in Los Angeles. The product description on a nearby wall
says the soon-to-be-released puzzle entertainment ''follows
in the same top-selling genre of classics like Columns and
Tetris.'' Suddenly, the red-haired man raises his arm, victorious.
No surprise. This is, after all, Alexey Pajitnov, the man
who invented Tetris.
almost 10 years after Tetris and its cascading geometric puzzle
shapes took the game world by storm--it sold over 40 million
copies, including many for Nintendo's Game Boy--Pajitnov is
not a clear winner. Under Soviet-era licensing agreements,
the Russian pocketed none of the profits from the game's $800
million in sales. In fact, few outside the game world connect
Pajitnov's name with Tetris, making him ''probably the least
recognized and the least compensated major inventor in the
industry,'' according to David Sheff, author of Game Over:
How Nintendo Conquered the World.
Since moving from Moscow to the Seattle suburbs five years
ago, however, Pajitnov has been busy developing a new game
plan. The 41-year-old former mathematician has now gained
the rights to Tetris and formed a company with Electronorgtechnica,
a privatized Russian entity that retains the Tetris trademark,
and Henk Rogers, the entrepreneur who spearheaded Tetris's
Game Boy gambit. Using Hawaii-based Blue Planet Software as
their agent, Pajitnov and his new colleagues hope to revitalize
Tetris. ''We want to make sure that Tetris is exploited correctly
over the next 10 years,'' explains Rogers. ''It's got to be
dealt with like an intellectual property, like Disney handles
Mickey Mouse.'' To ensure his game's longevity, Pajitnov is
developing fresh computer and arcade versions of Tetris that
will be ready early next year; he also is creating a multiplayer
online Tetris game that will be launched this fall.
hopes that these Tetris spinoffs will put him back on the
cutting edge. They just might. Multiplayer online games, which
allow contestants around the world to compete against each
other in real time, are expected to boost the interactive
game business. Still, the market is a puzzle, and it's not
at all clear where Tetris fits in. Pajitnov helped produce
several sequels, including Tetris 2 and Super Tetris, and
none sold as well as the original. But, if any game has Net
potential, predicts Sheff, it's Tetris. ''Like Scrabble,''
he says, ''it's not going to go away. It's brilliant, and
those who come to it get hooked.''
is optimistic about the future, but he's not bitter about
the past. ''I wasn't supposed to get any money for [Tetris],''
he shrugs. ''I made a lot of friends, and we made history.''
And his world has changed dramatically since he left Russia,
where he made about $30 a month as a programmer for the Computer
Center of the Academy of Science of the USSR. Working as a
consultant to various software companies on the West Coast,
Pajitnov now makes a comfortable living; he also receives
some royalties from other games he has invented, such as Welltris
and Hatris. Meanwhile, his wife, Nina, is a teacher, and his
sons, Peter, 14, and Dimitri, 9, are happily enrolled in school.
his part, Pajitnov has learned a lot about the game market,
where even savvy entrepreneurs can get zapped. Although he
prefers challenging puzzles to violent shoot'em-ups, he now
realizes that software like his Elfish program, which allows
users to design tanks of artificial fish, doesn't sell. That's
why he's adding better graphics and new sounds to his latest
version of Tetris. Maybe this time he'll get a piece of the
U.S. News and World Report Inc.