Is Tetris Really 40 This Year? 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

You may have seen a few sites reporting earlier this month that the world-famous puzzler Tetris has turned 40 years old this year – you may also have noticed that we weren't one of them.

The Russian-made game is one of the most famous brands in the industry, and the fact that it has reached such a ripe old age is certainly news-worthy – but a quick glance online seems to present some red flags when it comes to its official release date. Wikipedia, for example, lists 1985 as the year of Tetris' launch, as does MobyGames.

So why are people saying Tetris is 40 this year? Well, as pointed out to us by Time Extension reader and Playdate dev Matt Sephton, all material relating to the game published prior to 2009 cites the release year as 1985.

This includes sources such as David Sheff's seminal 1993 book Game Over, the BBC's Tetris: From Russia With Love documentary, Blue Planet Software's press release for the launch of in 1997 and even the game's copyright registration.

So, what happened in 2009?

The first person to notice this odd rewriting of history seems to be Necrosaro, who, on 24th September, 2014, posted a forum topic concerning the "revised" release date of June 6th, 1984 – the same date cited by many publications when it came to celebrating the game's 40th anniversary earlier this month.

As Necrosaro says:

On June 2, 2009, with a budget of $250,000 from Blue Planet Software, the PR firm Grayling Connecting Point kicked off its "Tetris' 25th Anniversary" (web) media campaign to raise awareness of the Tetris brand. June 2 was a Tuesday, the first day of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). June 2, 2009 is the earliest date I have been able to find where the year 1984 and the date June 6 have ever been mentioned by anyone in connection to Tetris.

June 6, 2009 was the Saturday after E3 that year, the perfect day to host a big celebration event and maximize PR for an electronic entertainment brand.

So my working theory based on the above is that the June 6, 1984 date was fabricated by Grayling as part of its Tetris media campaign package for its client Blue Planet Software, and that they back-dated the birth-date because celebrating a "24th anniversary" would be too lame for a big media event. It seems much more reasonable that "Tetris" in its distributed, named form (as opposed to the "Genetic Engineering" prototypes Pajitnov may have had earlier) was created some time around mid-1985.

Certainly, any source prior to 2009 lists the release year as 1985.

Given that The Tetris Company now claims that 1984 was the year of release, it's easy to see why some people have taken it as gospel – after all, this is the company founded by Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov.

However, an overwhelming amount of evidence suggests that the game wasn't officially published in 1984 and wasn't even in a playable state until 1985 (in this 1993 interview, Pajitnov himself says he "believes" the game was completed in '85).

Sure, Pajitnov began creating the game in 1984 – but anniversaries are traditionally attributed to release dates, not the date at which development began.

The story takes another turn when we ask Henk Rogers, who co-founded The Tetris Company with Pajitnov, for his take on the situation:

We can only go by Alexey’s recollection about this. His recollection is that he first developed it on the Electronica 60 in 1984. It was a time when copyright notices were not a thing in the Soviet Union. The Electronica 60 was a "mini-computer" (copy of PDP 11). It was not used for much more than scientific research, so Tetris did not get very far.

In 1985, according to his recollection, the IBM PC version came out. This version was widely copied behind the Iron Curtain. All of the rights were clarified in 1989 when I brought Arakawa and Lincoln to Moscow to lock down the console rights. What was formalized at that time was that Alexey give his rights in the game to the Computer Center for a period of ten years (1985-1995). I think the date 1985 came from this documentation.

One thing is certain – the most famous version of the game turns 35 in 2024.

Do you think Tetris is 40 this year? (335 votes)

  1. Yes, The Tetris Company wouldn't get this wrong11%
  2. No, it's a PR-led mix-up50%
  3. I honestly don't care, I just love the game!39%