Rare games often have their fair share of urban legends. The rarer the game, the most far-fetched the story. One of those game is assuredly Tetris but a specific version of it. Namely, the one released in extremely limited quantities for the SEGA Genesis or the Mega Drive as it was only released in Japan.

The thing is, no one knows exactly for sure what happened with this one. But when confronting various sources we have a plausible explanation. Here is how the story goes. We all know that Tetris was a game developed in communist Russia (USSR) back in the early 80s by a group of scientists—though only Alexei Pajitnov is credited for it most of the time. Therefore, the game was the property of the State. In other words, Pajitnov and his colleagues didn’t own it. At all. Moreover, it was reportedly designed using their work computers which is another reason they couldn’t claim ownership of it. It was therefore “sold” to the government.

Fast forward to 1988, Tetris is available outside of the country and it’s starting to take off. Elorg, the organization in charge of it, also thinks it could be wise to license it to other developers and publishers so they make their own version of it. And this is where it gets interesting. Andromeda, a British company, had found the game and bought the rights from an obscure company in Hungary. They took advantage of the lack of information coming from Russia and used it for their own benefit. So, Andromeda started to license it (unbeknownst to Elorg) to willing developers like Mirrorsoft and Spectrum Holobyte. At the same time, the Russian organization started signing some deals with other companies like Atari and Bullet Proof Software. Atari would retain the Arcade license rights while BPS would have the console ones. According to David Sheff’s Game Over, Henk Rogers made a deal so good, it prevented other companies to publish their own version of the game. Nevertheless, some of them tried and among them SEGA but also Tengen. We all know the latter version. What we’re usually unaware is that Tengen didn’t have the rights to produce an NES version especially since Nintendo secured the rights through Rogers, a long-time friend of Hiroshi Yamauchi. Therefore, the Kyoto-based company sued them and won, ordering the destruction of all the remaining illegal Tetris copies. SEGA’s own version was a collateral damage of that operation. Indeed, seeing what happened to Tengen, they stopped the production of their Mega Drive cartridge right when it started which explains the lowest two-digit number of the them available.

After that, some collectors managed to grab a copy and one of them even got it signed by Pajitnov, the only team member who benefited from Tetris success. He subsequently put it on eBay for no less than a million dollars. It was the Buy it Now price, mind you, but he rebuffed some offers at $20,000.

Antoine Clerc-Renaud (7 Posts)

Video Game Historian and Freelance Writer - Now living in Montreal, by way of France where he grew up and lived for 24 years, Antoine is a passionate gamer and a dedicated writer. Video Game History is a true mission for him and he’s always on the lookout to learn something new or unheard of. He wrote, co-wrote or supervised several books on the subject including Coleco - The Official Book (self-published) and PlayStation Anthology (Geeks-Line). His love for writing allows him to fully immerse himself in research, interviews while filling blank pages that don’t stay empty very long