Tetris: The Ultimate Entrepreneurial Game

Admittedly I am not much of a gamer, though I couldn’t help but feel wistful when I heard on the radio that today is the 30th anniversary of the release of Tetris, that beloved and popular game of ’80s childhood.

And even though I have not played the game in about 25 years, it got me thinking about why Tetris became (and remains) so popular to begin with and also how, in some ways, it’s the ultimate gaming embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Simplicity wins. If you’ve ever played Tetris, you know that it’s one of the simplest games ever created. Anyone can play it, the rules are easy for even a 3- or 4-year-old to pick up. How many other video games can you name that have been around for over a generation and have Tetris’ enduring success?

Great ideas cross over borders. Most people don’t know that the game was invented by the Russian Alexey Pajitnov, while he was working at the Academy of Science of the USSR in Moscow. Perhaps more impressive, is the fact that Tetris was the first ever piece of software exported by the USSR to the USA. Who knew that Tetris, a game of building blocks, would cause a cracking in the Cold War wall?

Make it addictive. If you’ve played Tetris, you’ll know that four or five hours can go by and you’re still at it. Amazing that in an era where video games cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce, that a simple, crude video game invented practically on the fly a generation ago, can keep our attention.

You don’t need a fortune to create a blockbuster. Ever taken a look at the vast amounts of money that companies like Zynga (developer of FarmVille) or King Digital (developer of Candy Crush Saga) raised? Tetris, developed for nearly nothing, is one of the few video games ever invented that is still available on just about every gaming platform, and going strong 30 years after its release.

It’s better to build than to destroy. Entrepreneurs build, both literally and metaphorically, whereas most people focus on consuming. While thinking about this blog post on Tetris, it struck me that it’s perhaps one of just a handful of video games out there where the objective is to make, to build, rather than to bust up, kill or destroy.

To me, that’s the reason for Tetris’ enduring popularity. That as entrepreneurs, as humans, we are fulfilled by building, inventing and creating not by destroying.