Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fascinating documentary about the history of Tetris

This BBC documentary (apparently usually hard to find) was posted on Google video a few days ago. The story is so extraordinary (involving Atari being given a lesson in capitalism by Perestroika-era Soviet bureaucrats, corrupt media tycoons, "Lost In Translation" style quirkiness, and smug Nintendo execs) that it could plausibly form the basis of a rather exciting movie plot.

My only quibble with this film is that the main conclusions drawn by the documentary are uncritically simplistic.

Alexey Pajitnov was a Russian researcher who created Tetris as part of his work within a scientific institute, the intellectual property of which was, naturally, owned by the Soviet state. At several points during the documentary the voice over claims that if Pajitnov had developed the game as a citizen of the West he would have profited from his game.

Well, if he had developed it as an entrepeneur in his own time, probably, but as an employee of an equivalent research institute or corporation? Unlikely. If he was working under a standard software contract of the kind that most game industry employees are bound by, or even at a state-run research institute, he would have even less control over the IP than he has managed to win back today. A better salary and, if he were working for one of the better studios, some nice fat royalty based bonuses and stock options maybe, but as an employee he would have been more or less just as pwned.

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At 7:48 pm, Blogger Patrick said...

The irony is that rights wrangling agents and producers we're profiting off his game, and would have been even if he were an American. Very nice documentary, thanks for posting to it.

At 10:19 am, Blogger Kipper said...

Good point!

And thank god for google video. A great resource for BBC docos.

Another doco i saw on there that was great was "The Century of the Self". Not games related, but really interesting insight into the history of marketing.


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