Tetris Game on the Nintendo

November 1988
The Game Boy is undergoing development. Nintendo of America head Minoru Arakawa wants to make Tetris the pack-in game; he enlists Henk Rogers to get the handheld rights to Tetris for him. Rogers contacts Stein but basically gets stonewalled by him, so Rogers decides to fly to Moscow to get the rights himself. Stein, sensing why Rogers asked for the rights, flies to Moscow as well. Robert Maxwell’s son, Kevin, also decides to fly to Moscow to straighten out what is by now a large-scale licensing mess. The three men fly into Moscow at the exact same time.

Tetris online

February 21, 1989
Rogers gets to ELORG representative Evgeni Belikov first. He impresses Alexey Pazhitnov and the Russians, and signs a contract for the handheld rights to Tetris. Afterward, Rogers shows off the Famicom version of Tetris to the Russians. Belikov is shocked. He didn’t give Rogers the rights to make a console version! Rogers explains that he got the rights from Tengen; Belikov has never heard of Tengen! Rogers, trying to appease the Russians, tells Belikov the part of the story Stein did not tell him, and writes him a check for royalties on the Tetris cartridges he has already sold, with promises of more checks. He sees that he has a chance to get all the console rights to Free Tetris Online, but knows that the much larger Atari will fight him. Fortunately, he has Nintendo on his side!

A reminder: Robert Stein’s original agreement was only for computer versions of Tetris. Any other rights he gave out weren’t his to sell.

Later, Stein makes it to ELORG. Belikov makes him sign an alteration to the original contract defining computers as “PC computers which consist of a processor, monitor, disk drive(s), keyboard and operation system”. Stein misses this line defining computers; he later realizes that it was all a big orchestration on Rogers’ part to get his rights from Stein. The next day, he is told that, although he can’t get the handheld rights at the moment, he can get the arcade-game rights. He signs the contract for them three days later.

February 22, 1989
Kevin Maxwell visits ELORG. Belikov takes out Rogers’ Famicom Tetris cart and asks him about it. Maxwell was unaware that his own company gave some rights to Atari Games until he reads Mirrorsoft’s name on the cartridge. Maxwell asserts that the cart is a pirated copy, and returns to his agenda of getting the arcade and handheld Tetris rights. He leaves with only the right to bid on any rights remaining on Tetris.

The final scorecard: Kevin Maxwell walks off with a piece of paper, Robert Stein with the arcade rights, and ELORG with conclusive evidence, thanks to Maxwell’s assertion that any Famicom carts are pirates, that it never sold the video game rights. If Maxwell wanted those rights it would have to outbid Nintendo. Henk Rogers has the handheld rights and tells Arakawa at NOA that the console rights are up for grabs. BPS makes a deal to let Nintendo make Tetris for Game Boy; a deal that was ultimately worth between $5 and 10 million to BPS.

March 15, 1989
Henk Rogers returns to Moscow and makes a gigantic offer for the console rights to Tetris on behalf of Nintendo – an offer that, although undisclosed, was high enough that Mirrorsoft did not try to match it. Arakawa and NOA chief executive officer Howard Lincoln fly to the USSR.

March 22, 1989
A contract for the home videogame rights is finalized with Nintendo, which insists on a clause that the Russians would come to America to testify in the legal battle that would undoubtedly ensue after word of the contract comes out. The advance cash for ELORG is reported to be around $3 to 5 million. Belikov wires Mirrorsoft saying that neither it, Andromeda, or Tengen were authorized to distribute Tetris on video game systems, and that those rights are now given to Nintendo. The Nintendo and BPS executives have a party that night in their Moscow hotel room.

March 31, 1989
Howard Lincoln gleefully faxes Atari Games a cease-and-desist order to stop manufacturing any version of Tetris for the NES. Both Atari and Robert Maxwell become furious. Tengen responds to Nintendo on April 7th that they completely own the rights to home versions of Tetris.

April 13, 1989
Tengen files an application for a copyright of the “audiovisual work, the underlying computer code and the soundtrack” of Tetris for the NES. The application does not mention Alexey Pazhitnov or Nintendo’s rights to the game.

Robert Maxwell, meanwhile, is using his vast media empire to try to get Tetris back. He contacts both the Soviet and British governments to intervene on the Tetris matter. Infighting between the Communist party and ELORG begins, and Maxwell gets a promise from no less than Mikhail Gorbachev that he “should no longer worry about the Japanese company”.

In late April, Lincoln flies back to Moscow and learns of ELORG’s being put upon by the government. In the middle of the night, he receives a call from NOA that Tengen has sued Nintendo.

The next day, he starts interviewing Belikov, Pazhitnov, and many others at ELORG, to make sure that Nintendo’s case for the Tetris home rights is airtight. NOA immediately countersues Tengen, and evidence begins to be gathered.

May 17, 1989
Tengen releases their version of Tetris with a full-page ad in USA Today, despite the coming legal battle.