Why Modern Mobile Games Owe a Debt of Gratitude to Tetris

When Alexey Pajitnov designed and released Tetris in 1984, he tapped into a century-old fascination of taking polyominoes (geometric figures formed by joining one or more equal edges) and turned it into a computer game. When his shape-making game was first shipped to the US it was published by Spectrum HoloByte for use on the Commodore 64. However, it wasn’t until it found its way onto Nintendo’s Game Boy in 1989 that it became a global hit.

Indeed, on the Game Boy alone, Tetris has sold more than 35 million copies. Moreover, Electronic Gaming Monthly hailed Tetris as “Greatest Game of All Time” in its 100th issue. Although Tetris has since faded into the background and become the stuff of legend, its presence is still being felt in the gaming industry. In fact, despite its simple premise, the puzzle dynamic it offered is now more popular than ever.


Gaming Trends Come Full Circle


Much like clothing fashion has a way of coming full circle, puzzle and match-three style games have as well. In 1989 it was the portable Game Boy that got people using their powers of logic, timing and dexterity to solve puzzles, today it’s smartphones providing the mobile gaming experience. Leading the way since it was released in 2012 is Candy Crush. Much like Tetris, the game will go down in handheld gaming history as an icon of its time.

In fact, many would argue that the Candy Crush Saga revived the trend Tetris started back in the late eighties. According to the stats collated by expandedramblings.com, Candy Crush Saga has been played more than 1 billion times since it was released and the game itself now contains more than 2000 levels. This level of popularity means 18 billion+ rounds of Candy Crush Saga are played every month – which is more than Tetris could have hoped for.


Puzzles Have Evolved

Naturally, as technology often does, things have moved on since the days of simple puzzle games. Moving pieces and creating pretty patterns have been twisted, contorted and repacked into a variety of sub-genres. Over in the iGaming community, the top operators have taken the idea of puzzle games and injected them into the slots genre. Perhaps the most obvious example is Sun Bingo’s Cash Blox.

In among the site’s selection of themed slot games, players can play what is essentially Tetris with prizes. Although they won’t have direct control over each single block, the retro looking “play” button does send down a different pattern which has the ability to connect with an identical configuration. As blocks are formed, they disappear just as they would in Tetris, but in this case cash is the reward instead of points. By adding in an extra level of depth and interaction, Cash Blox players are able to enjoy the puzzle/math-three genre in a new way.


New Layers Added to the Genre

In fact, the same can also be said for WWE Champions. Aside from being a retro hit, the wrestling game is a mix of RPG and puzzle action. After selecting your favorite wrestler, the aim of the game is to complete puzzles and unlock moves that will finish your opponent. Depending on how efficiently you can complete each level, the better your performance will be and the further you’ll progress in the game.

This combination of logic and action has led to the Scopely receiving a “Top Developer” rating from Google Play as well as 106,000+ four-star ratings. Essentially, we love WWE Champions and all games from the puzzle/match-three genre, but why? Well, one obvious reason is the simple premise. Matching blocks or moving pieces into a uniform pattern is something we’ve done since we were children. However, if that was the end of it, we’d soon get bored. One of the main reasons we really love these games is because of something known as the variable ratio schedule of reinforcement.


Whatever the Innovation, the Premise is Still Appealing


In simple terms, games such as Candy Crush are based on luck as well as skill. Although you’re ultimately in control of the action, you don’t know which blocks are going to fall and it’s this uncertainty that keeps us hooked.

Playing on the idea of reinforcement play, which is based on the idea of operant conditioning, we basically feel rewarded when we make correct moves. However, the frequency of when we make the right moves isn’t on a set schedule and this creates a desire to keep chasing that feeling of being rewarded.

This, in a nutshell, is why we love puzzle/match-three games in all their forms. No matter how many layers of added entertainment we pile on top of the latest games, the basic format is what drives us to keep playing. So, the next time you play Candy Crush or any of the latest offerings, just remember that all of them owe a debt of gratitude to the mighty Tetris.

Tetris Cover Image Source

Susie McBeth

Susie McBeth is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Nerd Like You.   Susie is a comic book reading, anime loving, superhero obsessed, writer, editor, artist, gamer, occasional supervillain and all round very nerdy girl.   When not working on content for NLY and sneakily fitting in the odd zombie kill, she can be found writing entertainment posts for national news entertainment site The Metro as well as writing guest posts for Bit Rebels and a plethora of other sites (Google will tell you all).   She also writes books - including the recent How to become a Supervillain in 10 easy steps.

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