Michael Schellman Bill Hartmann GC 241 / Stone Winter 2006

The Tetris Virus: A Study in the Spontaneous Diffusion of an Epedemic

The Story of Tetris
In June 1985, inspired by a popular puzzle game called Pentominoes, Alexey Pazhitnov created a computer game called Tetris. In the game, different shaped pieces fall from the top of the screen, the gamer’s responsibility then, is to manipulate the way these pieces stack on top of each other to make solid interlocking rows. The dilemma is, if you don’t get the pieces rotated in time you leave gaps in the rows causing your pieces to stack higher and higher towards the top of the screen. When you run out of space the game is over. Tetris is a simple yet very addictive game which appeals to the creative side of the brain; it is one of the few computer games that is equally appealing to both men and women. After the invention of Tetris, in 1985, the game spread around the Moscow Computer Center. In Magnus Temples 2004 documentary1 on the game, Alexey Pazhitnov comments on everyone’s obsession with the game stating that, when everybody became obsessed with playing his game, that was when he realized that he wasn’t crazy. Then Alexey developed a color version of the game and distributed it to a few friends outside the center. Within a few weeks Tetris had spread throughout Moscow. One year later, in July of 1986, the PC version had made its way to Budapest Hungary where it was ported to the Apple II and the Commodore 64. During this stage of distribution Tetris made a name for itself without the benefit of Western production or advertising. It was the Hungarian versions of the game caught the attention of Robert Stein, the president of Andromeda Software, a British company who frequently scouted for new ideas in Hungary where game development was a thriving industry. Stein intended to get the rights to the original game as well as the new versions from Pazhitnov himself. In an initial conversation with Pazhitnov, Stein mistook Alexey’s friendly and agreeable manner as an informal agreement. Certain that he would soon secure the rights to Tetris, Stein subleased all of his presumed rights to Tetris except for arcade and handheld versions to Mirrorsoft (UK) and its USA affiliate, Spectrum Holobyte, owned by Robert Maxwell. Four months later

Temple, Magnus. Tetris: From Russia with Love. 2004 U.K. BBC Documentary (60 Minutes). All historical references to the rise and spread of Tetris are taken from this film.


in November Robert Stein drew up a contract to buy Tetris from the Academy where Alexey worked, and flew to Moscow to seal the deal. After unsuccessful negotiations with the Russians he walked away emptyhanded. Stein then decided to steal the rights to Tetris by claiming the game was invented by the Hungarians. In the meantime Mirrorsoft was already manufacturing the game and it became a sensation all through Europe. In 1988 Tetris was released for all home computers. It received excellent reviews. Stein’s plan to steal rights to the game was foiled when CBS did a story on Tetris and its inventor. When Tetris made national news, the Soviet government got involved, and formed a new company called Elorg to handle the negotiations. Elorg asserted that Stein was selling rights that he didn’t have, and threatened to cut off any future negotiations with Him. Stein who was well connected with members of British government, then threatened to make the conflict into an international situation. In May of 1988 Stein finally obtained the PC rights, after months of fighting with Elorg. But this contract expressly denied Stein the rights to the arcade and handheld versions; meanwhile Tetris had become the top selling computer game in England and the U.S. As Stein continued to wage war over the remaining rights to Tetris, Mirrorsoft and Spectrum Holobyte were busy sub-licensing their rights to the game. Spectrum, sold Henk Rogers the rights to make Tetris into video and computer games in Japan (Henk Rogers was then the owner of Bullet-Proof Software,). At the same time Mirrorsoft gave Atari Games the exact same rights. The two companies are then brought into conflict. Then another company, Nintendo (an arch rival of Atari,) enters the mix to vie for the handheld rights, which haven’t been awarded to anybody yet. Nintendo hired Henk Rogers to acquire the rights to Tetris for their soon to be released handheld Gameboy; Rogers traveled to Moscow to secure these rights from Elorg personally. At the same time Stein headed to Russia with Maxwell’s son Kevin to secure the console rights and to straighten out the licensing mess they were in. All parties arrived in Moscow at nearly the same time. However, Henk Rogers got to Elorg first and was awarded the handheld rights. He impressed the Russians by being very upbeat, friendly and straightforward in his dealings with them, whereas Stein and Kevin Maxwell appeared somewhat deceptive and aloof in there dealings. At the end of the negotiations between the three men and Elorg, Kevin Maxwell walked away with nothing, while Robert Stein was awarded the arcade rights in addition to his PC rights, which he already had. Henk Rogers received the handheld rights and returned to America


and informed Nintendo that the console rights are still up for grabs. Henk Rogers’ company, made a deal with Nintendo to let them make Tetris for Game boy, a deal worth between 5 and 10 million. Henk Rogers then agreed to go back to Moscow and secure the console rights for Nintendo and he was successful. Back in the states, the battle continued as Atari and Nintendo continued to fight over the rights to Tetris. In 1989 the court case began. The fight was over one point of disagreement. What exactly was the definition of a game console? Was it just another kind of computer, as Atari claimed, in which case the rights were implied in the initial contract drawn up between Stein and Elorg, or was it something completely different as Nintendo and Elorg had claimed, giving Elorg the freedom to sell them to Nintendo. The Judge eventually decided that the contract had granted neither Mirrorsoft nor Spectrum the rights to video game consoles, and therefore they could not have legally sold the rights to Atari. Nintendo won its case. In 1989 Nintendo sells millions of game console cartridges for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Gameboy, handheld units. To summarize all of the legal wrangling over Tetris, Atari ended up with the arcade rights and sold about 20,000 units. Everything else they produced prior to the court battle, including console cartridges and marketing materials, had to be destroyed. Robert Stein (Andromeda Software,) made about $250,000 on Tetris, he could have made a lot more but he could never get Mirrorsoft or Atari to pay him royalties once they lost the rights. Robert Maxwell’s media organization collapsed in the midst of the struggle and Maxwell mysteriously disappeared over the side of his yacht during an investigation over his questionable business dealings. Henk Rogers, and Nintendo made millions from Tetris, and probably hundreds of millions off of Game boy. Alexey Pazhitnov made nearly nothing from his Game, but he was fairly satisfied with the notoriety he achieved. The Soviet government did not compensate employees directly for profitable inventions; however Alexey did receive a 286 clone computer from the government, and a nicer apartment than many of his peers. In 1996, Alexey moved to the United States, and with the help of Henk Rogers formed the Tetris Company LLC. When rights to the game expired they reversed back to Alexey, who is now finally receiving royalties from his game. There is a lot of drama surrounding the development and marketing of Tetris but all of this is actually a distraction from the forces that drove the game to its success. The fact of the matter is that the power of the Tetris virus was most clearly seen behind the Iron Curtain before it was obstructed by the legal


wrangling of corporate powers, and obscured by clamor of western advertising. This paper will analyze the growth and spread of the game Tetris through Peer to Peer networks (hereafter referred to as P2P). This study will make use a range of approaches, (diffusion models, network analysis, and emergent systems,) to explain the phenomenon. We will conclude that the success of Tetris can be attributed to P2P distribution methods, which are more efficient in the distribution of intangible commodities, than market systems.

Context in the Early Diffusion of Tetris According to Malcolm Gladwell epidemics are highly sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur. Gladwell cites Paul Reveres “midnight ride”, as a good example of the power of context, because it shows how the time of day mattered in the delivery of the message. He was able to achieve a very high connection rate with the people because they were all at home and not out working or doing errands.2 If we look at some of the various contexts that surround Tetris, we can see some patterns as it moved from Russia through Europe and Japan and finally the rest of the free world. One major point to consider is that this was a computer game designed by a computer programmer who was obsessed with games, a lead user in Roger’s terms.3 This is the context of what I call “the power of creation”. This game was new and appealing to other computer users. The atmosphere of the game was simplicity and it was addictive because of its positive constructive message of making something as perfect as possible. This combination helped to spread it because it made you want to experience it. Another context to look at was the culture Tetris was introduced into. The game was conceived and developed in the Soviet Union. As was mentioned in the film, the game Tetris appealed to a culture that has demonstrated an historic love of puzzles and mind games. It was contextually appropriate to the culture because it arose from within it. Finally, Tetris had strong roots in a subculture. The information technology and gamer’s world, a highly innovative community. The inventor’s whole life was devoted to computers and games and his innovation would attract people who were just like him, practically speaking. In the mid eighties

Gladwell, Malcom. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Littler, Brown and Company, 2000. p 139 3 Rogers, Everett M. Diffusion of Innovations, Fifth Edition. Free Press, 2003. “lead user” p 141-142


computers were not in everybody’s home like they are today. Back then you had to really be a “technology buff” or a “computer nerd” to have one. This to me is the audience that was attracted to his game and therefore the context in which the Tetris epidemic began to spread.

The Role of Advertising in the Soviet Context When Henk Rogers arrived in Moscow, he was amazed at the barrenness of the landscape. There were no billboards, and no commercials on the radio or television. It is hard for us, in the West, to understand how something like Tetris could diffuse so quickly in an environment like this. To understand the dynamics of how Tetris moved, we must look at the roll of alternative models of advertising to determine what part it played in the Tetris epidemic. Advertising is essentially a means of communicating desirability. In the West we tend to do this with billboards, magazine advertisements, and television and radio spots. In the Soviet Union however, studies have shown (at least at the time,) that if you were to put up a billboard that says “Drink Coca Cola,” nobody would want it. Since everything was run by the state, the only time advertising would be used was when there was something that they wanted to get rid of. 4 Whether it this was due to overproduction or poor quality, people were so used to being manipulated by the state and they had grown resistant to that form of advertising. When western countries did try to advertise they did not know these facts about the Russians. They assumed the Russian people were just like the rest of the western world. When countries outside of Russia would advertise there, they would place ads that looked really interesting but the people did not understand their subtle meanings. An example of this would be an ad about fast luxury cars. Russian people had no reference point, no way to plug it into there life. Many ads featured luxury items and expensive holiday goods like clothes and liquor or fine imported foods, which people could not afford. Western advertising produced no tangible results because the two cultures were so different from each other. They were dealing with a people who had no real-time experience with a capitalistic, materialistic point of view. Nobody strived to get ahead in Russia, every part of his or her world stressed “for the common good”.

Wells, Ludmilla Gricenko, “Western Concepts, Russian Perspectivers: Meanings of Advertising in the Former Soviet Union,” Journal of Advertising. Armonk: 23:1, 1994, p8


It seems that the primary means of communicating desirability in the Soviet Union, is just telling your neighbor about it. What Gladwell calls a “word of mouth epidemic.”5 When Tetris was just starting to diffuse in Russia, the diffusion was totally centered on word of mouth connections. There was absolutely no marketing done at its inception, it literally traveled from one computer to another through the random distribution of peer networks. At this time in Russia, “word of mouth” was really the only way the game could have spread as fast as it did. This was a closed and secretive society, where people were suspicious of their government so western advertising with all its direct appeals would not have worked.


Appeals to the Creative Side of the Brain Next, we have to ask what made Tetris so successful in both the Soviet Union and in the West. One approach would be to consider what Gladwell calls “the Stickiness factor”. Gladwell describes Stickiness as making small but critical adjustments in how ideas are presented to make them memorable.6 I believe the overall success of Tetris throughout the world was just that it was new and unique, appealing to the constructive and creative sides of the human brain, in contrast to the dark and destructive, violence themed media that gamers were used to. The inventor of Tetris was a kind-hearted man with a passion for puzzles and challenging games, and this is reflected in his work.

Strong Negative Motivation Tetris, because of its constructive and creative aspects, appeals to a broad range of people. Old and young, men and women are equally drawn to this game because it touches something on the inside of everyone. Tetris gives you a very simple yet challenging task that keeps you glued to the screen. You are mesmerized by the geometrical shaped pieces as they fall and you must get them into place quickly or you won’t be able to build the perfect row. The genius of the game is that there is a built in penalty if you don’t go fast enough, only your completed rows will disappear. Rows with gaps or spaces do not, allowing the bricks to pile up towards the top of the screen, and the end of your game. This penalty becomes the driving
5 6

Gladwell “word of mouth epidemic” p 30-34 Gladwell “stickiness” p 25


motivator within the games dynamics. Skilled players can correct mistakes by skillfully placing bricks in solid rows till they work their way back down to the mistake and correct it, but this is very difficult. The desire to correct mistakes becomes a strong negative motivator that contrasts with the apparent simplicity of the game. This factor is what makes the game addictive.

The Distracter Test At a Gamers Expo, the president of Bulletproof software Henk Rogers, discovered Tetris in a corner of the convention center. He fell in love with it instantly. The reasons Henk Rogers paid attention to it is the same reason Gladwell gives for the distracter tests conducted by the producers of Sesame Street. The psychiatrists of Sesame Street fame discovered that children will pay attention to things they are attracted to and avoid things they are not attracted to. The Tetris design is totally built around this concept. The simple geometric designs are pleasing to the eye. The game uses a very simple background and very easy to understand principles. According to the distracter test results in Gladwell’s section on Sesame Street, the psychiatrists said you could simply see what a child likes by what they express interest in and understand. Alexey did a good job of understanding and putting together a product that people feel good about. One drawback of Gladwell’s analysis, is that it focuses on highly intentional acts. The underlying assumption being that, things diffuse because people intend them diffuse. What is remarkable about spontaneous epidemics like Tetris, is that there are no master plans; no intentional efforts behind their diffusion. In fact, the power of the Tetris virus was most clearly seen behind the Iron Curtain before it was obstructed by the legal wrangling of corporate powers, and obscured by western advertising.

Tetris as Meme
Another approach which could more clearly illuminate the spontaneous spread of Tetris might be the concept of the meme. The word meme was coined by Oxford Zoologist Richard Dawkins, and first appeared in his book The Selfish Gene (1976).7 The basic idea behind the theory is that cultural ideas

Blackmore, Susan. The Meme Machine, Oxford, 1999. p 4


spread in much the same way that biological organisms do, they are composed of units which replicate themselves. Many such replicators exist in the biological world (e.g. viruses, bacteria, and human DNA). Dawkins intuitively saw that units of culture also reproduce themselves and spread from mind to mind in a similar fashion. But how does this process work? It operates through the human beings native ability to adopt new behavior through the process of imitation. Susan Blackmore points out in her book The Meme Machine, that one of the things that separates human beings from most animals is our natural ability to imitate. Blink, or wave, or smile at your dog or cat and what happens? She might purr, wag her tail, twitch, or walk away, but you can be pretty sure she will not imitate you. You can teach a cat, or rat, to beg neatly for its food by progressively rewarding it, but you cannot teach it by demonstrating the trick yourself, nor can another cat or rat.8 Edward Lee Thorndike defines imitation as learning to do an act by seeing it done.9 This mode of behavioral transmission, however, should be distinguished from social contagion and social learning. Social contagion is reflexive. When we see someone yawn, or sit in a room with people who are laughing we are naturally inclined to yawn or laugh as well. Imitation also differs from social learning, because there are many forms of social learning which do not involve true imitation at all. What looks like imitation in most animals actually isn’t because much as the behavior is built in. The purpose of social learning in this case is merely to orient the existing behavior of the animal to its local environment. Baby chicks know how to peck; they just don’t know what to peck. Where completely new behaviors are adopted by groups, it has been determined that it is through relearning rather than imitation that adoption occurs. Very few animals have the ability to construct and transmit new behavior through imitation, only humans possess this as a dominant learning capacity. From a very early age, human infants have the ability to imitate a wide range of sounds, postures, and actions upon objects, even meaningless actions that have no survival value like patting your head and rubbing your stomach. By fourteen months infants can perform an action observed more than a week after to seeing it. - the skills of generalized imitation means that humans can invent new behaviors of almost unlimited kinds and copy them on to each other. If we define memes as
8 9

Blackmore, Susan p 3 Blackmore, Susan p 47


transmitted by imitation then whatever is passed on by this copying process is a meme.10 This same ability is also present (although to a significantly lesser degree,) in chimpanzees. Italian neuroscientist Giaccamo Rizzollati observed that when chimps performed a given task certain parts of the brain would light up on an EEG. Then he made a remarkable discovery; when other chimps observed that chimp performing a task, the same parts of their brain would light up as well. Rizzollati called these parts of the brain “mirror neurons”.11 It is a neural structure only chimps and a few other animals share with us. Consider this, if our neurons fire in similar patterns to those of someone we observe performing a particular act, in a sense we vicariously share in their experience. This capacity, hardwired in our brains, may have much to do with the complexity and transmission of human culture and its components like the game Tetris.

Meme Fitness Why are some memes copied, while others are not? If we remain with the biological metaphor, the process of selection would be determined by meme “fitness”. Some meme’s have a memetic advantage over others; just as some genes have a genetic advantage. Those memes which are the fittest are the ones that are selected to get passed on. Francis Heylighen has developed what he calls “memetic selection criteria”. Baring similarities to Tarde’s “laws of imitation” and Rogers’ “factors affecting the rate of adoption” Heylighen’s “memetic selection criteria” state that, “During the different stages of their lifecycle, memes are subjected to objective, subjective, inter-subjective, and meme-centered selection critera”.12 Table 1 Heylighen's Memetic Selection Criteria Stages/Selectors
10 11





Blackmore, Susan p 50 Johnson, Steven. Emergence; The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, Touchstone, 2001. p 198-199

Heylighen, Francis. http://pcp.vub.ac.be/MEMSELC.html. See also the following articles.

Heylighen F. (1992) : "Selfish Memes and the Evolution of Cooperation", Journal of Ideas , Vol. 2, #4, pp 77-84. Heylighen F. (1998): "What makes a meme successful? Selection criteria for cultural evolution", in: Proc. 16th Int. Congress on Cybernetics (Association Internat. de Cybernetique, Namur), p. 423-418. Heylighen F. (1997):"Objective, subjective and intersubjective selectors of knowledge", Evolution and Cognition 3:1, p. 63-67.


Assimilation Distinctiveness Retention Invariance Controllability Expression

Novelty Simplicity Coherence Coherence Utility

Authority Formality Conformity

Self-Justification SelfReinforcement Intolerance Proselytism Proselytism

Expressivity Transmission Publicity Mimetic Assimilation

Distinctiveness suggests that phenomena that are detailed or contrasted are more likely to be noticed and understood, and consequently assimilated. Novelty facilitates assimilation process by attracting the subject's attention. Simplicity facilitates assimilation because it requires less processing for the meme to be understood. Coherence refers to the ease with which the new meme can "fit in" with the memory that is already there. (Coherence also facilitates the retention stage because memories that cohere are easier to retrieve and use and therefore are less likely to be forgotten). Memes from authoritative sources, i.e. hosts or vehicles that are held in high regard or considered to represent expertise in the domain, will be more easily assimilated. Formality (precise, unambiguous expression,) also assists in the assimilation process, at least of the original memetic content of the expression. It contributes to what Dawkins calls “copying fidelity”. On the other hand, informal expression, because it tends to be simpler, may facilitate assimilation, but of an idea different from the one initially expressed.13 Self-justification, the degree to which the components of memes mutually support each other, will also facilitate understanding and acceptance. Assimilation of Tetris Tetris possesses several characteristics that would facilitate the assimilation stage of Heylighen’s model. The first characteristic being distinctiveness. This was especially demonstrated in the film. Belikov (the director of the Moscow Computer Center,) notes how Tetris differs from games produced in the West, which are typically noisy and violent. This distinctiveness gave Tetris a competitive edge at the Game Expo, where Henk Roger’s (Bulletproof Software,) notices it for the first time. He said it was the quietest game there.


Rogers on “Re-Invention” p184-188


Then there was the novelty of the game. The Soviet Union was mysterious to most westerners, and as it was mentioned in the film, everybody in the West would like to own something from behind the Iron Curtain. Atari even attempted to emphasize this aspect of the game by creating a marketing campaign which played off the James Bond film “From Russia With Love”. Their plan however, was thwarted when Nintendo was awarded sole rights to the console version of the Game. Another factor contributing to the success of the assimilation stage was the games simplicity. Tetris is a game with a high degree of front end simplicity, and back end complexity. It only takes a few minutes to learn how to play. The concept is very simple “rotate the bricks that are falling to the bottom of the screen and place them in the most efficient order”. Beyond this, however the game is very complex because the bricks don’t necessarily fall in the order you need them too, forcing you to put them aside in a way that will not permit them to pile up on you. And the speed of the game keeps increasing, forcing you to make these decisions faster. The simplicity at the front end of the game lures players in, and the complexity at the back end keeps them hooked. The community of Gamers and PC users has a high level of innovativeness and so authority plays less of a role in the adoption process. As a peer community, it is characterized by “anti-credentialism”. People are willing to try out new software or games because the risk is low. The only barrier is cost, which is easily sidestepped when users engage in file sharing or cartridge swapping (common in these circles). Using Roger’s terminology, this makes the “trialability” of computer games is very high.14 Formality is also very high, maintaining “Copying Fidelity”. Because relatively few people understand code, few people will attempt to make modifications. The copying process is left to the users PC, which produces an exact copy every time. Only those who understand code can modify the game, but anybody can copy it however. This two tiered transmission process ensures that most versions of the game that get passed on will have memetic integrity and be viable versions of the game. Successful games have a way of reinforcing PC usage and PC usage has a way of encouraging the adoption of new Games. This mutual reinforcement satisfies Heylighen’s “self justification” criteria. Roger’s refers to research which indicates that, playing computer games can help familiarize people to their PC’s and lessens computer anxiety.15 Every new PC comes with several games pre-installed, (FreeCell,
14 15

Rogers on “Trialability” p 258 Rogers on “Adoption of New Communication Technologies” p 419-420


Minesweeper, Pinball) as well as more pragmatic software (Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point). This process, called “bundling” related to what Rogers calls technology clusters, one or more distinguishable elements of technology that are perceived as being interrelated used by a change agency to promote a cluster or package of innovations to the client.16 This strategy was demonstrated in the film when Nintendo included Tetris in the release of their new handheld GameBoy.

Mimetic Retention Invariance criterion, pertains to phenomena that recur independently of the way in which they are perceived. Controllability denotes phenomena which react differentially to the subject's actions; both these criteria are more likely to leave a permanent memory trace than memes which lack them. The utility of memes will increase the frequency of use and reinforce assimilation. Conformity, the reinforcement of the same meme by different hosts belonging to the same group, will boost acceptance and retention. SelfReinforcement, is the degree to which the meme stimulates its host to rehearse itself will strengthen retention. Intolerance, indicates the degree to which a meme excludes rival memes from being

assimilated or retained, will also help the meme to retain a stable position in memory. Retention of Tetris For the game of Tetris the qualities of controllability, utility, conformity, self reinforcement, and intolerance are interesting. One of the things which makes computer games fun is that they are interactive, that is they have a high level of controllability. Tetris combines controllability with simplicity enhancing the user’s sense of competence early in the game. Games that require beginners to learn a lot of complicated sequential actions to perform maneuvers discourage the adoption process for beginners. We often overlook the utility of games to satisfy our need for play. Though culturally we may not be able to eloquently articulate the deep need this satisfies, we still find ourselves playing games. On the pragmatic level, video games have been show to increase eye-hand coordination, pattern recognition, and multi-tasking.17 The aspect of conformity was evident at the Moscow Computer Center and Spectrum Holobyte where decision of some people to play Tetris influenced and reinforced the decisions of others to play Tetris.
16 17

Rogers on “Technology Clusters” p 249 There are several studies indicating this fact, see Everything Bad is Good for You, by Steven Johnson.


Several people in the film described the game in terms that seemed addictive. The observation of obsessive behavior in players of the game is reflected in Belikov’s observation, that the whole computer center was playing the game to the detriment of their work. The addictive quality of the game grows out of the structure of Tetris itself. The simplicity of the game lures you in. It appeals to the constructive side of the brain; you get the sense that you are working for a purpose. But there is also a strong negative motivation; every row you successfully fill in disappears, leaving only your mistakes. The simplicity of the game lures you back to try and do better the next time. This addictive quality satisfies Heylighen’s self reinforcement criteria as well as the intolerance.

Memetic Expressivity and Transmission The last two stages appear to be closely related and therefore will be discussed together. Expressivity, refers to the ease with which the meme can be expressed in an inter-subjective medium. Publicity is the effort put by the host(s) into the broad distribution of the message, and proselytism is the degree to which the meme urges its host to maximally spread the meme to other hosts.

Expressivity and Transmission of Tetris The expressivity of Tetris can be seen in how the process of adoption, for many of the people in the film was influenced by seeing others playing the game. The early transmission of Tetris demonstrated strong proselytism and dynamic publicity making use of Peer to Peer distribution networks (hereafter referred to as P2P,) which will be discussed in the next section.

P2P Distribution
P2P distribution is a lot like a word of mouth epidemic because the contents of its distribution are more like ideas, than commodities. The context of the former Soviet State, a non-market system, made P2P distribution the only form of distribution possible, and so the success of this kind of distribution is more easily discernible than it would be in the market driven west. Distribution a Historical Summary


Distributors came into existence in order to promote the diffusion of innovations at a time when one hundred percent of the things needing to be diffused were physical objects that cost money to produce and distribute. At this time, even knowledge, and art – if it were to be disseminated, had to be turned into physical artifacts and moved from place to place. This forced distribution to develop highly centralized processes due to the prohibitive cost. Patent and Copyright laws were formulated to protect the investment of these companies long enough to ensure a return on their investment. Centralization and limited capitol created friction which slowed the diffusion process. If we take the original game upon which Tetris is based, Pentominoes, we will note that it could only disburse so fast. It was a physical object that had to be produced, perhaps in a factory with workers. It also required distribution to move it to local markets. Finally, it required marketing in order to perpetuate its adoption. When Pentominoes became the computer game Tetris however, it gained a number of advantages. 1. 2. 3. It simplified the production process. It reduced the cost of production to near zero. It turned every consumer into a potential producer/distributer.

Under these conditions it becomes apparent that most of the key people in the Tetris drama, were not actually trying to promote the diffusion of the game at all, they were trying to restrict it. You see, the medium had moved beyond its need for their services of the production, distribution, and marketing system. When this happened, the buying and selling of rights merely became a means of ensuring that these structures remain part of the process. Needless to say this causes the former agents of diffusion to become deterrents. How P2P Works Bauwens states that “P2P specifically designates those processes that aim to increase the most widespread participation by equipotential participants”.18 Equipotential means that anybody who is able, may participate, but participation is not mandatory in order to make use of resources; similar to the Marxist axiom “from each according to his ability to each according to his need”. P2P production operates most easily in the realm of immaterial goods.19 Models like this are currently used for the development of software as in the Open Source and Free Software movements. Such systems are robust and productive

Bauwens, Michel, “The Political Economy of Peer Production,” 1000 Days of Theory. December 2005. Available Online, www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=499 19 ibid


demonstrating proving Eben Moglen’s assertion that human creativity does not need an incentive it merely needs to be freed from constraints (friction in his terms).20
• • • Produces use-value through the free cooperation of producers who have access to distributed capitol. Are governed by the community of producers themselves. Make this use-value freely accessible on a universal basis.

Social networks Traditional modes of distribution rely on a hierarchical structure of distribution that is highly centralized. Diffusion is dependant upon the effort of the centralized node. If this node is taken out of commission, then distribution stops. Decentralized networks are an improvement upon this model because there are severalnodes which act as hubs in the distribution process. Unfortunately it still has the disadvantage of being a top down model. The integration of the network is highly dependant upon the connecting nodes, which act as bridges in the network, depending upon how significant any particular bridge is part of the network can become isolated if their vital link to the body is disconnected. A third model, upon which P2P distribution is based, is the diffused model. In this model every node is connected to every other node, this demonstrates the equipotentiality of the nodes, not necessarily actual connections. The point being, that the nodes themselves choose to participate or not to participate. The high degree of linkage means that if any node is taken out of commission there is always another route for the information to travel. Like decentralized networks, diffused networks take advantage of viral like transmission of their contents using “Weak Ties”21, and the Laws of Geometric progression. Everett Rogers states that he believes there are at least three disadvantages to decentralized networks (and these would also apply to diffused networks). First, decentralized networks will have a hard

Moglen, Eben. “Freeing the Mind: Free Software and the Death of Proprietary Culture,” Freedom Now (Blog). June 29, 2003. Available Online. http://emoglen.law.columbia.edu/blog. p 5 21 See -Granovetter, Mark S. “The Strength of Weak Ties” American Journal of Sociology. 78:6, 1973, pp 1360 – 1380.


time maintaining quality control, and making decisions about which innovations to adopt; second, the clutter of input from non-experts that lack an understanding of the diffusion strategies; third an instance where the government or some other authoritative institution wants to diffuse an innovation for which the people do not have a felt need.22 Many of Rogers’ concerns are based in cultural assumptions that grow out of a top down social structure. Assumptions such as “organization requires intentional planning” and that “Decisions should be made by qualified individuals on behalf of the social network”. What we are beginning to learn is that multiple agents following simple protocol can generate complex organized behavior on the macro-scale. The process is called Emergence. In his book Emergence, Steven Johnson describes the phenomenon as it developed historically through the scientific investigation of such seemingly unrelated subjects as slime mold cells, cities, ant colonies, and the human brain. Johnson’s primary interest lies in what he calls adaptive emergent systems. Adaptive emergence occurs naturally in and amongst biological systems like the human immune system, slime mold cells, ant colonies, and human cities. It is the most promising area the research into artificial intelligence. Emergent systems display three main characteristics. • • • Bottom up Structure Collective Intelligence Self Organization A widely held misconception is that ant colonies operate under the direction of a social hierarchy.23 This is based on the philosophical assumption that complex social systems need a leader; however, no particular ant or group of ants can take credit for the grandiosity of the colonies organization. No single ant has the mental capacity to comprehend the complexity of the colony as a whole. Therefore, there are no city planners to designate where the colonies waste-dump and cemetery will be located,24 and there are no general managers, assigning tasks for the day based on the number of workers and the physical needs of the community. All of these things are regulated by a relatively simple process of communication (i.e. pheromone trails and frequency of social contact,) the ant colony as a whole thereby regulates its behavior
22 23

Rogers p 398-399 Johnson p 31 24 Johnson p 32-33


through the social interaction of its individual members.25 The experience of an individual ant or slime mold cell is limited to its local interactions or “street level” knowledge.P2P distribution makes use of the same principles in order to reduce the friction in the distribution process. It is impossible to account for the spread of the Tetris virus without considering diffusion of a former innovation the personal computer or PC. In order to invent a game for the PC, a programmer must first teach the computer how to play the game. This could involve hours, months, or years of work depending on the complexity of the game. If every adopter of the game Tetris had to do this, it would never diffuse effectively. Fortunately the PC is more than just a tool, it actualy functions as an extension of the human brain, what Denial Wegner calls “Transactive Memory”.26 This opens up the production process to more than just programmers. Once that process is opened, the power of certain ideas to diffuse is unstoppable. Markets and intellectual property rights cannot stop the flow of information. The internet also, has enhanced human social networking power. Evidence of this was seen at the WTO demonstrations where many diverse and uncoordinated interest groups suddenly and spontaneously descended on Seattle in protest of the organization.27 In response to Rogers’ concerns; decisions about which innovations to adopt and quality control can be made by individuals. In a highly connected network word travels fast. Good products are capable of promoting themselves. Consider Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. In this format entries on many topics grow and change as they are edited by users. Anyone who feels they have something to contribute can do so. The community itself regulates the quality of the entry. Ebay’s vendor rating system works on similar principles. Rogers’ concern over ineffective distributors is equipotential nature of the distributed network. When the number of agents is multiplied the effectiveness of any individual agent becomes less important. Multiple agents following simple protocols and empowered to make local decisions can produce a variety of distribution methods some of which will be successful, most may not. The interconnected nature of the system however, allows the network as a whole to learn from the successes and failures of its individual members.
25 26

Johnson p 74 Gladwell “transactive memory” p 187-191 27 Johnson p 225-225


Rogers’ final concern, that Government may wish to diffuse and innovation that potential adopters do not feel a need for, is based in the assumption that decision makers are more aware of a group’s needs than the group itself is. For instance, if given a choice between work and no work, people will choose no work. Emergent advocates would argue that distributed networks are perfectly capable of being regulated through user feedback, and do not need top down management. Producers will raise production when the demand for something is high, and reduce it when it is low out of necessity. Top down structures actually have more difficulty adapting to the need of local contexts because centralized structures make them poorly positioned to meet local needs. 28

. The goal of this paper was to show that the P2P distribution process provided an ideal format for the distribution of non-tangible commodities, like the game Tetris. But this also has implications for the spread of the Gospel. The principles that give rise to the power behind the viral like spread of the game Tetris could open up new channels for the diffusion of the Christian faith. Adopting new strategies that in Bauens terms encourage the most widespread participation by equipotential participants may have more potential than our present marketing strategies. It is an ideal that embodies the concept of the “priesthood of all believers” a well known but little practiced ideal. At present there several versions of Tetris being distributed for free on the internet. It seems Tetris has outpaced the corporate interests that so desperately tried to market it.


Rogers p 412


Bibliography Barabasi, Albert – Laszlo. Linked; How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life, Plume, 2003. Bauwens, Michel, “The Political Economy of Peer Production,” 1000 Days of Theory. December 2005. Available Online, www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=499 Blackmore, Susan. The Meme Machine, Oxford, 1999. Gladwell, Malcom. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Littler, Brown and Company, 2000. Granovetter, Mark S. “The Strength of Weak Ties” American Journal of Sociology. 78:6, 1973, pp 1360 – 1380. Johnson, Steven. Emergence; The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, Touchstone, 2001. Moglen, Eben. “Freeing the Mind: Free Software and the Death of Proprietary Culture,” Freedom Now (Blog). June 29, 2003. Available Online. http://emoglen.law.columbia.edu/blog Rogers, Everett M. Diffusion of Innovations, Fifth Edition. Free Press, 2003.


Temple, Magnus. Tetris: From Russia with Love. 2004 U.K. BBC Documentary (60 Minutes) Wells, Ludmilla Gricenko, “Western Concepts, Russian Perspectivers: Meanings of Advertising in the Former Soviet Union,” Journal of Advertising. Armonk: 23:1, 1994, pp 83 – 95.