The Future of Tetris: Henk Rogers Tells All
When players imagine Tetris, they think of one of the biggest legacy brands in gaming. This puzzle classic single-handedly pushed the Game Boy into the hands of gamers in 1989 and was the first true hardcore/casual cross-over title.
Outside of Alexey Pajitnov, the inventor of Tetris, one other man lives and breathes Tetris: Henk Rogers. He was there from the beginning, pushing Tetris into the western world. We talked with Rogers last week, and he shared The Tetris Company's plans for the brand as it enters its 27th year. More than just a game, Tetris is becoming a lifestyle.
GameZone: Henk, it’s great to talk with you. I met you a couple years back at E3, and we had a great conversation about the 25th anniversary of Tetris. What’s up in the world of Tetris right now?
Henk Rogers: We have twelve new product categories hitting between now and Christmas. These are products that include board games, card games, dice games, wall graphics, t-shirts, and lottery tickets. We are also announcing several partnerships and merchandising deals to satisfy the overwhelming consumer demand for Tetris-branded products.
We are one of the most recognized brands in the computer game industry, and we’ve underdone ourselves over the years in terms of merchandising with fashion and goods. We’re going to turn that around. The Tetris brand today is more relevant than ever. It’s a lifestyle brand, and it’s present in nearly every interactive game platform worldwide and soon in retail stores all around the world.
In fact, we’ve introduced new toys and game partnerships, apparel, room décor, and more since the beginning of 2011. Negotiations are now underway for puzzles, Halloween costumes, head wear, accessories, candy, watches, slot machines, furniture that come together like playing pieces in Tetris--and we’ve done Silly Bandz. By expanding into non-electronic merchandising, we have a unique opportunity to broaden our demographic reach and further solidify our brand, something few video games have been able to accomplish after 26 years.
Most games don’t last that long. They come in, they have a very bright flare for a couple of years, everything happens in a very short time, and then they go by the wayside. What happened with Tetris is it has become more a virtual sport, and it keeps on going and it keeps on going. It’s taking on features of a sport like golf or baseball after having been around for many, many years; they take off. So merchandising is a big part of that business going forward.
GZ: Say someone goes out there, and they love Tetris. They start buying t-shirts and L-block costumes for Halloween and wall decals. What type of person falls into the Tetris lifestyle?
HR: You know, it’s funny, but I think Tetris is a statement. It’s like the statement that you make when you wear Nike shoes. Somehow I’m wearing something because I do sports and that makes me cool. Tetris is another way of thinking. I play Tetris and it keeps me mentally fit, and it keeps me sharper than everybody else. It’s kind of a new statement that hasn’t happened before: "I'm cool because I’m sharp,” as opposed to, “I’m cool because I have biceps.”
GZ: What is your favorite Tetris-branded bit of merchandise coming this year?
HR: We’ve been working on a new interface for touch phones that is going to revolutionize how Tetris is played. Traditionally, Tetris has been a button-pressing game, so if you’ve got a console with lots and lots of buttons, game designers will try to use those buttons. When you try and translate those buttons onto a touch phone, then you’ve got some issues. If you try to replicate those buttons, there is not a lot of real estate to replicate those buttons. What we're doing is going in a whole new direction and playing around. It’s sort of Star Trek Tetris. If you look at Star Trek, they are all touching panels and trying to tell the ship to do something. There are no buttons. Like Chekov, even going way back then, didn’t have buttons--he was touching a screen.
That is sort of an unfulfilled dream of computer gaming; that’s where it is going to go with smartphones. We’ve come up with an AI that suggests moves for you, and you just pick the best move for the moment and say, “I want to go there, I want to go there, and there, and there, and there,” and touch where you want to go. It turns out you can play much faster because there are fewer button presses. It’s kinda like going from standard to automatic in a car. Take away that clutch, and you can double the number of people who can drive cars. That’s very exciting.
GZ: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about with Tetris, especially as we enter the 27th year of its existence?
HR: We are still aiming for making Tetris the first virtual sport. We have some good numbers. With our license, Tetris Online, the players there play over 10 million games daily. We hit 11.4 million yesterday, and the total for this year so far is over 825 million. That’s a huge number of games, and that’s a tremendous amount of mental exercise. I look at it like all these people on mental treadmills, if you will. Exercising their minds. I think that’s a really good thing, and everybody is becoming more mentally fit. And that’s a really good thing.
Just a little bit of history, Tetris is the number one game on AT&T and Verizon, and Tetris has been number one on Verizon for over five years. As of April 2011, Tetris has surpassed 132 million paid mobile downloads. We’ve historically kicked some serious butt, and we’re not looking back, but looking forward. We’ve got a lot of new ideas, and I think Tetris is going to continue to grow, as it has over the last 25 years.