Back in 1984, Henk Rogers hunted down Alexey Pajitnov behind the Iron Curtain. He made the trek to Moscow to meet a man who had created a fascinating puzzle game called Tetris. Rogers signed the rights to the game and licensed it Nintendo. By 1989, people had purchased more than 35 million copies.
Tetris is now sold on more than 50 platforms, and the mobile platform has become the biggest of all for Tetris. Paid downloads have now exceeded 425 million on phones and tablets to date.
Rogers recently handed over the reins of Blue Planet Software, which owns the rights to Tetris and is sole agent for the Tetris brand, to his daughter, Maya Rogers. She plans on making a lot of noise about Tetris in its big 30th anniversary year. One of the first celebrations was the airing of the world’s largest Tetris game on a 29-story building in Philadelphia. Her father, decked out in a Tetris-inspired white suit, made the rounds at the Electronic Entertainment Expo video game tradeshow last week in Los Angeles. Accompanying him was Pajitnov himself, who has moved to the U.S. and gets his share of royalties.
I talked with Maya Rogers, who previously worked at Sony Computer Entertainment America and Blue Startups, at E3. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.
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GamesBeat: What was it like growing up with Tetris?
Maya Rogers: It was a cool experience growing up around Tetris and video games in general. I grew up in Japan until I was in the sixth grade. We’d have the latest games, all the new consoles. When we emigrated to the U.S., we still had games a year before they came out. I’d have random friends come and knock on the door – “Hey, can we play video games?” It was always so much fun, being around games. There was a lot of competition in the house.
GamesBeat: Did you ever think it was going to become a job at some point?
Rogers: Growing up, I think my dad groomed me to be the person I am today. It always felt like this was a family business, that one day I would be involved. I have three other siblings, but I was the oldest. I was the one who was closest, maybe, to my dad and to the business.
My mom said, “Go get some experience. Go work for big companies.” So I did that. It wasn’t as if all of a sudden I wanted to get into the video game industry, but I met someone at Sony. It was through my dad at E3, actually, at a Sony party. Then boom, next thing you know I was working at Sony. I went from the automotive business to the video game industry. Now I feel like one of the older ones out here.
GamesBeat: Did you have an idea that you wanted to follow in your dad’s footsteps at some point and take over for him? Did you actually start talking about that at some point?
Rogers: After being in the industry for a little bit, that thought was always there. But it was never something where my dad said, “I want you to take over the company one day.” I think I stepped up and said, “I want to get involved.” He didn’t ever want to force me to do something I didn’t want to do. It was a mutual thing. When I said I was ready to come back to Hawaii and get involved in the business, he said, “Great. Come by.”
I’ve been involved in Tetris probably eight years now? We had the changeover this January, when I became CEO.
GamesBeat: You have this 30th anniversary of Tetris. You’ve been planning a lot of activities around that, I take it?
Rogers: Yeah. We had a great kickoff, as you know, at the Philly event. We did the 29-story Tetris on the side of a building. That was huge. It was such great coverage for us.
With all of our licensees, they’re doing something special for the anniversary as well. For Tetris Blitz, EA did a variant, a kind of retro Tetris game. The game turns into a bluish-greenish screen and you can play there. Facebook is doing a 30th anniversary variant. Ubisoft is doing something special with Tetris Ultimate. They’re coming out this summer to celebrate in a big way.
GamesBeat: EA’s been at it for something like 10 years now?
Rogers: I think we have six more years in the relationship, yeah.
GamesBeat: It did change on the PlayStation, though, right? From EA to Ubisoft.
Rogers: Yeah. Typically, our license deals last a few years. With EA it’s a bit longer. Whenever a new console comes out or that contract expires, we look at different licensees.
GamesBeat: Is it good to get fresh thinking into the games?
Rogers: It is. We’ve always iterated and thought of new ways to keep Tetris fresh and alive, but still stay true to the game. That’s one of the reasons why it’s lasted so long. We didn’t want to just be done with the old-school game and never get better.