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Posted on December 21, 2011, 10:37 pm

"Tetris is one of the best-known electronic games of all time, and it's still going strong. EA Mobile along with The Tetris Company relaunched a re-imagined version the game this month for iOS. The game is currently #7 in the App Store, which is a testament to the game's continuing appeal.

Tetris was originally created by Alexey Pajitnov in the USSR back in 1984, becoming the first game exported from the USSR when it was published by Spectrum Holobyte for the IBM PC and the Commodore 64. Since then Tetris has appeared on nearly every device with a screen and a CPU, achieving huge success as a pack-in title on the original Game Boy from Nintendo; the game can be found on more than 50 different platforms worldwide.

As of April 2011, the Tetris game surpassed 132 million paid mobile downloads, making it one of the best-selling mobile games ever; it's the #1 game on the two top mobile carriers in the US. Tetris was the #1 game on iOS for two weeks in December; on Facebook theTetris Battle game has over 2.6 million daily average users (DAU) and 8.5 million monthly average users (MAU), with over 1 billion games played monthly, and it's among the top game applications on Facebook. Tetris has been named “The Greatest Game of All Time”, and came in second place in IGN's “100 Greatest Video Games Of All Time” list in 2007.

Part of the new push for Tetrisincludes an array of merchandise based around the game. It takes on added significance when you consider that Angry Birdsmerchandise accounts for some $1 million a month in revenue. Some of the Tetris merchandise includes board and card games, wall coverings, clothing, mugs, cufflinks, and even lottery tickets. The Tetris Company hired Roger Dean, noted artist from the 70s (for his Yes album covers and later for Psygnosis computer game covers) to create a new logo and work with them on merchandising efforts.

IndustryGamers took a look at where Tetris is at, and spoke with Henk Rogers, Managing Director of The Tetris Company, about the game, merchandising, and its appeal.

IndustryGamers: What can you tell me about the new merchandising push for Tetris?

Henk Rogers: I think we've left a lot of not only money, but marketing and outreach to the community on the table all these years, because Tetris really hasn't had a merchandising push. It's always been in the back of our minds. We are having a huge amount of visibility in the last year or so as we are rising in the virtual game space. We have been huge in the mobile space. Our artist is Roger Dean [famed artists for Yes album covers]. He likes to point out to me that Yes made most of their money in merchandising, and he did their logo and he did our logo. It's kind of crazy for us not to make that into a profit center, so we have. We decided we're going to do this. We are working with Roger to figure out the next things to do. We love games, but I think merchandising is something more decorative than functional.

IG: What sort of merchandising are you coming out with for Tetris?

HR: It's more than the logo, it's how to present the brand. Roger knows something about that, having many years of experience. He's our art director and we run ideas past him. He'll read us the riot act and say “This is crap!” or “This is bad.”

IG: It must be more difficult to create merchandise around Tetris because you don't have characters or a story line, it's abstract.

HR: This is a funny thing, we call it the Tetris effect. If you look at a picture and there's a stack of blocks somehow, like windows in a building, or containers, or brickwork, you seeTetris blocks in it. Why is that? Because your mind is trained to see these patterns and you pick them up very quickly. People in normal life when they walk around and see things they see blocks. This is in effect free advertising for us. I think this is a very compelling thing. If you wear a piece of clothing and it's got a very subtle pattern in it somehow, someone else that plays Tetris will lock onto your item of clothing and say “You're a Tetris player.” That's the first point of fashion, to get somebody to look at you. From that point you can have a conversation. That first thing of having somebody pick you out of a crowd in a room because you have a Tetris pattern somehow, that's a really powerful thing. That's the first thing, you've got to get her to look at you!

IG: In creating this merchandise, what do you feel the Tetris brand stands for? What impression are people going to get if they think you like Tetris?

HR: You could say it has something to do with IQ, but it's along the lines of somebody saying “I like to exercise, I'm physically fit.” I think we're talking about Tetris being a sign that you're mentally fit. In today's world, what's more important, physical fitness or mental fitness? I daresay that mental fitness is more important in today's world. We're no longer gearing up to become laborers. We're going to be working in virtual worlds and the kind of mental acuity that comes from videogames is probably more relevant than the ability to run a marathon. I'm not saying that people shouldn't run marathons, but this is the mental equivalent.

IG: Reintroducing Tetris for mobile platforms, you're attempting broaden the user base even further to help merchandise sales.

HR: Our primary business is to make a better game, to make the game experience more compelling. The merchandising is a very nice thing but it's not our core business. We hope that we can always be maintaining the game itself as our core business. The new development in Tetris is a thing we call Tetris Touch. It's always bothered me that the world is moving in a direction away from buttons and towards touch pads. In the original Tetris, you had 4 buttons, eventually we added three buttons so on consoles and handheld consoles you had seven buttons. This addition of new buttons is something that kids are really good at, they figure out what button does what really quickly. But if you're talking about the rest of the population the more buttons there are the more complicated it is and the smaller your audience becomes.

Henk Rogers, Managing Director of The Tetris Company

So we've worked really hard to reduce the number of buttons and we've gotten it down to one button. And the one button is you touch the screen to show the tetromino where you want it to go. It does the work for you. It's sort of like the difference between a standard transmission and an automatic transmission. The outline of your choices are on the screen and you touch one, and the tetromino goes right there. It relieves you from having to push lots and lots of buttons to achieve that same result. Tetris purists will say “Aw c'mon you can't do that, you're taking my game away!” But we'll include that old mode, but for new people this is a huge breakthrough and will cause a resurgence ofTetris on devices like the iPad and the iPhone.

IG: Because there are so many more people using these devices.

HR: Our audience is not necessarily gamers, although we don't not appeal to gamers. We appeal to a much, much wider audience.

Everybody is not only capable but interested in playing computer games, but we as an industry have failed to bring them something that appeals to their way of enjoying a computer game. We think we've broken through that little barrier with casual games. Look at the advent of social gaming it kind of feels like a game withut a game inside, yet it's played by countless people. We don't need to get dressed up and kill dragons to have a little fun with our friends. We are now in the process a simplifying traditional games so that the rest of the people can play them.

IG: And also connecting people so they can compare their Tetris scores.

HR: If I had to play golf by myself would I still play it? The answer is probably not. The social aspect of sports is huge. The social aspect of computer games should be huge and traditionally hasn't been because these devices are pretty powerful and they try to simulate your friends being there, but they're not very good at that. It's much better with communications to actually bring your friends to the table so that you're actually playing with your friends. That takes gaming to a whole new level. For example, Scrabble with the computer versus Scrabble with your friends, it's not even the same thing! You could quit that game in the middle and nobody would care, but if you're playing that game with your friends there's all this conversation that's so interesting.

When you're playing FarmVille you're still playing by yourself, your friend isn't actually there. More and more your friend is actually going to be there and maybe you'll find time to chat with him. Then the reason for playing the game changes - it's a lot more like golf.

IG: It's something to do when you're with your friends, it gives you a point of conversation.

HR: I also believe when you go to dinner with someone dinner is just an excuse to sit at the other end of the table and have a conversation. If you said let's go have a conversation for an hour, that would be kind of weird. But if you play golf for four hours you get a tremendous amount of conversation in those four hours. Tetris is one of those activities that has core value and interest as an activity.

IG: Where do see the greatest opportunity for Tetris, mobile or social?

HR: I'm not so sure there's a difference between those two platforms. The mobile platform is a mobile social platform.

IG: Angry Birds became huge, and they get 40% of their revenue from merchandising. How do you see Tetris' opportunity compared to Angry Birds in terms of share of mind?

HR: Unless we come up with cute little aliens, I don't see how we're going to compete with them on the merchandising. Any time you have a character like an Angry Birds character, the games that have those as their central theme, they become popular and then they go away. Tetris has outlasted so many of those games, we've been around for 25 years. Again I like to compare it to a sport, in the beginning it's an activity, like golf was an activity, then it became a sport. I think once people have played it more than 20 or 25 years you can say it's here to stay, it's a sport, it's no longer a fad. Angry Birds is cute and everybody plays it for a while but they get burned out and move on and they will play another game. But Tetrisis like Happy Birthday, it keeps on going. Everybody else has games that come and go, they make the hit parade, but these are all temporary. You have to work really hard to get your unknown game to be #1, but when we re-released Tetris it became #1 even though we didn't do any marketing. We have an unfair advantage, I gotta say. I'd rather have the goose that lays the golden egg.

IG: The goose is a more valuable bird than the angry ones.

HR: Like the turkey, you eat it at Thanksgiving and that's it.

IG: My sons are big gamers and they still play Tetris.

HR: It's more your wife we're concerned about than your sons. Our demographic is generally adult women. It basically says I'm not a gamer but I play Tetris. There are a lot more people that are in that category than there are people who say I'm a gamer and I'll go home and play games tonight. I'd rather be in that market.

We relaunched Tetris Touch on mobile. When Tetris comes out it's not on the back of a multi-million dollar advertising blitz; we released it and then the core Tetris fan got on it right away and then it spread to their friends. It's like a virus and everyone catches it sooner or later. This isn't something where somebody has invented a cure for, you can come back and catch the Tetris bug over and over again. People will continue to come back and catch the bug, and that's what we do.

IG: And you hope there is no vaccine.

HR: There is no vaccine."


Comment by Rosti_LFC on December 24, 2011, 4:35 pm
Not really a fail from a business perspective, but definitely not the most promising reading :
Comment by Chopin on December 21, 2011, 11:58 pm
HR: It's more your wife we're concerned about than your sons. Our demographic is generally adult women. It basically says I'm not a gamer but I play Tetris. There are a lot more people that are in that category than there are people who say I'm a gamer and I'll go home and play games tonight. I'd rather be in that market." Fail lol

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