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Tetris CEO Maya Rogers discusses creativity, longevity and 40th anniversary plans for the iconic gaming brand.
Maya, I’m delighted to connect. To kick us off, can you tell me about your role at Tetris?
I’m the CEO of Tetris, which is the exclusive agent for the Tetris brand. We are a licensing business with a network of partners that includes major video game publishers, such as Nintendo and Sega, as well as many partners in electronics, toys, apparel, lifestyle goods, entertainment and more.
This year, we launched a movie called Tetris, starring Taron Egerton, which is available exclusively on Apple TV+. If you have seen the movie, you’ll know that my father, Henk Rogers, discovered Tetris at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in the Eighties and chased the rights to the Soviet Union on a tourist visa. Long story short, my father secured rights to Tetris including the Game Boy, and popularised the iconic game that it is today.
I’m glad you mentioned the movie. How has that been to see your family story told in this way?
It’s truly incredible to see our family story portrayed in such a captivating manner through the movie. The process of bringing this film to life was quite a journey, and we were involved in every step of its production. While certain aspects of the movie may have been embellished, we ensured that the core essence of our story was conveyed authentically. Watching the movie for the first time was an incredibly entertaining experience, to the point where I momentarily forgot that it was a portrayal of my own family’s journey.
(From Left: Roger Kiyomura, Maya Rogers, Henk Rogers, Akemi Rogers, Hannie Rogers, Leo Rogers)
The surreal aspect lies in the fact that this film immortalises our family’s story, ensuring that it will be cherished for generations to come. It has had a profound impact on me, my family, and even future generations. It’s truly remarkable to witness how our family’s tale, which encompasses the popularisation of Tetris worldwide, is now accessible to everyone through this movie.
What makes this film even more special is that it appeals not only to Tetris players but also to a wider audience who may not have played the game. The process of how Tetris came to be is a fascinating story that many people are unaware of, and the movie effectively brings this journey to light. It’s remarkable to be the first movie focused on the business and development side of the video game industry, amidst the influx of video game-related films being released. Witnessing this unique perspective unfold on the big screen is truly a joyous experience.
“We don’t have characters, so that fuels creativity and enables us to be co-branded with anything.”
Absolutely! Tetris seems to have kickstarted a wave of ‘brand biopics.’ I’ll be interested to see where that trend goes. Has there been a noticeable impact on the licensing or game front as a result of the movie?
Certainly. In the first weekend that the movie launched, we had a huge uptick in game downloads. I’ve spoken to many people who started playing Tetris again, and now it seems like a lot of old industry friends are approaching me with new business ideas!
The timing couldn’t be better, considering that next year marks our 40th anniversary. We are actively seeking partners to collaborate with us on this milestone celebration. The increased attention and positive reception generated by the movie has created a fantastic opportunity to establish new partnerships and embark on exciting ventures. It’s an exhilarating time for Tetris, and we are thrilled to explore the possibilities that lie ahead.
40 years – a huge milestone! When did licensing enter the picture?
We launched the merchandise program around 10 years ago. Tetris had already been a brand, but mostly in gaming. Tetris is not just a game, it’s a lifestyle. Everyone that has played the game can relate to the ‘Tetris Effect’, where you see Tetris everywhere! It all stems from the human need to create order out of chaos – Tetris satisfies that need.
What were some of those first licensing deals for the brand?
Tetris Jenga and a Tetris Bop It were one of the first toy deals that we did at the launch of our merchandising program. Since then, we’ve got into fashion and footwear. We did a PUMA collaboration with their RS-X shows that was really exciting, and now we’ve done deals with Diadora and FILA.
We’ve done other street fashion clothing collections with brands like H&M, Zara, Uniqlo, Pull&Bear & New Era, which has been really exciting to see Tetris come over to streetwear. These fashion brands cater to a younger audience and that’s really exciting for me.
The original Tetris players are in their forties and beyond, but now we continue to reach a younger generation of gamers through new game launches. Games like Tetris on mobile by PlayStudios, Tetris 99 on Nintendo Switch and Tetris Effect: Connected across multiple platforms have helped expand the reach of players. Tetris is a game that transcends time – we have to match that with great consumer products.
What is it about the brand that captures the imaginations of designers at licensees – from fashion designers to board game inventors? Why is it an exciting IP to create for?
Tetris is one of the most recognised brands in the world – there are the iconic Tetriminos in seven different colors, the music, and of course the gameplay. Whenever you see or hear any of these things people know that it’s Tetris.
Ultimately, Tetris is joy. So whenever Tetris is translated into a product, it triggers those happy memories for people. It’s the Tetris Effect – we believe Tetris is everywhere – so we want to make sure to offer Tetris as different product iterations that spark creativity and joy.
We don’t have characters, so that fuels creativity and enables us to be co-branded with anything. We love for partners to think outside of the box. We want them to push the envelope to see how the brand can transcend beyond the game.
Digging into that, how do you create effective brand extensions that surprise consumers, while still feeling on-brand? How do you bend the brand without breaking it?
It comes back to the connection to the game. Anybody can play Tetris. It’s universal, so we want to reflect that in consumer products. Does the product have those recognisable moments that spark that connection with the game? Whether it’s home decor or stationery or consumables – the products that offer the connection between consumer and game are the ones that translate the best.
Tetris is so iconic, we need to embrace the pieces, the music and the gameplay. It has to evoke that feeling of joy that the game brings people.
We’ve mentioned a few products already, but are there any launches that come to mind as great examples of how creative partners can be with your brand?
I’d say the Tetris board game from Buffalo Games. It’s a great translation from game to board game and it’s become one of our best-selling products. That is a perfect example of how partners can execute a different type of gameplay with Tetris.
Great example; it looks fantastic. I’m also curious, are Henk and Alexey interested in the consumer products side of things?
Absolutely! Especially when it comes to something that involves gameplay. We often consult with them whenever we have a game design related project. We usually have board meetings around Licensing Expo in Las Vegas and it’s one of Alexey’s shows to visit! Seeing the consumer products laid out in our booth showcases how vibrant Tetris is outside of just the video game, and that goes to show you the power of the brand.
I can imagine. Seeing how his creation has expanded beyond the game must be a thrill! Now, before we wrap up, if we look ahead, what are some key opportunities for Tetris moving forward?
Tetris is an evergreen brand. One reason why we have had such longevity is, of course, that Tetris is inherently a great game. But a second reason is that we make sure Tetris is available wherever our players are, so we are constantly expanding into new opportunities. Some of the stuff we are working on now include E-sports, luxury brands, Tetris game shows, commemorative books – there are lots of areas that are exciting to us.
All sounds exciting – especially the game show!
We’ve had conversations… Imagine having a Tetris-themed obstacle course! There’s all kinds of stuff in the pipeline!
There’s also the Classic Tetris World Championships – that was a fan event that kept growing and growing. We’re also looking at ways we can tap into that market. We’re trying to figure out if we can put out a product that enables people to compete with each other.
Exciting times. You mentioned earlier that Tetris is 40 next year… There are plenty of popular games from the Eighties that haven’t gone on to establish themselves as evergreen brands. Why has Tetris endured and expanded where others haven’t?
We’ve protected our IP, so nobody else can do the core Tetris game mechanic. Look at ‘match-3’ games – anyone can take that style of game and do their own version. You can’t with Tetris. That makes us unique.
“Anybody can play Tetris. It’s universal, so we want to reflect that in consumer products.”
It also comes down to the game itself being so, so good. That’s why it transcends generations. Look at chess – the game transcends time because it’s a compelling game.
Maya, this has been great. I have one last question – what helps you have ideas?
Taking time away without any distractions. It’s important to have that meditative space. People have ideas in the shower because they’ve tuned everything else out. That’s when your inner voice comes out and ideas start to spark. It’s important but hard to do. Ideas are everywhere, you just have to be open to receive them.
On that, you’re based in Hawaii. Does that contribute to your creativity at all?
Absolutely. We’re in Hawaii because we have roots here and choose to be here. Living here gives you a different outlook on life. We’re not fighting traffic to get to work – we’re more connected to the earth. It’s important to have that connection to the land and living in Hawaii helps you have that.
Fantastic answer, I’m on the next flight! Maya, this has been great. I have one final, final question – and it’s a big one… What’s your top score on Tetris?
Whatever it is, it’s better than yours!
Ha! I don’t doubt that for a minute! Thanks again.
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