Local man responsible for Tetris' international success

Henk Rogers
Henk Rogers

By Leland Kim - bio | email

DOWNTOWN HONOLULU (KHNL) - It's called the "greatest game of all time" by Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine. Tetris was born in Russia, but a local man gave life to it, making it an international phenomenon.

This addictive video puzzle game has mesmerized millions of gamers for a quarter of a century. Tetris has appeared on virtually every video game console, selling more than 70 million units.

"The game itself has a core, how can I say it, magnetism," said Henk Rogers, president and CEO of Blue Planet Software, Inc. "When you play it, you want to play again. You get frustrated. You want to play again."

Its creator Alexey Pajitnov got the name Tetris from the Greek word "tetra" which is means four, and the word "tennis" because that's his favorite game.

But it was Rogers, who saw Tetris' potential at a consumer electronics show in 1988.

"And I found Tetris in a booth," he said. "It wasn't a big deal. They didn't think it was a big deal. It was like sort of one of their many, many, many products."

He realized it had world-wide appeal, but almost lost it to a competitor.

"They looked at it and they said it's too retro for us," said Rogers. "Can you imagine that? In 1989, they're saying it's too much of a retro game. It's too simple."

That simple game that started 25 years ago became an international phenomenon.

And Tetris has evolved over the years. This version for the iPhone doesn't have a control pad. You just simply touch, drag and drop."

Adding new bells and whistles have kept Tetris popular year after year.

"It's like going from a 1980s car to a 2009 car," said Rogers. "There's all kinds of creature comforts in the game now that didn't exist back then."

That's why it's the number one game on mobile phones, downloaded more than 70 million times, and commands 11 percent of all games sold in North America.

"We may not be the number one game at any given time, but we're always in the top 10," said Rogers. "And other games they come and they go. They come and they go but Tetris is there steady. I'd rather have that one."

Slow and steady: a lesson from the tortoise and the hare applied to the world of video games.

Rogers is planning something special for Tetris' 25th anniversary later this year. He is also forming "The Tetris Cup," an international tournament for Tetris players.