Discovering Tetris and Going to Mars: Interview with Henk Rogers

Henk Rogers

Tetris celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, yet the game’s popularity (and revenue stream) is still strong. Henk B. Rogers, CEO and president of Blue Planet Software, discovered Tetris at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 1988 and flew out to Moscow the following year to negotiate for the Game Boy rights to Tetris. During the negotiations, Henk befriended Tetris game designer Alexey Pajitnov and formed a business relationship that later became The Tetris Company– the exclusive source of all licenses to Tetris. As of 2008, Tetris made about 10% of all games sold on mobile phones in North America.

In 1995, Henk founded Blue Planet Software to manage the rights to eTetris; in 2002, he started Blue Lava Wireless, a mobile phone game developer and publisher that was later sold to JAMDAT. Henk currently has three startup software development companies– Tetris Online, which focuses on casual games; Blue Lava Technologies, developer of a photo-tagging service; and Avatar Reality, which hosts a virtual world called Blue Mars.

Henk is in Hawaii, so Play As Life conducted an email interview asking him about his work and ideas on gaming.

Tetris on the iphone

Q. You had the insight to see the potential of Tetris.  What is it about Tetris that makes it such a universal game?

A. Mathematics/geometry is a universal language.  Tetris is a game of geometric shapes.  My insight was that Tetris is simple and addictive.

Q. Are there any markets/countries that have a surprising high license rate for Tetris?

A. Korea is surprisingly high for Tetris Online because they have an amazingly high broadband penetration.

Q. Blue Mars is one of your more recent projects.  How is Blue Mars different from MMOs or Second Life?

A. We respect intellectual property so you need the “copyright” to copy stuff.  We also respect privacy and decency, so no lewd behavior in public places.  We have much better graphics and can handle 5,000 people in one place.

Q. Do you believe that the Internet will evolve to a 3-D virtual world like Blue Mars?

A. Some will, some won’t.  Not every book becomes a movie.  Those that do can rise to a new level of audiovisual excitement.  Add interactivity and companions to that and you have Blue Mars.

Q. Blue Planet, Blue Lava Wireless, Blue Mars…is it fair to say you have a strong preference for “blue” and heavenly bodies?

A. Good guess.

  • Blue Planet:Start in Hawaii, go up 25,000 miles, it’s a blue planet. A global view starting in Hawaii.
  • Blue Lava:Again Hawaii. The ocean (blue); the land (lava)
  • Blue Mars: Red is an inhospitable desert “wasteland.” Blue is an inviting planet just terra-formed into a paradise.

Q. There are pessimists who claim that games are bad for children, due to addiction, violence, and so forth.  As a game developer, publisher, and a father, how would you address these negative claims?

A. I don’t create/publish any game I don’t want my children to play.  If you think of injuries, you can say sports are bad for children.  They are not.  Do anything in moderation.

Q. You’ve done amazing contributions to the game industries in Japan and the United States, but you’re originally from Holland.  Any plans to fuel up the Dutch gaming industry?

A. My contributions today do not have national boundaries.  I build content where I happen to live.  I sell it to the world.  I happen to live in Hawaii.

Q. Have you every thought of kicking off your shoes, sitting on the beach, and just living off Tetris royalties?  What makes you want to continue pushing new grounds?

A. I considered it for about a week after my heart attack.  Then I got back into the driver’s seat.  This may be my only life.  I don’t want to leave not having done something I want to do.  I like to build stuff no one has built before.

Q. You’ve established Blue Planet Foundation, which advocates indigenous renewable energy.  Why is that important to you?  Do you think games could play a role in making change?

A. Carbon based fuel has messed up our fragile eco-system.  How can I leave a poisoned world to my grandchildren?  We made the mess.  We clean it up.  Games can educate people.  Global warming and pollution are complex models.  Games can be complex models.  We can simulate anything in a game.

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