Alexy Pajitnov and Henk Rogers on selling the next 100 million units of Tetris mobile

Community-based version for smartphones coming next

Alexy Pajitnov and Henk Rogers on selling the next 100 million units of Tetris mobile
| Tetris

EA Mobile is rightly excited about Tetris today. The Russian-invented phenomenon passing the 100 million paid downloads mark since 2005 is a significant event for mobile gaming.

We're becoming a little desensitised to astronomically huge figures, what with Apple counting iPhone downloads by the billion, but it's a staggering achievement in terms of demonstrating that mobile phone owners are happy to pay for games they really love.

From Russia with blocks

Designed by Alexy Pajitnov in 1984, the early story of Tetris was characterised by intrigue as Western companies tried to deal with Cold War Russia to commercialise it.

Only when it came to Game Boy, helping Nintendo shift over 100 million units, did its addictive qualities become known as a gaming hallmark.

"[When I made Tetris] I didn't really think about numbers," laughs Pajitnov, when asked how many copies of Tetris he originally expected to sell. "I would have been happy to get it to one percent of the population!"

The celebrations now ringing through the halls of EA Mobile and The Tetris Company (run by the original team of Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers) is linked to the many mobile versions and spin-offs however, which have come together to make the game the most downloaded mobile title of all time.

A Titanic achievement

"In the mobile gaming space, I think this achievement is on a par with the film Titanic making $1 billion," says Rogers, the man who first licensed Tetris for Nintendo and became a close friend of designer Pajitnov.

Surprisingly, the rights to the Tetris game only reverted to Pajitnov in 1996, who'd made little money from the game until that point. According to Rogers, it wasn't long after The Tetris Company regained control of the game that it made its way onto the mobile platform.

"I think the first download was in Japan," Rogers recalls, "because they had game-enabled handsets before the rest of the planet did. That would probably be in 1999, or 2000."

This first mobile version was licensed to a Japanese company to develop, but since 2005 and its acquisition of JAMDAT, EA Mobile has taken control of the plethora of mobile Tetris games out there to build an empire from those iconic blocks, as EA's worldwide publishing veep Adam Sussman explains.

"Today Tetris has evolved to be on every major platform around the world," he begins. "It's usually the first game we port when we move to a new platform. We have it on 800 handsets and distributed across 300 channels globally."

4.8 billion handsets to go

And the success of the game's most recent evolution, Tetris Revolution, has the developers confident that this is only the first 100 million downloads. There are still a lot of people who don't have a mobile phone yet, and once they do, Henk Rogers is sure they'll have Tetris installed.

"1.2 billion people on the planet have handsets," he explains, "so that leaves another 4.8 billion who don't have handsets, and therefore don't have access to Tetris... so I think there's still a lot of room for us to grow. To double in size, actually."

Indeed, the current hottest gaming platform - the iPhone - has Tetris, and is enjoying massive success, with plenty of room for new editions and new players, says Adam Sussman.

"Tetris is the number ten best selling application, not just game, today on the iPhone. The core Tetris is still the best selling game, but Tetris Revolution is doing very well too," he explains.

Next Tetris gets social

So if EA and The Tetris Company want to make a start on the next 100 million games, how about bringing Tetris Revolution to iPhone? We asked Henk Rogers about the future plans for the franchise.

"Guaranteed we're going to have a much more interesting community-based version of Tetris coming up on next generation handsets," he says.

"More than half of our consumers are adult female, and they're the perfect target audience for community-based games. I think that's where that whole demographic is headed."

Right now it might be hard to imagine exactly what shape a Tetris social game might take, but considering its global popularity, it makes good sense to expand on its social features in the future.

Aside from this though, one of the most intriguing aspects of Tetris that the same core game continues to sell and keep selling, and this represents a serious slice of EA Mobile's profit pie.

"He's EA, so he can't tell you," laughs Henk Rogers when Sussman fails to provide specific numbers. "But I can tell you it's a lot!"

Here's to the next 100 million.

Thanks to Adam Sussman, Henk Rogers and Alexey Pajitnov for taking the time to chat with us.
Spanner Spencer
Spanner Spencer
Yes. Spanner's his real name, and he's already heard that joke you just thought of. Although Spanner's not very good, he's quite fast, and that seems to be enough to keep him in a regular supply of free games and away from the depressing world of real work.