It appears Tetris is back.
Not that it ever went away, but the classic puzzle game is once again in the headlines and winning awards. First there was the PSVR game Tetris Effect, which won numerous critical plaudits when it arrived late last year. And then came Tetris 99 for Nintendo Switch, a game that won similar praise and has been a real selling point for Nintendo's new online service.
Both games have arrived at a fortuitous time for The Tetris Company, which is celebrating the franchise's 35th anniversary this year. Although the timing is somewhat coincidental, because both Tetris Effect and Tetris 99 have been a long time in the making.
"With Tetris Effect, we have known [producer Tetsuya] Mizuguchi for years and years and years," explains Maya Rogers, CEO and president of Blue Planet Software, the exclusive agent for the Tetris brand. "He's a friend. He's always wanted to make a Tetris game, back to his Lumines days on PSP. But back then the licence wasn't available.
"This was something we'd always talk about, and it has been in the making for many, many, many years. With the whole VR platform coming out, this was the perfect opportunity. It was very much a collaborative development. What would a Tetris game look like in VR? What are we going after? What can we do different? We wanted to go for something where you come home from work and you get transported to another place. There were a lot of fun discussions, lunches and dinners before it came to fruition.
"With Nintendo, too, it was definitely a long conversation. It started probably two years ago, before development even started. The Nintendo relationship came out of another relationship that we have. It wasn't a case of us approaching them or them approaching us."
There's more Tetris to come this year. The firm is teaming up with Red Bull on numerous projects and is planning on further games, too. Rogers says that they're always targeting new platforms, even those that have yet to find an audience.
"The reason why we've been around for so many years is because we've done that," she says. "Tetris is a game that people look for first with new platforms. A good example of that was on mobile. When mobile gaming started there was no real IP. It was all generic games like Snake, or random bowling games. We saw that opportunity and we were the first really true gaming brand to be on mobile. That was the biggest success we've had since the Game Boy days."
"Mobile was the biggest success we've had since the Game Boy days"
The Tetris Company is deeply involved in the development of these projects, Rogers insists. The various stakeholders don't simply licence out the IP and hope for the best. There are weekly calls with the different development teams, and every asset must be approved.
"We are involved as much as possible," she says. "Especially now with everything being a service-based game, it is very important that we have a good relationship with all of our partners. That involves being kept abreast with the dev team."
Moving forward, Rogers' big push for Tetris is in establishing it outside of games. There has always been some Tetris merchandise, but the team is eager to make Tetris a lifestyle brand, akin to other classic IP like Pac-Man and Space Invaders.
"Right now, retro is really hot," she notes. "There's a resurgence of older games within the mainstream. What's cool about that is that we're getting interest from a lot of merchandise companies who weren't interested in Tetris before. You see young kids wearing retro t-shirts with games and brands that they don't even know. They probably haven't even played the game.
"The 35th anniversary for us is about going beyond gaming, and making Tetris a lifestyle"
"Also, a lot of brands are coming out with a lot of anniversaries themselves. We're coming out with collaborations with other brands celebrating an anniversary. For us, as we have had some success with the recent games, there is a lot more interest in doing more lifestyle goods. We have Tetris diapers. The original players are having kids now."
Yep, Tetris diapers. Tetris shoes. Tetris blankets. Tetris t-shirts. There's been a steady stream of new licensing deals announced by The Tetris Company, and there's more to come.
"One of the exciting things we've announced is a collaboration with Puma, coming out with street-style gear in October," Rogers says. "35th anniversary for us is about going beyond gaming, and making Tetris a lifestyle. That is what we've been working on for the last few years. When you're organising stuff, or you're walking around and see some shapes, the icons of Tetris are everywhere. They're all around. And we want to embrace that beyond gaming.
"But we are also really excited, because video games are our bread and butter. And we are continuing to develop new games with our business partners, and we will have a couple more big launches later this year that we're really excited about."
The last six months have been big for Tetris. The brand has remained popular during the course of its 35 years, and it has always been a hit with critics, but it has refreshed its relevance in gaming circles via Tetris Effect and Tetris 99. And with more new platforms and technologies on the way, we should expect to see much more from the brand in the years to come.
"Tetris is a game that transcends generations," Rogers concludes. "Sometimes we get compared to chess, which is a timeless game that has lived for thousands of years. We feel that Tetris is the same, except our medium is the video screen. That's a testament to the concept of falling blocks and clearing lines; it is something that speaks to the human need and want to create order out of chaos. For us, it is a matter of making sure that the legacy lives on new platforms, and on new forms of entertainment for many generations to come."