Henk Rogers is an entrepreneurial video game designer who began with The Black Onyx, which he published through Bullet-Proof Software in Japan in 1983. In 1988, he successfully led the effort to secure Tetris rights for the Nintendo. Since then he has founded Blue Planet Software and Blue Lava Wireless.
SM: Henk, let’s go back to where your story begins. Where are you from, and what are the circumstances of your early days?
HR: I am originally from Holland. Both of my biological parents are Dutch-Indonesian. I lived in Holland for 11 years, and that is where I went to elementary school. My mother remarried and we moved to New York, where I went to junior high and high school. My family then moved to Japan while I went to college in Hawaii for four years. That is where I met a girl whom I followed to Japan, and I lived there for 18 years.
SM: What did you do in Japan for those 18 years?
HR: For six years I worked in my father’s gemstone business. Personal computers happened in 1982, so in 1983 I decided I could start a business by writing a computer game for the personal computer in Japan. I wrote the first role-playing game in Japan.
SM: Why did you choose to focus on games, and specifically on role-playing games?
HR: First, at the University of Hawaii we used to play board games. Dungeons and Dragons had just come out. We played it a lot and evolved the rules, so I knew the domain well. Second, I had a passion for computer science. I loved programming, and there was nothing else I would rather have done than program computers.
SM: Was your degree in computer science?
HR: Computer science was my major, although I ended up dropping out. Basically I only took computer courses.
SM: You combined your interest in computer programming with role-playing games and built a program specifically for Japan?
HR: It was for the Japanese PC. At that time the Japanese companies were all trying to make their own personal computer. They all had different machines that had nothing to do with the IBM PC. I developed the game in 1983 for the NEC 8801.
SM: Did you choose the NEC 8801 because it was the most popular machine?
HR: It looked like it was the next most popular machine coming out. NEC also sounded as though they had a vision for the future of their computers. I had done some work with Hitachi before that and realized that they had no clue as to the future of personal computers and therefore they did not really understand how to get people to make software. It was very strange.
SM: What was the distribution channel for your game?
HR: Originally the game plan was that I would find a publisher in Japan. I went to SoftBank, a distributor, and asked them if they could introduce me to a publisher. One of their reps told me I should publish the game myself, which led me to starting my own company.
SM: What does that mean? Did you have to raise money?
HR: I did not quite know all of that. I had a friend from the gem business who happened to visit Japan. I described my business to him and explained that I would need some money to get the business started. I demoed the game to him and quickly had a crowd of kids going ‘oohhh’ and ‘aahhh’ while I showed it off. He bit. He asked me how much money I needed, and I told him I thought I would need $50,000. He laughed and told me that I really did not know anything about business. I did have a commitment from SoftBank that they would order 600 copies.
SM: What was the price range?
HR: The retail was 7,800 yen. I felt that the game had a much longer play time. Another game might give 10 hours of entertainment, but this game would give 40 hours. Even if other games were 6,800 yen my game was a better value. I also told SoftBank that I wanted 55% instead of 50%. They balked at that a little bit, but I did get a better deal.