SM: Where did you find Tetris?
HR: I found it at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
SM: What was the story of Tetris? I have to admit that when I was doing my bachelors I got addicted to Tetris, and I am not a game person.
HR: Me, too. When you go to a show like CES, you have only two to three minutes to get an impression of a game, and then you have to go on to the next one. You have to go through lots of games and negotiate. I stopped by the Tetris machine, and it looked like a very simple game. There were no lines so I figured I would give it a try.
I played and found myself playing and playing and playing. I went away and played more. I did that four or five times. I usually don’t have time to play a game a second time. I was impressed that I got hooked on this game so quickly and that it was a lot deeper of an activity than its initial appearance gave. Once you play it you can’t stop. Right then, I went after the rights to that game.
SM: Who owned the rights to that game?
HR: It was the Soviet Union. Alexey Pajitnov created the game. At that time, at the show, I did not know who had the rights. I looked at the box and contacted the companies that had the copyright notices. There was a US company publishing it called Spectrum Holobyte, which is now long gone. They had gotten the license from a company called Mirrorsoft, which was part of the Mirror Group. They had licensed it from a Hungarian company called Andromeda. Andromeda had licensed it from the Russian Ministry of Software.
SM: That is really amazing. Did you try to license through all of those intermediaries, or did you go back to the Russian ministry?
HR: I knew Mirrorsoft so I negotiated with them. Somehow they never returned my faxes. Finally I got to talk to a human and he said that their sister company, Spectrum Holobyte, was coming to Japan to license the game. They came to Japan, where at the time the biggest company was Ascii, who also represented Microsoft in Japan. Spectrum Holobyte went to Ascii and offered them Tetris. Their smart guys looked at it and felt that it was too retro for Ascii.
At that point I made a letter of intent to license Tetris on every platform I could think of in the Japanese market. It is not that simple of a story. A couple of weeks later Spectrum Holobyte called back and apologized, saying that while they were in Japan Mirrorsoft licensed those rights for Nintendo to Atari Games.
This is where it gets complicated. I had to negotiate with Atari Games to get the rights to Nintendo in Japan. That year I published Tetris on Nintendo and on eight different PC platforms in Japan.
SM: What were the terms of these licensing agreements, and what were retailers selling it for?
HR: I probably went down to a lower price, so I think we were back at 6,800 yen. The distribution terms were the same as I had for The Black Onyx. Of course Nintendo’s business was new for me. Their business was environment was very different for me because I was a PC publisher prior. Tetris was my third product on the Nintendo machine.