Tetris From Russia From With Love

This an an hour-long documentary I caught on a recent flight, originally shown by the BBC back in 2004. At time of blogging, Youtube also hosted it in 10-min snippets.

What a fascinating tale. And what fantastic sales tips emerge.

Tetris (so beautifully named by the creator himself from the Greek for falling) proved a breakthrough concept in so many ways. I’ll try and briefly sum up the saga first.


1985, and Russian programmer adapts widespread jigsaw-block puzzle to the PC.

It spreads behind the Iron Curtain like wildfire. A middleman that licensed games into Britain through Hungarian discovery came across it. He did a deal with the programmer’s boss and licensed it to the Maxwell empire; their PC games division, Mirrorsoft.

Supposed socialist Robert Maxwell, self-styled Cap’n Bob, was one of the biggest crooks in history.

They reneged on their royalty payments.

The Soviet state machine, who ‘owned’ the game of course, parachuted a chap in to see what was happening.

At the same time, an American video game ‘fixer’ living in Japan, also came across it and desired the rights.

An amazing movie-style act occurred when these three main players simultaneously showed up in Moscow to ‘negotiate’ for the rights.

The American, deservedly, won the day.

And after a huge battle between eventual victors Nintendo (behind the fixer) and vanquished Atari (tied to Maxwell) Tetris conquered the world.


Henk Rogers is the American that did this deal.

He exhibited some tremendous sales savvy throughout.

The time to strike

He truly seized his moment. When the agent withheld the money – indeed no monies seemed to materialise at all – it was the perfect chance to talk to interested ears. Incumbent frustrates client. An age-old door opener.

Don’t bully

Maxwell’s youngest son, Kevin, decided to strongarm the Russian in charge. He telexed threats, claimed to be able to call in political favours, and tried to scare him into a rapid, and one-sided, deal. Henk, on the other hand chose a different route.

Openness

Royalty visibility was an obvious concern for the Russians. They felt barriers of smokes and mirrors from the Maxwell side. Whereas Henk made the point of showing how he would be open, transparent and honest with his reporting, and settlements.

Find a friend

Henk always tried to ‘find a friend’. Akin perhaps to your ‘champion’ in the later sales parlance. He did so in the inventor, Alexey Pajitnov. They got on famously. Bonding over their love of video games in general, and even planning together what ‘Tetris 2’ could do. When the chief had to make a decision, he was crystal clear that Alexey voted for Henk, and that a level of trust had built that was totally absent with the Maxwells.

Glasnost & Perestroika

Henk and his new friends took advantage of the changing political environment. They came under intense pressure from shadowy authority figures to back Maxwell. But they held out. They jumped on the new levers of openness and freedom trumpeted by Gorbachev to gain the courage to stick to their guns and persuade their bosses their decision was the only one to go for. Those on the ground can get their way.

King Closers

And when the deal was in the balance, Henk asked if it would be closed if Nintendo’s top two men came to Moscow with him. The answer was “absolutely”. Minoru Arakawa and Howard Lincoln duly flew in and the contract got signed. They demonstrated they really cared about this deal.

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