Called the Tetris Effect, it’s the term Tetris players use to describe how they still see Tetris pieces and are inspired by the game even after they’ve finished playing. It’s also the name of the media campaign launched by Blue Planet Software, the company that manages the exclusive licensing rights to the Tetris brand, and its PR firm, Grayling Connecting Point, to celebrate the game’s 25th anniversary. 

“The campaign started off with a variety of features talking about what Tetris as a brand meant and looking at how fans had digested Tetris over the years,” said Curtis Sparrer, vice president at Grayling Connecting Point. “Branding the campaign the Tetris Effect seemed like a perfect fit.” 

Grayling also developed a Tetris documentary that it distributed to media sources around the world, contacted core gaming media outlets, and held a special event at E3—the electronics game show in Los Angeles—all of which coincided with the game’s 25th anniversary. 

As press releases and articles came out and fans gathered in Los Angeles to take part in gaming session assemblies, it got Google’s attention. Google changed its homepage Doodle in nearly every country, starting in Japan at midnight on the anniversary of the day Alexey Pajitnov developed the Tetris game. 

That one action resulted in a spike in online traffic, in addition to the 1 billion media impressions already accrued from the media outreach effort. Then, in January 2010, the Tetris game became the first game to sell 100 million mobile downloads. Lisa Linnenkohl, head of licensing and business development at Blue Planet Software, said these and newer developments made it clear that the time to push the Tetris brand to the fore of the licensing industry was at hand. 

“There is a lot of user demand for Tetris-branded products,” she said. “At Fall Toy Show in Dallas followed by the Hong Kong toy show last October, retailers expressed great interest in purchasing Tetris-branded products, and fan-based momentum continues to grow. Now is the time.”

Maintaining momentum

Blue Planet Software is making sure the momentum doesn’t disappear by approaching the licensing community to expand the game’s electronic portfolio while looking into how to develop non-electronic merchandise. 

In September 2010, the video game publisher developed a partnership with Licensing Works, LLC, a merchandise agency out of Los Angeles. Linnenkohl said the relationship worked well from the start because both companies understand that the Tetris brand is a lifestyle brand with a variety of players, both hardcore and casual. 

“We went to the Licensing Expo last June in Las Vegas. We were part of Licensing Works’ booth and had tremendous responses,” she said. “Since then, we’ve finalized deals with Techno Source for board games, with Fundex for card and dice games, with Changes for juniors apparel, and with Pollard for lottery tickets in Canada and the US.”

Several other non-electronic merchandising deals were announced at this year’s Toy Fair, including categories such as wall graphics. Linnenkohl said the key to making sure non-electronics products are successful is to consider what fans love about the game. 

“People know the brand, associate with it, see the Tetriminos’ bright colors and know it’s Tetris,” she said. “They want Tetris products, so we’re looking at categories that fit like Tetris waffles, chocolates, mints, etc.”

Blue Planet Software and Licensing Works focus on these qualities when brainstorming with licensees on potential new products, such as Tetris modular furniture for college dorm rooms. “We look at what’s core to the game and what excites the fans and find ways to translate that into merchandise,” said Linnenkohl.

If you build it…

But that doesn’t mean Blue Planet Software is overlooking the brand’s roots as a game. Recently, EA Mobile launched iPad and smartphone versions of the game, the PlayStation 3 version launched on the PSN Network, and several new versions are in development. The company is working on a project spearheaded by Blue Planet CEO Henk Rogers that focuses on the social aspects of the Tetris game with the ability to help gamers make friends on a global basis. 

“Henk believes Tetris is universal, so even though two people don’t speak the same language, they do speak the language of Tetris,” said Linnenkohl. Beyond playing with friends, cooperative play, and head-to-head play, the company is looking into “smart” games, those that use artificial intelligence to interpret in a matter of seconds the player’s abilities. 

The “smart” game will be first added to a social networking platform. Once the bugs are worked out, it could be applied to mobile games and other platforms. 

Also on the docket is the idea of having an international Tetris tournament along the lines of the World Cup. “One of Henk’s dreams is for someone to one day make $1 million playing Tetris,” said Linnenkohl. “He feels Tetris will be the first virtual sport, so it’s a concept we’re working on.” 

Already, Blue Planet Software has held competitions in Hawaii at the University of Hawaii and sponsored an event in Los Angeles. Of its eventual global rollout, said Linnenkohl, “we plan on going big.”

For the rest of 2011, Linnenkohl said to expect the Tetris brand to stake its claim in the merchandising arena, addressing fans’ wants and desires for Tetris products. “We’ll keep building the brand, building the reach, and building the audience,” she said.