Ubisoft senior vice president of sales and marketing Tony Key says gamers coming around to Just Dance, doesn't fear the brand suffering same fate as Guitar Hero.
Last week, the NPD Group revealed that Just Dance 3 was the second best-selling game of 2011, eclipsed only by Activision's shooter juggernaut Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Just Dance 3 alone has sold a whopping 7 million units. And the franchise--which was launched in 2009--now stands at 25 million units sold across the world. Sales of this magnitude make Just Dance one of the industry's biggest--and perhaps most unlikely--franchises.
GameSpot recently spoke with Ubisoft senior vice president of sales and marketing Tony Key to discuss the success of the Just Dance franchise, how it is attracting hardcore gamers, how it will escape the fate of Guitar Hero, and more.
GameSpot: Last week, we found out Just Dance 3 was the second best-selling game of 2011, beat out only by Modern Warfare 3. Is this kind of success something you anticipated? Why do you think gamers responded so positively to your dancing game in 2011 and beyond?
Tony Key: To be honest, we did anticipate that we would be bigger than last year. We did anticipate that Just Dance 3 would be bigger than Just Dance 2. We saw the trajectory of the brand; we didn't see any slowdown. And what we're really pleased with is that it brings in more and more people--no matter what kinds of games they like to play--are starting to discover the value of Just Dance. And so, I think Just Dance 3 was probably--of all the Just Dance games--purchased by more hardcore gamers than any of the other Just Dance games. And that definitely helped us to achieve higher sales figures.
"We are finally getting respect from hardcore gamers because people are starting to understand more than anything that there is a time and a place where Just Dance is the right choice."
So why is that? So why are gamers giving in and finally realizing that they should care? Or why have Just Dance in their collection. We sold a lot of copies to people who don't necessarily play video games much. And we made a lot of people happy. And I believe Just Dance was the first video game experience for many people in their entire lives. But ultimately, the gamers weren't really seeing the value. It's not about the hardcore experience that Assassin's Creed will give you; it's more about the fun that you can have with somebody when you're playing this game. I think what's happening this year is that gamers are starting to understand that in the right situation, Just Dance is the best choice, no matter what kind of gamer you are.
GS: Just Dance is a major commercial franchise, but it doesn't perhaps command the respect or recognition that other big titles do. Do you care that it is perhaps not respected or recognized on par with other big-selling games?
TK: We are getting the respect. I can see it now; we are finally getting respect from hardcore gamers because people are starting to understand more than anything that there is a time and a place where Just Dance is the right choice. If you're going to have some people over to your house, what's going to be your video game choice to liven up that party? Are you going to put Assassin's Creed in there? Call of Duty? Or are you going to put Just Dance in there? It depends what kind of party, I guess. But if it's a party of women, men, and kids, we already know what the best choice is. I've never been to a party where Just Dance didn't make it a better party.
And that's what I think people are finally starting to understand...that this is what the brand is all about. When we first put the game out, the forum comments used to be, "This is the biggest joke in the world." That kind of stuff. But now, when you read it, you see "You know my friend introduced me to this game, and I understand what it's all about." You see that all the time now. And those numbers in December show that "can all those people be wrong?" Can 25 million people really be wrong? Our goal is to get their respect and for them to understand that there is nothing wrong with this brand.
"Guitar Hero was the greatest party game ever made. But now we are."
GS: As I'm sure you're aware, Activision's Guitar Hero brand was once riding high with annual and biannual releases, but then, it tanked from oversaturation and genre fatigue. You've released numerous titles in the past few years and expanded to Black Eyed Peas, Abba, and Michael Jackson dancing games. How do you plan to keep gamers interested in more and more games?
TK: We spent some time--not so much anymore--looking at Guitar Hero because we will concede that [Guitar Hero] was the greatest party game ever made. But now, we are. On a units basis, Just Dance is bigger than Guitar Hero at this point in its life. We're going to sell close to 10 million units of Just Dance games of some form this year. And that's kind of where it was at their peak. But there's a big difference between what Just Dance brings and what [Guitar Hero] brought. For [Guitar Hero], the game was about classic rock, rock-and-roll songs...not necessarily stuff that was new. Sometimes it was new, but for the most part, it was what Just Dance brings. Just Dance brings always new dance music in the market from the best new artists. Whereas, previously in the music genre, the guitar games would, year after year, just bring out another set of classic rock music. One is current and one is classic.
As long as we continue to improve the experience, which we do every year, and we bring the most relevant music...and we already have the really low barrier to entry, the lowest probably, of any video game in history. Anyone could pick up and play this game the first [time] they see it with no issues. And when was the last time that was true for any video game ever that within five minutes you knew how to play it? That's what we don't get enough credit for...the genius of that design is what made Just Dance such a big hit.
GS: With the Wii U expected to be released this year, can Just Dance fans expect the franchise to move to the new console? What's in store here?
TK: We have not announced Just Dance for the Wii U, but I will say the brand, and the focus of the brand, has not been around hardware; it's been around games. So we plan to be on every platform available at some point. And the Wii U is obviously a good candidate for that, but we haven't confirmed that yet. But with the Wii going into the later part of its life cycle, we need to make sure we know what's next for this brand.
GS: You've also started selling songs as downloadable content in Just Dance. Has this been a successful endeavor? And what are your plans for the future of this space?
TK: Without going into specifics, the attach rate of DLC has been higher on the Kinect [than] it has been on the Wii. What we do keep in mind is that a large part of the audience that plays our games is not necessarily into downloading content, so there will be a learning curve. But they'll get there. So I wouldn't say that the DLC is at the Rock Band level right now because we don't have that 18-34-year-old male as our core customer like they do.
"We plan to be on every platform available at some point."
GS: You do have a major competitor in Dance Central. Are you trying to poach users from Dance Central and bring them to Just Dance? What's your perception of that franchise?
TK: Dance Central has been a great brand for the Kinect. And they proved that the genre would work on that system, but Just Dance is a juggernaut way beyond anything that any dance franchise has ever done. And so bringing [Just Dance] to the Kinect and being number one in December proves it's not about the machine; it's about the brand. It's not about us versus them; it's about us making a great game for that system, and I would argue Just Dance 3 is the best Kinect game ever made.
GS: What about the notion of genre fatigue? Are gamers going to get tired of Just Dance games after a while?
TK: I can't predict what's going to happen with the Just Dance brand, but the DNA of the brand requires an annual launch because we always contain the best new music from new artists from that year. So if we don't do ever year, I think we would actually shrink. There will be some point, potentially, where Just Dance will level off. And at that point, we may have up years, we may have down years, but as long as we're bringing good innovation and the best music, I don't see a reason why we should decline in a big way in the way previous party brands have done. We don't believe we will behave like the Guitar Hero music genre did. We think we're more of an annual, relevant franchise, more like a sports game. They have up years and down years, but they still do well every year. The industry counts on them. And that's what we believe Just Dance can become.