With four releases in three years, is Ubisoft’s Just Dance series in danger of oversaturating its market, asks Randy Lamberson
“Music is there in the cycles of seasons, in the migrations of birds and animals, in the fruiting and withering of plants, and in the birth, maturation, and the death of ourselves” – Mickey Hart, The Grateful Dead.
Music is very powerful and, for many, it’s a way of life. Whether we want to play music, sing, get out and dance, or just listen and admire someone else’s expression through song, music touches our hearts. It’s no wonder then that the incorporation of music into video gaming was such a huge success. I am not talking about the music that plays during a game; I am talking about the use of instruments in the Guitar Hero series and its various clones or the use of our bodies in the dancing genre. But can too much popularity ultimately be the demise of a genre?
In 2005, RedOctane in collaboration with Harmonix Music Systems along with Activision created a revolution with their Guitar Hero series. The game allowed players to simulate the feeling of being a rock star with a guitar controller that was used to match notes along with their favorite songs. The game became an instant classic, flooding almost every gamer’s home with plastic guitars. The game was simple to pick up and hard to master, giving us a close simulation of actually learning and playing a guitar. Because of the success, sequel after sequel began hitting store shelves, sometimes even in the same year. New songs were constantly being added as well, giving a wide variety of music for everyone. Other music games soon followed, including Rock Band and DJ Hero, both with the same premise, using an instrument-shaped controller to mimic the real deal.
This new music genre seemed like it was an unstoppable force, one that would last a long time. However, like a roller coaster, after the rise it must come down and that’s exactly what happened with the plastic instrument series. In February 2011, Activision announced that it would be abandoning the Guitar Hero franchise to focus on other games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. The publisher stated, “Due to continued declines in the music genre, the company will disband Activision Publishing’s Guitar Hero business unit and discontinue development on its Guitar Hero game for 2011.”
Activision posted a $223m net loss in 2011 for its Guitar Hero series, a game that made $1bn in sales within a 26-month span when first released. How did the game giant drop so far from the bean stock in only four years? The key word is oversaturation. Not only were there too many sequels and spin-offs, but also there was a large number of other music games competing in the same genre – not to mention the additional cost of the games’ controllers. The novelty of the game also wore off because the format changed very little from one title to the next. With that, Activision felt it was in the company’s best interest to abandon the sinking ship.
Kaufman Brothers analyst Todd Mitchell told CNN, “These guys are smart and they realized that the packaged goods business is going away. They want to shift to a digital model. It was a choice they made to exit businesses they felt were subpar profitable.”
So if the mighty Guitar Hero series can fall, what does this mean for other music games? A new music craze has surfaced in the form of motion-controlled dance games, most notably the Just Dance series. But is this game in the oversaturated cross-hairs already?
Ubisoft senior vice-president of sales and marketing Tony Key believes the publisher’s hit series Just Dance is here to stay and was ready to defend the longevity of the dance game in an interview with [a]list daily. Key said, “As far as brand burnout, it’s not a trend; it’s a reflection of what’s happening in pop culture – as it evolves, so does the brand. Just Dance always has the best new music every year.”
However, with four titles already released for a game that first launched as recently as 2009, comparisons can quickly be drawn between Just Dance and the music game that once ruled the charts, Guitar Hero. Key dismissed the notion, saying, “I would rather not compare it to Guitar Hero; Just Dance is about the latest trends, and Guitar Hero is about great classic rock. I’d rather compare it to a sports franchise – every entry evolves the franchise and changes the roster, and that’s what Just Dance does, and every year we’re successful. It’s not burnout we’re worried about and we put a lot of work into keeping it fresh. It’s more a console tradition now and we’re the number one selling game on Kinect. So long as motion control is used on consoles, I think there’s a place for Just Dance.”
Key also pointed to Just Dance’s continued success year after year. However, the same could have been said about the Guitar Hero series years ago. Whatever the case, oversaturation won’t necessarily make Just Dance flame out, but novelty just might. If Ubisoft wants its series’ longevity to last, it will need to constantly keep up with gaming’s ever moving evolution. Players won’t want the same thing each year, so new innovative ways to play the game may be the key to success, and ultimately, will keep their games out of the back of the closet where the dusty guitar peripherals now lay.
Follow Randy on Twitter: @RandyOnP2R