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Is Dance Dance Revolution Immortal?

ddr.jpg

No, seriously.

Dance Dance Revolution, the franchise, is now in its thirteenth year. There have been well over a hundred iterations of it on basically every gaming platform since then. For real. Trying to count up the number of DDRs that have been released was an exercise in futility. The list is here. Go for it. My eyes crossed before I could get to the bottom. Anyway, doing the math, there's been something like ten releases of Dance Dance Revolution every year since 1998. What franchise has that kind of legs?

Moreover, this is a franchise that requires you to purchase a special interface in order to enjoy it. Sure, you can play it with a regular controller, but who does that? What's the point? No - the point is to bounce around your living room, arcade, friend's house, or whatever looking like an idiot.

So let's review: Market saturation that would kill most franchises (ehem-Guitar Hero-ehem), special equipment required, and it requires you to look like a lunatic to succeed. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

So what's the deal with DDR? In 2003, Konami announced that worldwide DDR sales (not including arcade units) were at 6.5 million, over one million units per year. Of the 26 DDR titles that Vgchartz follows, over 13 million units have sold to date - suggesting the series is still selling over 1 million units per year. Moreover, two of the five top-selling DDR games on that list were released in this genration - Hottest Party and Hottest Party 2 for the Wii, suggesting that strong sales are not over yet.

In fact, dance games in general have been performing quite well, even while other music-based games crash and burn. So why is DDR performing so well?

Read more, and give us your theories, after the jump.

Profit Margins. It can't cost much to make a new DDR. The basic formula is there, and has remained unchanged since the beginning. Sure, there are new bells and whistles now and again, but hardly the kind of project that would see Konami pour millions in to research and development. The software itself just doesn't need much tweaking.

On top of that, new content amounts to paying artists royalties, and considering that Konami uses in-house artists as well as popular dance artists, they're keeping their costs low. That being said, Guitar Hero used a similar formula, but the plug's been pulled on it - albeit to many people's surprise. After all, Guitar Hero's recent sales far eclipse DDR's. So what gives? Perhaps Konami is just more willing to keep a franchise alive? [It's important to note that comparing sales of the two franchises is trickier than just throwing them up against each other. They aren't complete sales figures for both franchises, and they don't take in to account the money that Konami makes through arcade machine sales worldwide.]

Insane Fans. You know exactly what I mean. [Massive respect to the dude in that last link.] Pro-star DDR aficionados who treat the game like some kind of religion. Chances are you've known one (or are one), even if they won't admit it. Other music games have similar fans, true, but DDR freaks seem to be especially numerous and endlessly dedicated. But to reach DDR's sales numbers requires more than a legion of dedicated fans.

The Wii Effect. As mentioned, DDR's sales have been strong recently, and the five DDR games released on the Wii have sold almost 3 million units. Not only is the Wii bringing the franchise to new players, but the franchise is also right up the Wii's alley: It's easy to pick up and play, but offers great difficulty for those who are dedicated; it doesn't require complicated controls; it's a classic party game; and it gets players up off the couch. With non-traditional, motion controlled gaming exploding world wide, why jump off the bandwagon? After all, DDR was one of the first to get on.

Not to belabour the comparisons between Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, but the former's sales have been remarkable on the Wii, as well. So, great sales on one console is not enough to explain DDR's longevity.

Neuropsychology. One thing that dance games have that most other rhythm games don't is strenuous physical activity. If you're playing the game well - or, at least, having fun playing it - chances are that DDR will work up a sweat on you. This means your brain is releasing dopamine and endorphins, exciting your brain's pleasure centres. You may have heard of "runner's high." This is the same effect. Work hard enough and your nervous system is flooded with chemicals that excite the same areas as morphine and heroin. This doesn't mean you get addicted to physical activity, but, like Pavlov's dog, you start associating physical activity with pleasure. So, for DDR fanatics, their desire to play the game may be influenced by more than the intrinsic pleasure of playing games.

It may seem strange to be discussing how exercise can keep people coming back to, or start people buying in to a franchise. Actually, it may have at one point...but think of the runaway success of fitness-based titles like Wii fit, and the idea sounds more and more sensible.

So, at whose feet can we lay the success of Dance Dance Revolution? Doubtless, the reasons are many - but when it comes to dollars and cents, Konami would have killed the franchise a long time ago if it weren't making them money. But money doesn't just materialize after a game is released, so there must be something about DDR that's kept it going all these years. More likely, some things. Between its fan base, its unique gameplay, and some unique benefits it offers its players, the Revolution has managed to stand up through an onslaught of competitors and radical shifts in the console market. At this point, barring any shocking news from Konami, it seems it will be going on for years to come.


Questions? Comments? Theories? Leave us a comment below!

[image via: CNET]

5 Comments

wohdin said:

For the record, many of those releases are simply alternate-region versions, with the only significant differences in tracklists being licenses. Also, many are also simply upgrade versions with extra songs and some changed features (called "Appends"). That list also counts home console releases, which in many cases are simply ports of the arcade titles. There are only 71 Japanese releases (hah, "only"), which while still a lot, isn't really that major when you consider just exactly HOW they released them in the earlier years. Discounting all of the alternate/append versions, there are actually less than 20 major arcade releases.

wohdin said:

Oh, I forgot to actually give my thoughts on why DDR is successful.

Honestly? I think it's just in the name. It was the first big music game to become popular, especially outside of Japan. It's the most well-known dancing game out there. Even if they've never actually seen the game, I think just about everyone has heard of the name Dance Dance Revolution or DDR, and at least at a very basic level understand that it's a dancing video game. Even with such a small pool of gamers having actually played it, it's practically a household name. And with its prevalence in places like movie theaters and Chuck E Cheese's-esque establishments, it's not something that you have to actively try to be exposed to like other Bemani titles (i.e., the title that the Konami branch derives its name from, Beatmania).

Also, the fans are pretty damn hardcore. I mean, they've even made simulators of the game, constructed with significant complexity and detail and care and dedication. I've never seen a fandom as absolutely devoted to their objects of worship as the DDR/Bemani fandom.

smallvizier said:

A lot of nods have been given to the hardcore fans. But actually, I think it's the casuals who have kept it selling at a million a year.

Not the same casuals, though. For most people, DDR is something you buy once, for the kids, then you keep the mat in the games room cupboard. But because it's seen as an 'iconic' kids game, maybe as many as a third of families will buy it while their children are growing up.

So every two or three years, a new set of kids creates a new wave of casual customers, who give Konami 800,000 sales a year: profitability. And hardcore fans provide the soul.

Potato said:

Personally, I think it's the easy learning curve that makes DDR so attractive.

CyberWuff said:

I loved DDR for it's quirky style when I first saw it. It looks like fun, and I quickly found some simulators for it, then deciding tapping keys wasn't cutting it, had to seek out an arcade. After I tried it, I quickly got every release I could, even getting Japanese imports and a GameShark to play them.

(In fact - I got kind of obsessed and ended up making my own simulator...) 8)

I remember thinking I'd be playing it into my golden years. Sadly, my knees aren't what they used to be - perhaps *because* of all the intensive DDR - and I don't play it nearly as much as I once did. But it's still just as fun as ever when I do try (even if the deterioration of my skills and body hurts a little!)

I do wish they'd make a Kinect version that still adhered to the U/D/L/R layout, just without needing a pad. 8)

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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CyberWuff on Is Dance Dance Revolution Immortal?: I loved DDR for it's quirky style when I first saw it. It looks like fun, and I quickly found...

Potato on Is Dance Dance Revolution Immortal?: Personally, I think it's the easy learning curve that makes DDR so attractive....

smallvizier on Is Dance Dance Revolution Immortal?: A lot of nods have been given to the hardcore fans. But actually, I think it's the casuals who have...

wohdin on Is Dance Dance Revolution Immortal?: Oh, I forgot to actually give my thoughts on why DDR is successful. Honestly? I think it's just in the...

wohdin on Is Dance Dance Revolution Immortal?: For the record, many of those releases are simply alternate-region versions, with the only significant differences in tracklists being licenses....

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