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]