By David Radd
Ubisoft has one of the most diverse lineup of console titles this holiday season, ranging from Wii U exclusive ZombiU, multiplatform mega-hit Assassin's Creed III and the mainstream dancing title Just Dance 4. In part one of our extensive interview with Tony Key, SVP of Sales and Marketing at Ubisoft, we touch on parts of the overall campaign but focus heavily on their evergreen Just Dance series.
[a]list: Give me an overview of Ubisoft's holiday line up.
Tony Key: At the top, we have Just Dance and Assassin's Creed that have been our premier launch brands. What's fun about these for us: they're the yin and the yang for Ubisoft, they don't overlap for the most part. Just Dance is a family-oriented party game, and Assassin's Creed is a completely immersive story-based mature-rated title that primarily appeals to adult males. For Just Dance, we're appeal to people from 3 to 93 years-old; college kids, grandmas, teen girls anyone who wants to work up a sweat in front of a television. It has broad appeal.
On top of that, we have something that's completely different in Far Cry 3, a FPS with an open world setting. We feel like Far Cry 3 is a breakthrough for the shooter category. Right now we have a 90 Metacritic score and many reviewers appreciate what a breakthrough title it is.
Then there's the Wii U, and if you encapsulate Ubisoft's Wii U strategy, it's really a reflection of our overall strategy. We have games for several different segments, like core titles like Rayman Legends and ZombiU but we have have family titles like Just Dance 4, ESPN Sports Connection, Your Shape: Fitness Evolved, and games like Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth aimed at younger gamers. We have Assassin's Creed III on the Wii U as well, so we have something for almost everyone. We've always had a good mix of core products and non-traditional gamer games. I think that's part of the reason for our broad success.
[a]list: Recently in the industry, a lot of top-flight publishers have stop publishing a variety of products on consoles, deciding to exclusively focus on core games. Do you feel it's important to make console games for audiences outside of the core demographics?
Tony Key: Traditionally, that older male is the bread and butter of the industry and so many games are targeting that demographic, and we target it too, but if you want to do something different, find blue water and take risk, you have to think a little differently. Things like Just Dance don't come around very often, but at the end of the day, it takes tremendous effort to reach that non-standard audience. We have to spend considerable time with retailers for people who are not explicitly looking for games, so you have to reach outside the game industry to be successful. You have to have visible PR at Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O'Brien and Ellen DeGeneres for that outer circle of gamers, people who don't hear about games until they've released. This is the fourth try in keeping Just Dance relevant and we think we've gotten pretty good at it.
[a]list: I noticed the announcement that Ubisoft snagged Gangnam Style for Just Dance 4....
Tony Key: Right before Thanksgiving, we released PSY's Gangnam Style DLC on Just Dance 4 and our goal was to get that out by Thanksgiving. It's very popular - go to a sporting event and you'll hear it. Just Dance is a holiday tradition now - every Thanksgiving you can pass out in front of the TV or keep the party going, and its true for Christmas too. It makes every gathering into a party.
[a]list: Just Dance 4 was one of the top sellers on Amazon over Black Friday. Was there sense inside Ubisoft that they needed to continue to push the series, that there were still plenty of fans and not to leave money on the table?
Tony Key: Not publishing Just Dance 4 would be leaving money on the table, but there's no reason to not publish it - we believe in it and we feel like there's not reason we shouldn't do it. So it's about annualizing it. It's about making it the top dance game for yet another year.
[a]list: This is the the fourth year of Just Dance releases as you said – it wasn't too long ago that Guitar Hero was atop the video gaming world, but there are no Guitar Hero releases anymore. Are there any concerns about something like that for the Just Dance series?
Tony Key: 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. 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.
[a]list: Going back to what you said about the yin and the yang of Ubisoft, it's also good to have games like Just Dance to be the face of the medium, contrasted to the typically violent fare on consoles.
Tony Key: It brings a balance, and our retailers love it, and they're swarmed with games like Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty, but this is a game that brings the whole family together.
The casual and less-core gamer is part of the ebb and flow of the industry. When Guitar Hero was able to bring people in, it was good for everyone in the industry, and the same goes for Wii Sports, Wii Fit and now Just Dance. When hardware transitions occur, it shrinks the business, and it's important to expand it again and doing so comes from in part capturing the hearts and minds of casual gamers. It would be a shame to relegate them to free-to-play and mobile... there's nothing wrong with those systems but there's no reason we can't have that experience on consoles as well.
[a]list: So we should expect Just Dance games for the foreseeable future?
Tony Key: The whole world isn't dancing yet!
[a]list: So the ultimate goal is to make 6 billion people dance?
Tony Key: Exactly, until we reach that goal, there's going to be more Just Dance.
Stay tuned more more of this interview soon!