Potential to Pump It Up

by Christian Svensson

Wednesday, 24 August 2005
Upstart publisher, Mastiff has its sites set on the dance game market. CEO Bill Swartz tells Next Generation how Pump It Up came to be and how it's facing up against Konami's DDR.
Mastiff's next major title is a dance game called Pump It Up. The title will be distributed by Mad Catz and packaged with a pad. "That decision came down to something simple. We wanted to be bundled with a pad (and it's a great pad). But it's big. We felt we could get a DVD case onto a shelf pretty well, but we needed someone who has access to the big chunks of peripheral space. Our box is around 18" by 14"."I felt we couldn't walk into Best Buy or Target and say 'we're going to take this much of your shelf space, go ahead and clear it out for us, ok guys?'. We wanted to find a peripheral company and we checked everyone out and Mad Catz was the best one there was. They looked at the game and were impressed by it and we had a deal."Price point for the product has been set at $59.99. "For a product that gives you $39.99 worth of mat and $39.99 worth of software, it's a pretty good bargain," claims Swartz.Arriving at Pump it Up"We could have done a World War II shooter or do a driving/fighting simulation but some other people had those ideas before us. So we settled on music."Let me tell you why we picked Pump it Up," explains Swartz. "We were looking for a big genre that had very little competition. It became very clear that dance games were worth between $50m and $60m a year and there's really only one significant player."But the music game business is not an easy one. A quick glance at the genre's NPD data and it's obvious that most titles fail spectacularly, rarely selling more than 50,000 units even at relatively low average retail price points."Most music games have bombed here. Even with Parappa the Rapper, where Sony put their heart and soul into it and couldn't make it fly," acknowledges Swartz. "So if we were to do this, we had to do it right. We needed a superior product that people were going to notice and an established brand name. We didn't want to have to build brand perception from scratch. It's just beyond our resources to do so.""So looked for titles in the dance field that were good, well established and hadn't been exploited. In about 45 minutes we identified the arcade game, Pump it Up. It's insanely popular in Latin America and Korea. Every year in Mexico City there are tournaments. This year's drew more than 15,000 people and they had to open the doors an hour early to avoid a riot. ""In this country, we have a small but super-dedicated core of "Pumpers". There are clubs of Pumpers in most major cities and they travel around the country to compete. Most of these guys and girls are former DDR players and these people really believe in Pump it Up.""So we have a built in audience, where if we did a good job for us, they'd really support us. They're the kinds of guys who will evangelize the product for us. They'll post on message boards. They're opinion leaders," says Swartz. Arcade to Home IssuesAs Midway, Namco and Sega could attest, arcade to home conversion doesn't always meet the home customers' demands. Swartz agrees that there were some potential issues to be dealt with in its conversion of Pump It Up."So we went to the company that makes [the arcade game], Andamiro, and worked with them to make a home version," Swartz explains. "The process was a learning experience for everyone. Their idea of a home game was a direct conversion of the arcade. That's cool, except arcade games are meant to drive coin-drop and home games are meant to provide extended gameplay experiences. So we struggled a lot with [arcade and home issues] but we think that we have it pretty much right and we're really proud of the product.One way the issue was addressed was to crank up the amount of content."We have 100 songs on PS2 and Xbox, which is 40% to 50% more than most dance games. They're also not crummy songs. Some of the music is original, though more than half of it is licensed (Stereogram, Black-eyed Peas, Earth Wind and Fire, etc.). There's lots of Latin music too. We really wanted to be broader in appeal than any other dance game," Swartz boasts.Differentiating the GameSo how does one attract a DDR player to Pump It Up? Or attract consumers who might be interested in dance games but don't know the difference between DDR and its competitors."There were some challenges in making the game interesting to people. One thing we do to explain the essence of this game is that it is really about dancing, not stomping. DDR at the end of the day is a step game. You have to face forward, you've got beats arbitrarily matched to buttons and you get scored by how accurately you hit. If you want to be a bit bitchy about it, DDR is like playing Whack-A-Mole with your feet," says Swartz."We're not built by arbitrarily matching lights or beats to buttons. We've had choreographers actually dance the song and then storing that for comparison as opposed to just mapping buttons to beats. So it's a fundamentally different approach."Swartz also goes on to explain that the very design of the mat, by having buttons in the corner and a button in the center lends it self to more freeform movements. Unlike DDR, which forces players to face forward pretty much at all times (an issue called "front-lock"), Pump It Up encourages players to turn face sideways or even away from the screen for brief moments."Because there's no button in the middle [for DDR], when you go from button A to button B, the program doesn't know how your foot got there. If you have a button in the middle, then the game can force you to go through a particular arc," explains Swartz."With DDR being laid out the way it is, it's almost impossible to play the game with the screen being to your left side. You have to face forward. Pump it Up is choreographed in ways that enable the player to rotate 360 degrees. With additional buttons in all corners, no matter which direction you face, there's the same symmetry of button arrangements.""So we can provide a much more natural, fluid dancing experience as opposed to a stepping experience. DDR's a fine game, but it's stepping as opposed to dancing. When you see someone dancing on Pump it Up, who knows how to dance, you can immediately see that the product is, at the 1s and 0s level, different in the movement it produces from DDR. It's like getting off crutches."

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