The game caught on with such intensity that it not only buoyed the flagging arcade business, but a home version launched in 2001 filtered it into the mainstream. Today, new home versions due out in the fall from Xbox and PlayStation 2 presage a product on the brink of Middle America popularity. Three of the top seven best-selling PS2 games in 2003 were variations of DDR. (See chart, P. 52 )
"We've been hearing about the game for a couple of years, but over the last year, it's gotten a lot more popular," said Michael Wood, VP, Teenage Research Unlimited. "It fills a real need teenagers have. It gives them the opportunity to be on stage and to compete-and it's kind of loud and obnoxious."
word of mouth
DDR reached its lofty phenom status via one of the world's oldest marketing grails: word of mouth. Teens tend to be a pretty jaded group, and anyone who shouts "Buy this, it's really cool," comes under instant suspicion. Konami-no neophyte in the world of videogaming teens-realized early on that the best strategy was to keep product marketing under control. That focused strategy is built on two elements: coming up with game innovations and finding hot, untapped music tracks.
Jason Enos, Konami Digital Entertainment product manager, spends his time cutting deals for music, managing requests for product placements, talking to the DDR community (found nationally online at www.ddrfreak.com, which serves a tightly-knit band of 4,000-plus evangelists) and managing public relations.
"The roadmap for our future is really about how we position the game," he said. "And it all ties back down to the music. If you look at all the cultures in the world, music and dance are two forms of expression that are key to every cultural foundation."
Where Mr. Enos once pitched music labels to get new dance music into the games, he now gets submissions and solicitations daily. "Music studios used to think of us as any other game license and a way to earn some money, but now it's viewed as a traditional co-marketing agreement," he said. "Being in the game is another marketing tool for these songs."
Made in Japan
The DDR craze began simply enough in the arcades. Japanese teens lined up around the machines for the chance to jump on arrows flashing on a screen in front of them in a kind of digital Twister with a heavy techno dance beat. Konami, along with most U.S. arcade owners and video game makers, couldn't see that American youths would take to the slightly funky game that was so different from popular shooter or racing games.
It took Mr. Enos 18 months to gather enough data and sway to get the go-ahead for a console version; and he still got only a small U.S. launch of about 150,000 first-year copies. But that initial DDR sold out immediately and left unsuccessful fans paying as much as $200 on eBay for a game that sold for $29.99 at retail. Subsequent versions sold well initially and continue to sell as new players discover them. Today, there are more than 6.5 million DDR units worldwide, 1 million sold in the U.S. (with 1.5 million in Europe, and 4.5 million in Japan.) Last year's three most popular DDR titles totaled $18 million in sales, according to Arcadia Investment Corp.
"The challenge for DDR is to figure out a way to stay fresh and keep it new with new challenges, the best music, and offshoots of the game," said TRU's Mr. Wood.
Konami already sells one sibling product, Karaoke Revolution, and is considering bringing other Japanese hits like DrumMania and Beatmania to the U.S., Mr. Enos said. DDR will also come out in new versions for the next generation consoles, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 2.
No more arcade versions will be coming to the U.S. With about 2,000 machines already here, and because the arcade game died a fad death in Japan, Konami's arcade division won't be upgrading the machines again.
"I still think the arcade machines are very important," Mr. Enos said. "But even if all the machines disappear, we're at a point where people know the brand and if we bring out new games, people will buy them."