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Interview: Harmonix Upbeat On  Dance Central 's Market Potential

Interview: Harmonix Upbeat On Dance Central's Market Potential

September 17, 2010 | By Kris Graft

September 17, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

[Dance Central could be a breakout launch title for Kinect, but are there music genre challenges? Harmonix VP Tracy Rosenthal-Newsom explains to Gamasutra why she thinks the game's potential "is actually quite big."]

Harmonix's Dance Central could be an early breakout hit for Microsoft's Kinect 3D-sensing camera. Already drawing positive buzz as a standout launch title for the upcoming peripheral, the dance and rhythm game, due in November, comes from a company with an outstanding track record in the music genre.

But even for the studio that originally created Guitar Hero and successfully evolved that into the sensational Rock Band, the dance game has some hurdles in its way.

For one, Dance Central naturally requires the full-body-tracking Kinect, which costs $150 alone or at least $300 bundled with an Xbox 360. Microsoft previously said Kinect games will sell for $50 individually, and Dance Central is currently not part of a Kinect bundle, so playing Dance Central would cost at minimum $200 at the game's release. (Notably, this problem isn't unique to Dance Central.)

Secondly, a softness in the peripheral-based music genre may not bode well for Dance Central. And being a brand new IP is also inherently risky.

Harmonix VP of production Tracy Rosenthal-Newsom isn't entirely concerned about those potential issues -- for her, it's about making that emotional connection with gamers through dance.

"I think the potential [for Dance Central] is actually quite big," she says in a phone interview with Gamasutra. She believes that Dance Central has already struck a chord with people who've seen the game, and that emotional connection will grow once it's in gamers' homes.

"... I think there's a lot of power in this [Kinect] technology," she adds. "There's a lot of opportunity for physical gaming and other kinds of games. All of us at Harmonix are excited."

Dance Central uses the Kinect to portray the player/dancer's movement through an on-screen avatar. The game will have a wide range of popular R&B and hip-hop music, and offer new songs as downloadable content post-release. Rosenthal-Newsom expects that gamers will even take the choreographed moves to real-life weddings and dance clubs.

It's certainly possible that Dance Central could find a sizable niche in the gaming market, especially if loose holiday gift spending overcomes that price tag hurdle and word of mouth takes hold. And Harmonix has shown with Rock Band that it is able to develop software that is brilliantly tied with relatively expensive peripherals, and release a very marketable product.

Of course, one advantage the Kinect has over instrument peripherals is that it's much more versatile -- it will be applied to a wide variety of titles, so gamers may identify the value there. And compared to Konami's classic Dance Dance Revolution series and Ubisoft's multi-million selling surprise hit Just Dance, the full-body motion tracking of Kinect makes Dance Central unique and more sophisticated.

Rosenthal-Newsom also argues that despite titles like Just Dance and DDR, the dance music category is underserved, leaving an opening for Dance Central. The popularity of TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With The Stars could be an indicator of the market demand of dance games today as well.

"You look at society today, and dance is very relevant," she says. "It's all over TV, it's all over movies, kids have been learning routines of themselves online, taking videos of themselves and uploading them. This is what I would consider a play mechanic that is out in the world, and more and more people are showing that they are interested in it."

She says that while Harmonix's Dance Central and Rock Band teams are separate, the dancing side has taken some important cues from Rock Band's success. "I think we've learned a lot about what it means to create performance games, and how to really give the player this feeling -- that illusion of 'awesomeness' -- and what you need to build in your game to help the player have that emotional feeling."

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