There have been two series that signify the 7th generation of home consoles: Activision’s Call of Duty and Ubisoft’s Just Dance. Both of these series make example of the market split that has defined the past 6 years. Four years ago, I addressed the bizarreness of this fragmentation and what it was doing to the videogame world. As erroneous as I believe these labels to be, the world understands this divide as “hardcore” vs. “casual”. The “hardcore” as defined in this generation got attached to naturalistic photo-realistic high-definition visuals which could only be brought about with high-power machinery and big money budgets—which in turn could only be justified by big money marketing campaigns and front-loaded blockbuster game sales. The “casual” as defined in this generation were looking for light-hearted simple mindless fun which could only be brought about with mistake-forgiving game design and simplified inclusive controls—which in turn were bolstered by family-friendly marketing campaigns and long-tail evergreen game sales.
Nintendo’s Wii became the home of the so-called casual while the Microsoft’s XBox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 became the home of the so-called hardcore. There was a giant gulf between the 2 audiences and it seemed neither side could make any leeway towards the other. No matter what Wii did, it could never sustain the presence of games the “hardcore” liked on the other 2 systems. And no matter what the 360 and PS3 did, their efforts to appeal to the “casual” through Kinect and Move fell flat. What would be a blockbuster hit on the HD platforms would get Miss Congeniality status on the family-friendly platform. And what would be an evergreen phenomenon on the family-friendly platform would get consolational parting gifts on the HD platforms. The Just Dance series and the Call of Duty series with their dominant yearly presence on the sales charts showcase this fact better than any other.
At the time of this writing according to VGChartz.com (latest figures from February 18, 2012), the Just Dance series has sold more than 35 million games since its debut on the Wii in 2009. This series counts the mainline Just Dance, Just Dance 2, and Just Dance 3 along with side series and spinoffs Just Dance Kids (known as Dance Juniors in Europe/Australia), Just Dance Kids 2 (known as Just Dance Kids in Europe/Australia), Just Dance: Summer Party (known as Just Dance 2: Extra Songs in Europe/Australia), Just Dance Wii (for Japan), Dance on Broadway, Michael Jackson: The Experience, The Black Eyed Peas Experience, ABBA: You Can Dance, and The Smurfs Dance Party throughout all platforms.
Also according to VGChartz.com (latest figures from February 18, 2012), the Call of Duty series has sold well over than 130 million games since its debut on the PC in 2003. This series counts the mainline Call of Duty, Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 3, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: World At War, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 along with side series and special console adaptations Call of Duty: Finest Hour, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, Call of Duty: Roads to Victory, Call of Duty: World At War – Final Fronts, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – Mobilized, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 – Defiance, Call of Duty: World At War – Zombies, Call of Duty: Black Ops – Zombies and all other map packs, compilations, and assorted handheld and mobile editions throughout all platforms.
Side by side we saw both of these 3rd party games endure on the charts month after month. Just Dance was the only series on Wii not made by Nintendo that was able to have such a high-profile and sell so long term. Wii, a system defined by 1st party development (like all Nintendo platforms), having this 3rd party developed series not only sell games but sell systems too? After awhile it could be said that the Just Dance series was carrying the Wii once Nintendo drained support for the system in preparation for their café project called Wii U. Meanwhile, Call of Duty’s Modern Warfare revamp (leaving Call of Duty’s well-tread World War II setting for current day pastures) saw the series break the formidable sales and revenue records set by Halo 3, Grand Theft Auto IV, later itself back to back with nearly each and every new installment. Most blockbuster sellers have a few months in the spotlight before they fade to oblivion but Call of Duty games were becoming the rare evergreens of the HD platforms. After awhile it became the series that defined the XBox 360 (the leading HD platform) replacing Halo not just as the XBox mascot but also as the premier FPS (first person shooter) on the system.
At the time of the debuts of Just Dance and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, nearly no one could predict any of this happening from either of these franchises. These neon people and these napalm soldiers. So different yet so dominant. For an example of this difference, compare how both series are played. Just Dance can be played solitary but is BEST played in the living room with a group of friends. Call of Duty can be played with a group of friends but only through internet lines as you sit in your room solitary. Local multiplayer vs. Online multiplayer. This further underlines the strengths of the consoles. Wii with its cumbersome Friends Codes made offline local play a more agreeable option. The XBox 360 and PS3 with their robust networks made online single-screen play a go-to choice. With more friends came more sales and then more friends to make even more sales. And before you know it, both franchises went from being mere hits to the phenoms we see today.
Another interesting comparison of these two series shows that Just Dance series sales were largely made from single platform exclusivity while Call of Duty series sales were made from nearly every platform available. Even when the Just Dance series broke Nintendo exclusivity starting with the PS3 version of Dance on Broadway in March 2011 and furthermore with the cross-platforming of Michael Jackson: The Experience the following April, the Nintendo side remained the bread and butter for the franchise. Microsoft’s absorbance of the remaining developers of the PC retail market most likely helped get the Call of Duty series identified primarily with the XBox 360 when Call of Duty 2 launched in November 2005. Being the leading entrant in the 7th gen race didn’t hurt the 360 either. But despite eventually opening up to the Wii platform in full with Black Ops (no Modern Warfare ‘Reflex Edition’ crap from developer Infinity Ward), the 2 HD consoles won the Las Vegas jackpots from the retail Cherry Masters. This ‘2 shot for 1’ deal certainly helped Call of Duty get such a sales advantage over Just Dance but Just Dance is equally impressive since it seems to get its high sales without nearly the amount of high-powered advertising. While it was somewhat expected for Call of Duty to be a success with all the money and marketing behind it, Just Dance emerged as a sleeper hit (maybe because the game’s name was the same as a Lady Gaga song?).
But as ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair likes to say “What’s caaaausin’ all that?” Could it be that these enduring sales are a reflection of the ongoing wars the United States has been involved in for the past decade? Here’s my theory. The culture has been shaped by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (examples: hyper-patriotism, support the troops, yellow ribbons) and as these wars drag on and on seemingly without end there arose a need to fulfill these militaristic inclinations. If it’s all war all the time, then here come the virtual soldiers answering to their call of duty. Maybe they’re virtual soldiers because they’re too scared to enlist for the real service, maybe they’re virtual soldiers simply because they’re too young to join. Maybe they’re virtual soldiers who wish to identify with the real soldiers at war, maybe they’re real soldiers who use the war simulation to relax. But whatever the case, a wartime nation creates wartime gaming. First-person shooters which used to cover a broader variety of settings and scenarios (TimeSplitters, Half-Life, Deus Ex) have now become mostly all modern military warfare pieces (MAG, Battlefield 3, Homefront).
However, the endless nation-at-wartime mode creates another effect: war weariness. The never-ending wars have worn people down mentally, emotionally, physically, even politically. They’re fatigued from it all and need a break. In times like these sometimes all you wanna do is go to the club and just dance. Dancing to forget, dancing to remember how it used to be, dancing to escape, dancing for the challenge, dancing to reclaim oneself, dancing to be one with others, dancing for catharsis, dancing for the rush and the thrill. It’s much like the aftermath of the political turmoil of the 1960s and early 1970s. People fighting for rights and people fighting against the notion of war in mass protests and gatherings throughout the nation. All the fighting got tiresome after awhile and they started dancing the disco beat by the mid 1970s. Don’t give me no deep messages. Just give me my disco duck and let me love to love ya baby. People love to party when their hearts aren’t so hearty.
Now with the war in Iraq finally over, what will happen to these 2 franchises once the war in Afghanistan wraps up? Is that when we’ll see the decline of these styles of games? The militaristic FPS staple and the simplistic dance-a-thon. Or will that just end the wannabes in the genres leaving Call of Duty and Just Dance intact? It’s hard to tell at the current time. The latest NPD report from February shows Call of Duty and Just Dance still being permanent fixtures on the Top 10 software charts (all platforms combined). However, the NPD from January shows that Modern Warfare 3’s first January sales (386,000) were roughly half of Black Ops’s first January sales (750,000). And Just Dance 3 ranks #5 in February 2012’s NPD while Just Dance 2 ranked #3 in February 2011’s NPD. It could be a fluke or a sign that the franchises are starting to lose power.
The upcoming 8th generation of home consoles may either signal the end of the whole so-called “hardcore vs. casual” divide anyhow depending on how successful Nintendo is with making Wii U the platform for all players (as the Wii should have been). Then Call of Duty and Just Dance could coexist commercially on the same platform. But perhaps by that time there will be a new craze that uses Wii U’s tablet controller making that accomplishment irrelevant. Perhaps the divide will deepen even further should “hardcore” players side with whatever new machine Microsoft and Sony will put out to challenge the Wii U. Regardless of the future, the now says the guns’ll be a-shootin’ and the buns’ll be a-movin’. Expect to see Modern Warfare 3 and Just Dance 3 reserve their spots on the software charts for the rest of 2012. The symbols of the 7th generation will see it through to the very end.