Naoki Maeda: Latin America is a “very hopeful market”

Back when news of this year’s brand new DanceDanceRevolution titles surfaced during July’s E3 event, Konami of America went out of its way to state it was going to feature “major licensed master Latin tracks.”While we were initially ignorant about the impact these Latin tunes would have on the final product, DanceDanceRevolution X2 released in North America on Oct. 27 and it became clear exactly how far Konami was looking to go in featuring Latin-style music in the title. Of the title’s 60 songs, nearly 17 percent of the list features Latin songs and/or artists and it seemed as if the company purposely went out of its way to reproduce Konami originals in this styling in bringing revival songs from previous entries into the mix. It’s hard to deny DanceDanceRevolution is as global as it has ever been, originating from its humble, nine Konami original songs on the original DDR arcade cabinet, evolving to later include European influence with the company’s Toshiba EMI partnership and, finally, breaking out into recognizable tunes made popular in America. While Latin-style songs are hardly nothing new to series, what attributed this focus to load almost one-fifth of DDR X2 with this music genre?

“We believed that the PS2 market in Central America is relatively large, so we decided to implement Latin/Spanish-influenced licensed and Konami original songs that might be better accepted in that region and for the residents in North America who enjoy this type of music,”stated series producer Naoki Maeda in a recent e-mail interview withBemanistyle.com. Looking at recent events that have unfolded in 2009 between Central America and Sony, perhaps saying the previously untapped video game market in the territory is large could be an understatement.

A February announcement made by Sony Computer Entertainment America officially put the company’s consoles and services available to the territory for the first time(1). Prior to this point, residents of the area had to either swallow heavy-hitting price tags for systems and games thanks to customs taxes and import tariffs or take part in playing pirated copies of games titles. In fact, a 2008 editorial by Pascal Clarysse, who was formerly a marketing manager for Lik Sang, commented on Edge Online that a popular title such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl could cost as much as $110 U.S. at retail in Columbia – a real slap to the wallet when you take into account that Clarysse states the minimum and average wage in the country is $260-280. Because of these limitations, he states the Game Boy Advance and Playstation 2 continue to be the best-selling systems in Central America(5) and when you factor in the huge install base the PS2 has in Brazil – the largest in the territory – it becomes easier to understand SCEA’s decision to officially enter the market(2).

“The significance of the Latin America market is huge. Obviously from a population standpoint I don’t think it’s a big secret that this is a huge opportunity. We will put a number of resources in place to cater to that market,” stated Sony Computer Entertainment America’s Vice President of Sales Ian Jackson one year ago at a BMO Capital Markets Interactive Entertainment Conference. “… We’ve identified the Brazilian market as probably the biggest market opportunity for us, and that will be the third part of our launch which will take place over Spring 2009.”(3)

Thanks to the official distribution of Sony product in Central America, the distribution has made the prices of official games a bit easier to swallow for the 13 countries within reach of Sony Latin America, even though the territory has some fierce competition in the form of the regional Zeebo console and pirated discs that provide games at a lower price. Regardless of where players are receiving their games, it can’t be denied that gaming is a huge hobby in Central America and the Playstation 2 is a common system, much as it is worldwide, where it has been cut to a $99.99 U.S. price tag. Konami’s efforts to market DanceDanceRevolution to this territory rolled off of Sony’s momentum in the region as X2 and Hottest Party 3 made appearances the weekend prior to the titles’release at Latin America’s largest video game event, the eighth-annual Electronic Games Show in Mexico City, which saw more than 30,000 attendees(4). As such, Konami certainly isn’t ready to give up on the system, which still has a full year to follow Sony’s intention to give the Playstation 2 format a 10-year life cycle.

“We still look at the PS2 as a competitive platform in today’s global market but the so-called next generation consoles like the PS3 and Xbox 360 have great possibility of permeating throughout the world even more,” noted Konami’s Naoki Maeda. “Our goal is to foresee the needs of the market and provide titles with the hardware that best suits these needs.”

Before the attempted penetration of DDR into the Central American territory, however, local players had long been accustomed to Andamiro’s Pump It Up series, a cheaper arcade alternative that served as the go-to dancing title for this territory along with Korea. In 2005, Mastiff CEO Bill Swartz, who was at the time preparing Pump It Up Exceed for a home console release in North America, told Edge Online,“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. ” Interestingly enough, the same interview has Swartz stating the release features “lots of Latin music,” showing the dancing game market has in some form catered to the territory for a number of years(6). According to Maeda, the global appeal of DanceDanceRevolution stems from the art of dance being a global language that is enjoyed by everyone across the world, however, cultural differences are what tend to bring such“market targeting” into play.

“The global appeal of DanceDanceRevolution lies in the fact that the main idea of the game is ‘dancing,’ which is a method used to express oneself that can be seen throughout the world,” he explained. “However, there are several different types of dancing which can come from elements such as the characteristics of a country or what they deem beautiful. We believe that holds great importance in that the recorded music fitting the dance type of a specific region is essential.”

Of course, targeting the Latin music market isn’t an unfamiliar endeavor, with Konami of Japan releasing Mambo a Go Go (which, unfortunately, missed the U.S. market with an intended, but cancelled, release under the name Mambo King) and SEGA developing Samba de Amigo during the Latin pop craze that hit at the turn of the century. Even though neither title had a huge impact, if any, on North America, Maeda noted Konami hasn’t given up on the theme as long as its games are openly available to the region.

“Yes, depending on the location of where we release our titles and the characteristics of the people in the country, we would like to provide content that is geared more toward that region,” he stated. “Music in Southern America has its own characteristics with a very unique history and developing games with these themes are in one of our best interests.”

Will the adjusted focus help Konami and its DanceDanceRevolution series in the long run? Only time will tell in the long run, but, currently, the company is keeping a positive focus on the market for now.

“Our view of Central America is that there are several unknown elements in the market, but features such as their national trait where they look at things objectively and with the way ‘dancing’ is positioned in their lifestyle, we believe that it is a very hopeful market,”concluded Maeda.

[1] Official SCEA Press Release, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.– GameSpy
[2] Theo Azevedo, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. – UOL Jogos
[3] Staff, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. – Playstation Universe
[4] Official Michael Meyers Public Relations press release – “Eighth-Annual Electronic Game Show Draws 30,000” – (received internally by Bemanistyle.com)
[5] Pascal Clarysse, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. – Edge Online
[6] Staff, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. – Edge Online

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