LOS ANGELES — Imagine a dancing game that can pack 20,000 dancers waving around their smartphones in a single match. That’s what you’re going to get with Ubisoft’s mobile game Just Dance Now.
The new dance title represents the first time that Ubisoft has taken its console franchise to smartphones. The French game publisher announced the title at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), but we’ve got more details from an in-depth press briefing by Jason Altman, executive producer of the series, which has sold more than 50 million units.
“It going to mobile, we can expand our addressable market to well over a billion players,” Altman said. “The cool feature is you can have 20,000 people playing at the same time, in real-time, all scoring together. And this is in a light app that uses very little data.”
Just Dance Now is made possible through a combination of mobile tech and cloud gaming, where a game is run on web-connected servers in a data center and the video is then streamed to somebody’s screen. But it also taps the power of your smartphone, which has an accelerometer, or motion sensor, and possibly a gyroscope. The sensors detect your motion and translate that to the screen dancer, much like Nintendo’s Wii video game console did when it debuted in 2006.
Ubisoft’s Massive division developed a technology dubbed Blue Star, which detects your dancing and translates those moves into a game session. What is unique about it is that it can capture dancing from an unlimited number of dancers and put them in the same game match. It can then measure who performs the best among all of those dancers and then tell you which person did the best in a song.
“The technology is multi-device and it is latency free,” Altman said. “It doesn’t matter what connection you have, if it is 2G, 3G, 4G, or Wi-Fi. You will be able to play in real-time, dancing with your phone.”
I saw a demo of Just Dance Now up close, and it works fine. You can use the smartphone to control what appears on the screen. The smartphone connects to a server, which then translates your dance moves to a video stream that shows up on another screen, such as your laptop, a desktop computer, or a connected smart television. For now, you can’t use Just Dance Now with a console, since that would likely disrupt console game sales. (Ubisoft sells its Just Dance console games for $60).
It’s not yet clear what business model Ubisoft will embrace. But the Just Dance Now app itself will be free, Altman said. You can imagine that players will get the app for free and possibly buy new songs. You’ll definitely be able to play some songs for free.
Just Dance Now will be available on both Android and iOS smartphones. It may also go to other platforms. Altman said Just Dance Now has been in the works for two years now.
“It took us a while to get the experience right,” Altman said.
In terms of songs, Just Dance Now will likely focus on older “greatest hits” songs, while the console-based Just Dance game will focus on the most popular new songs.
Altman said that if you dance for an hour, the Just Dance Now title would use less data than a single picture uploaded to Instagram.
I asked Altman if Ubisoft was moving toward the smartphone because Microsoft just decided to sell Xbox One systems for $400 by removing the Kinect camera from the system. Just Dance games rely upon that Kinect motion-sensing camera.
“The Kinect experience is a great one,” Altman said. “Just Dance is a great reason to buy the system with the camera.”
Ubisoft is also going to launch its traditional console game. This year’s installment, Just Dance 2015, will include fresh tracks from the most popular songs. It will also focus on a “community remix,” which Altman said allows you to insert your own image as a dancer into a song. Your friends can play that song and dance to it, and when they do, the image they see on the on-screen dancer will be you.
The community can vote on which remixes are the best.