The success of the Just Dance franchise — born out of a minigame for a Rabbids game — can be attributed to Ubisoft's early commitment to mastering Nintendo Wii motion controls and desire to create a title that removes people's inhibitions, Ubisoft Paris managing director Xavier Poix told IGN.
According to Poix, the team was "very lucky" to get the first Wiimote prototypes in hand early and began working on a launch game for the Wii console, Rayman Raving Rabbids. One minigame developed for the title inspired the team to push the concept of musical motion games further, a game where players had to hit Rabbids on the head in time with a song's rhythm. But rather that try to work the Wii motion controls to their limits, the team at Ubisoft Paris decided to work around their limitations rather than push through them.
"We took another approach, the approach that Nintendo also took with tennis [in Wii Sports]", he said. "It wasn't about exact controls. It was about feeling the movements. The idea in all of these games [in Rabbids] was to make sure that what the player wanted to do happened in the game as a consequence of the gesture — that you didn't exactly have to do the gesture itself. There was a feeling that we should get rid of all this crap about being sure that what the player does is exactly what they get on the screen. We should liberate the feeling of moving."
In 2008 Wii title Rayman Raving Rabbids: TV Party, the team included a minigame based on dance movement. Poix said this minigame was the jumping off point for how Just Dance would work. Poix and a team of five or six others worked on a prototype for the game in secret, anxious how Ubisoft executives would see the whimsical title. Poix didn't want to show the game too early on in the process because he feared the order would come to tone it down to a more "classic rhythm game." But despite some internal skepticism and after a soft launch in some parts of Europe, Just Dance was met with success.
"We realized that this game was totally disinhibiting everybody from the idea of a dance game," he said. "People dared to dance in front of a screen and in front of people. We realized that we could run the choreography live, and with some principles of repeating moves based on the rhythm, people could get the choreography really fast and keep on improving, session after session."
According to IGN, the Just Dance franchise currently has 300 people working on it across a handful of countries, including France, Italy, Sweden, India, the U.K. and Romania. The franchise is currently in its fifth iteration, Just Dance 2014, and has spawned numerous spin-offs geared towards children and based on popular music icons including Michael Jackson and the Black-eyed Peas. Head over to IGN for more information on the series' beginnings.