Ch 4: Machine dance becoming an official sport - The Positive Gaming Story

28 - 11 - 2012

Ch 4: Machine dance becoming an official sport - The Positive Gaming Story

Chapter 4 explains how we got started with European level dance game tournaments as well as how machine dance became the first official computer based sport in the world. Check it out!

Like I mentioned in chapter 3, the media attention related to Positive Gaming (PG) started to take off after “The Gathering” in 2003. After the Big Brother and Tv2 coverage, we had the biggest state owned tv channel coming to “our” main location making a program about the machine dance craze, a popular ladies magazine made an article about one of the female players and the phenomena itself, we had many examples of local articles and tv coverage as well. This was just a small taste of what was to come in that regard.

Sometime into 2003, we realized that our Photo Play business started to turn out as a poor investment, and we stopped investing new energy into it. The dance machines were the place of focus, and although we still didn’t make money, we saw where the future potential would be for us.

We did a lot of community related events, both via our “Challenge Cups” as mentioned in chapter 3, as well as by being on a public square in Oslo, to show machine dance to new people as well as to inspire the community. I went 3-5 days per week myself to play at our “local” bowling place, and the community was growing. DDR Norway as a web site and forum started to open groups for other parts of Norway, sometimes those players also travelled to join our Challenge Cups or events.

In the summer of 2003, we contacted DDR UK, Europe’s biggest dance game web site and forum with 120.000 registered users, and suggested to them that we would come over as a gang from DDR Norway and do a national battle against the British. This was received well among the DDR UK community leaders, so we gathered 20 players and friends together for our first international type of event. The tournament was done in a way where 10 players from each country would be able to start, and after the qualifiers, each country chose 5 each to represent them. I don’t remember how we did everything, but I ended up being one of the 5 that represented Norway, believe it or not :).

The Brits had about 500 machines spread out in the UK and had played longer than us, and they had some really expert players that none of ours could fully match. But we put up a good fight, and took the loss with a smile. Over all it was a great event, and it goes without saying that it strengthened the Norwegian community even more than before. The trip itself was the main thing, the tournament the highlight of it.

This led to further talks with the DDR UK community leaders, and in January 2004 we did a “test” European Cup, and invited player communities from all over Europe to join in, helped by Benoit aka SD Koala from France, who knew many players around Europe. We ended up having participants from Norway, UK, France, Italy and Sweden, and BBC came there to cover the event! We did it at the same arcade in London where we had done the national battle 6 months before.

The event was a great success, once again about 20 Norwegian players came over, and in the end we had a few among the top 5, but we couldn’t beat the Brits this time either.

This was so much fun and inspiring for everyone that we decided to go ahead and invite players from around Europe for the first PG European Championships at “The Gathering” in April 2004. This will be covered in the next chapter of the PG Story.

The Norwegian Dance Association

To put another important aspect of what was going on into the overall perspective, I want to go back a bit again. During the summer and autumn of 2003, Thomas and myself started wondering if there was any way machine dance could become registered as an official sport. After initial research, we discovered that there were 2 potential ways to go: One was to go through the Norwegian Dance Association (NDA), since dance was already registered as a sport via them. The other was to go through the “mini sports” Association, where sports like pool and other less recognized sports were placed. We decided that NDA was the most likely route if we wanted to get somewhere fast, so Thomas contacted them. Their chairman was very interested, and said he wanted to bring one of the best young dancers to Norway to the place we focused most on (which now had 2 Euromix 2 machines), and he asked us to bring our best dancer, so they could compete against each other. We said sure, and we scheduled the meeting.

As we could have told the chairman of NDA, his best dancer had absolutely no chance against Tom, who at that time was the best player in Norway. Machine dance isn’t like other dances in that sense, you need to learn how to read the arrows and tune your steps very carefully to the music, and it takes a lot of practice and experience to master it. The chairman was fascinated to see how fast it went, and how accurate Tom was. He also understood that we were decent people who wanted to get recognition for something which, from the point of view of physical exercise and competitiveness, is a sport without a doubt, there are many sports which aren’t even close to machine dance when it comes to those elements.

He told us that NDA would be happy to accept the sport under their association, and explained to us the procedure to get established in the right way. We then proceeded with opening the first machine dance sports club in Oslo called DDR Oslo in early 2004. We invited the most active core players in the area and made sure to fulfill all required positions on the board, general management etc according to the rules, Thomas prepared the proper paper work, and after that we sent in our application. After a bit of back and forth, as well as help from NDA, we got it through. The first computer based sport in the world was a fact, and we had made sure it happened! In many ways we couldn’t believe it :).

Once this amazing fact had some time to sink in, Thomas and myself were starting to ask ourselves if this could affect the way we worked with dance machines in Norway. We decided to look into whether there would be any exemptions from laws because our product was used for a sport, and the relevant areas were to see if we maybe didn’t need to have licenses to put out machines as well as whether our income from the machines could be deducted from vat (value added tax, which is 25 % of the actual turnover). No arcade machine in Norwegian history had avoided being regulated by those two issues.

I honestly don’t recall how we managed to find out that we could avoid having license for the machines, but that part worked out. Thomas did, like so often, the basic research on the vat part, and found out that there is no vat on sport activity, although products with a coin mechanical device would normally be considered an entertainment activity and not a sport. So we started off without great hopes, and asked our lawyers to send a letter to the vat authorities. They declined our application to be free of vat, on the basis of the fact that the machines had a coin mech, like we feared. I did not think that actually made any sense, a sport activity is a sport activity whether you pay at a counter or put a coin inside a machine, so we told our lawyers to try again. Again, our application was declined. Our lawyer said she did not believe we could change their mind, and suggested we give up, since we would otherwise spend unnecessary money on her work.

We decided to take the case into our own hands (remember our internal mission statement from chapter one “we don’t give up that easily, you know), and formulated our own letter, which we sent to them, stating that they were discriminating this new and exciting sport. We argued that a pool table in a bowling hall is considered to be a sport activity, as is bowling. The coin mech of our machines should not matter, the activity was done next to the other activities, and people did it all for both sport and entertainment, with machine dance involving a much higher level of physical activity. We argued that a pool table in a pub, which is usually where they have coin mechs, wasn’t comparable to our machine. Again our application was declined.

Then we decided to contact NDA, and ask them to send us a letter, asking the vat authorities to stop discriminating this new sport on the basis of a technical detail. We formulated the letter, they agreed to the contents…not only did the chairman of NDA sign, they even managed to get the chairman of the Norwegian Sports Association and Olympic Committee to sign the paper, then sent it to us. We attached this to our next letter, which went to the department higher than the one that had declined us all the time. 2 weeks later we got the response. They had accepted our application, and our dance machines were now exempt of vat. Again we had written history, and this helped us a lot financially! Not only did we not have to pay vat for the future, but Thomas and myself decided that we would apply to get all the vat we had paid for dance machine income in the past returned to us, because something which is a sport now has always been a sport, even if not recognized as such. This felt pretty farfetched, but guess what? They said yes, and transferred close to 100.000 EUR back to our bank account! When others in the arcade machine industry heard about this, they couldn’t believe their ears :).

The fact that machine dance had become an official sport led to way more media coverage, it led to machine dance clubs starting up around Norway and even to us joining the International Dance Organization etc. But those matters, which happened after the first European Championships at the Gathering in 2004, which again happened shortly after Thomas and me went to Hong Kong to get started on our first consumer dance mats, but will all be explained in the next chapters of the PG story. After that we will get to how we presented our first European wide concept to Konami, how we got the idea for the multiplayer dance game concept and how Konami later became unable to supply us with more arcade machines as well, something which led us to have to look in other directions for the future. Stay tuned for the real exciting parts of the PG story!

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