Ch 8: An exciting period of uncertainty - The Positive Gaming Story

03 - 01 - 2013

Ch 8: An exciting period of uncertainty - The Positive Gaming Story

This chapter explains the beginning of the end of our cooperation with Konami, how we got from creating the prototype of the multiplayer to start up a pilot study with it in Holland, how Basilius van Houte first got involved in the story, our first challenges in the relationship with Cobalt Flux as well as a few points related to the preparations for the European Championships in 2005. 

Like with many parts of the PG Story, not all points are extremely crucial in themselves, but I try to only include things that either are of clear interest as standalone topics, or which otherwise connect the dots in order for someone who reads the whole story to understand what lead to this, and why we did that etc.

In the middle of January 2005, Thomas, Daniel and myself travelled to the annual ATEI arcade trade show in London. We were mainly there to check out the new arcade release from Konami, called Dancing Stage Fusion. Konami had already released a Playstation 2 version with the same name in November 2004, and that was a big disappointment to the active players. The reason for this was that the game had mainly pop songs, most of which were not very challenging to play for experienced players, and the arrow combinations that accompanied the songs were not of a very good quality.

Traditionally Konami had always made an arcade release first, and then come out with a consumer version after words, but that trend was about to change. The reason was that Konami’s main revenue was coming from the consumer games, and the arcade releases no longer had great priority within Konami. I later found out that Konami had fired their Japanese DDR development team after they finished 9th mix, known as DDR Extreme. Konami’s dance game crew now consisted of people from their consumer division, none of which had much of an idea how and why things in the past had been done in a certain way within the game. So what they tended to do for the following years was to put in some new graphics, add some songs which were more or less suitable for the game, and released it…in some cases using songs from old releases in Japan as part of their new European releases. This may not sound very significant to the average person, but it was the beginning of the end for Konami’s games as the preferred tournament games, as well as what the dance game communities were excited about.

For us this was a bit devastating, since we had invested a lot into Euromix 2, which was a pretty good machine for its’ time, but we were now told that we could not buy those any more. Now all we could buy was Dancing Stage Fusion, which basically was a Playstation 2 game and console put into an arcade machine, with 4 old arcade songs added to the 49 that were on the consumer version. We were eager to purchase many more Euromix 2 machines if that would be an option, but since it wasn’t, we were not sure what to do. We decided to focus more on other dance game products.

While we were at the trade show, I was communicating with Alfred from Body and Mind. We now had a functioning prototype, and he wanted to start up a pilot study at a fitness studio called Special Sports in Amstelveen in Holland, owned by Guus van der Meer, the man who had suggested that we made a group version of DDR at the fitness trade show in Holland, as described in chapter 6.

Creating the prototype of the multiplayer for a pilot study in Holland

Body and Mind and Positive Gaming still had no agreement regulating our cooperation, and looking at Alfred’s attitude when it came to ownership and control, I wasn’t too inspired. He claimed that Body and Mind owned the whole concept, since it was their idea and their product. He forgot about the fact that Guus was the person who mentioned the idea in passing to Toon and myself, PG came up with the idea for how to create a prototype of the game, we sourced and developed the prototype software, we sourced and got the rights for the dance mats to go along with the game, and all Body and Mind had done so far was to show serious interest and get Guus van der Meer to host a pilot study in his fitness studio.

We had some heated email exchanges where he tried to bully me into surrendering, a tactic that tend to not work so well against me. Like many others have done before him, he treated me as a kid who should be happy with whatever I was offered, and I just didn’t see things from that perspective. Since we needed each other at this stage, we decided to meet up to discuss, so Alfred and Toon from Body and Mind came to Norway and we had a meeting at my father’s place. My father went on to create a Letter of Understanding that both sides could accept, even if neither of us were very satisfied with the outcome. I guess we were both too ambitious to want to give so much power to the other side, not the least because the product was far from ready to go to market, and it was hard to say who would ensure that it could be finalized. Body and Mind ended up as responsible for all further investments into the product, and we would work together to try to get it ready to be released on the market. Then Body and Mind were supposed to do the marketing and sales of it, with us responsible for development and manufacturing. Things would continue to be turbulent after this, but at least we had what was needed for both sides to move forward.

In February Daniel travelled to Holland, and there he met up with the project manager for the pilot study, called Basilius van Houte. Basilius, or Bas, was working as a judo teacher at Special Sports, and was a man Guus had a lot of confidence in. He had a background as fitness trainer, sports teacher, dancer etc, and was equipped with a good understanding of computers and technical devices. Certainly the right man to lead the pilot study! And Bas would turn out to have important roles in the future of PG, which we obviously didn’t know then, I hadn’t even met him yet. Daniel trained Bas on the product, Alfred created a project plan and assigned responsibilities etc, and shortly after this the pilot started. It was agreed that we would regroup and look into the first results and thoughts within 1 month after the study started.

In the mean while Thomas and myself were preparing to go to Hong Kong and China, because we were on our way to enter into the soft dance mat market, and had placed our first order of Positive Gaming mats from a supplier in Shenzhen.

We kept on discussing with Ladd from Cobalt Flux when it came to our cooperation, because even though he was positive to giving us the European distributor rights for the Cobalt Flux products, he didn’t seem able to relate to the way of building up distributorship on the European market. It was hard for him to relate to that there are many small countries in Europe where everything has to be started from scratch (dance games were generally only available in a few countries, and only well known in UK and Norway), all different languages, no common media and marketing options in general, and because of the small sizes of each country compared to the US, an importer of products needs a higher profit margin than a normal distributor in the US. He wanted his profit margins, and wanted us to figure out the rest. But we struggled to find a model which would inspire us to invest into it, as well as importers / distributors, since there must be a certain profit margin for that to make sense…it’s not enough to have a good product, if no one makes money on it, it just won’t be spread via other distribution channels than web shops. The fact that Cobalt Flux offered the same mats on their web shop for a lower price than we could possibly offer it for didn’t help matters either.

We told Ladd that if he didn’t change his attitude when it came to either his own profit margins with him as the manufacturer, or otherwise let us be able to manufacture the mats ourselves and pay him a license fee, we would have to look into creating our own dance mat. He didn’t like the sound of that, and our relationship got strained. I suggested that it could be worth it for him to come to our next big event, the European Championships in Norway at the end of March. He agreed to this, and we decided to keep the discussions on hold until then, and try to find mutually beneficial solutions. He informed me that his company would be at a fitness trade show called IHRSA earlier in March, and they would show their new commercial dance mat models there for the first time. That show would have a bit more drama in it than any of us had imagined.

There was lots of excitement within the player communities across Europe about the upcoming European Championships at the end of March. It looked like the event would be significantly bigger than the year before, and I was contacted by broadcasting companies in the UK and Germany who wanted to travel to the event together with their national champions. We also planned to show our multiplayer prototype to the public for the first time during that event. PG was still a company with just a few people, but many were willing to help us out. Sesse, the programmer who had made the prototype software for the multiplayer, had created a new tournament software that would be used for the first time at the championships.

In chapter 9 I will tell the story of our trip to Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and in chapter 10 and 11 the European Championships and the immediate aftermath.

 

 


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