For the last 13 years, Ubisoft's Just Dance series has been empowering people to shake their booties and bust moves from the comfort (and let's be honest, privacy) of their own living rooms. With Just Dance 2023 Edition launching November 22, we sat down with Creative Director Matthew Tomkinson and Executive Producer Claire Bourgne from Ubisoft's Paris studio to talk about online multiplayer, fan-favorite tracks, and more.
Let's start with the new stuff right off the bat. What are some of the new features coming to Just Dance 2023 Edition?
Matthew Tomkinson: There are three main things about Just Dance 2023 Edition that make it really unique compared to the previous games. First, we have a brand-new user interface with a new art direction. It's much more convenient to choose songs and we've worked on a new and improved recommendation system to suggest songs to players. When you play the game, it will be different for you compared to other players; it looks at what you play and what you like, and it will be very much adapted to each person. We are also expanding the playlists within the game so that players can play uninterrupted without having the hassle of going back to the menu and choosing a new song after each dance.
Second, we have multiplayer groups, which allow you to play with up to five other people. This sounds quite obvious for lots of games, but for us to synchronize everyone together, and to see what kind of interactions we could have between them, it was quite a complex design challenge on Just Dance. We worked on a sticker system that allows you not only to express your emotions and personality to other players, but could also be used to brag when you win, or show your disappointment when you lose. Players can also use it to recommend the song that they want next. I think that will be a big game-changer for players.
Third, we've really reinvented the art direction, so you'll have more dynamic camera moves while you play a map. We have added faces to the characters, which express more of their emotions and support the stories we're trying to tell. The 3D environments make it more immersive, with environmental lighting applied to the coach that makes them really feel like they are a part of the map. Really, we are creating music videos for all the maps with different art styles to fit the song. When you play Just Dance 2023 Edition, you really feel like you're in a new era of Just Dance compared to the previous editions.
Claire Bourgne: Just Dance has been around for quite a while now, and what's super-important is that we still want to provide the same kind of excitement that we've been providing from the start. Just Dance "moments" are about sharing, fun, and having a positive experience by yourself or with others. On top of that, we decided to rebuild the game to better match the needs and the expectations of our players. Online multiplayer is a big thing; it's super-cool, and especially in the last three years we've all experienced that it's so valuable to be able to have the same kind of experience at a distance. The online groups are something that we're very excited to bring to the players. They're going to have lots of fun with it, and that's something that's really at the heart of what we've done this year. We want everything that you can do in your living room to be available at a distance, too.
We are also super-happy with the new artistic direction for the game, which makes it look more mature and modern. We're very proud of the new look, and we really hope that people are going to enjoy just being in the game. We have also created an easy-to-use interface and simpler interaction with the game. We put lots of effort into people being able to easily search and navigate, but also into making their lives easier and perhaps more interesting by having a recommendation system that is efficient and that understands who you are as a player and dancer.
Now the most important question: BTS are in the lineup this year! What was it like getting them on board, and can we expect even more from the K-Pop world?
CB: It's been a long story with them! We've been kind of circling around each other for quite a while. They are definitely a big inspiration and a group that we've wanted to put in Just Dance for a long time. Actually, we wanted to work with them so badly that we even created an entire map for them and sent it over a while ago. Then, at some point, they posted on social media that they were playing Just Dance. We were going wild in the office! We were so happy, and we knew that there was this mutual willingness to work together, and that they liked what we were doing. It was really just a matter of time, and we finally made it happen.
I hope that we will continue to work with them, because what they do is so relevant for our fans and our game. We also have other fantastic K-Pop maps that we're releasing this year and that we've released already in the past, but we have plenty for other audiences too. My 13-year-old is all about Blackpink, and she's going to be ecstatic when she plays the BTS map. But then my three-year-old, all she wants is the Alphabet Song and Baby Shark, right? [laughs]
MT: We were super happy to be able to include BTS at last. It was so obvious: Not only are they great dancers, but they have a great visual universe. Even the cheerfulness and positivity of BTS really fits the Just Dance spirit. We had the opportunity to work with the choreographers themselves, because we are adapting their choreography to work with the game. We are very, very close to the official choreos, but still adapting it a bit so that it works with the number of characters that we have on screen.
What possibilities does online play open up for players, especially on social media?
MT: We have lots of players who like to stream and share their performance, particularly on Twitch. Online multiplayer was a feature they requested for a long time, because even if they have lots of commands on Twitch, they cannot play with their community. Now they will be able to invite up to five other players and select who they want to play with, and that will make it much more interactive.
CB: The fact that Just Dance is so strong on social media, for us it's really important, because this is where we built our success, with people filming each other and posting their performances to places like YouTube. Then we joined other social media platforms, and through that we have built a very strong, passionate, and creative community across Twitch, YouTube, TikTok, and more. Our game is super-social and it's about dance. Dance unites people, and that's what social media is all about: making connections and positive spaces for people to share and be creative together.
What was the inspiration behind the new look of the user interface (UI) and why did you choose to redesign it?
CB: Just Dance is a game that offers lots of songs to play, and lots of different ways to play them. With all this content, we want to make sure that we give you ways to navigate easily, and that we present content that is relevant for you - it's at the heart of the UI redesign. We also wanted to make sure that we were welcoming to all of our audience. We have people from very different backgrounds with very different needs who love to play Just Dance: people who want to dance with their friends, people who want to dance with their kids, kids who want to dance alone, people who want to perform well and to be extremely high in the rankings, and so on.
We want to accompany our players who are a little bit more mature with a user interface and an artistic direction that is a little more modern and fits with some of the trends we're seeing as well. Another thing fans have been requesting for a long time is a dark mode. That's really a big thing for some people, and I'm one of them! Some of the inspiration for the new look came from the evolution of other entertainment services as well, and making sure that people would find it not only easy and familiar to navigate, but also beautiful and inspiring.
MT: One thing we took inspiration from was current streaming platforms. Elements like including the titles of songs in their covers, creating unique fonts that are more consistent - these come from some of the things we saw on other platforms. For the process of how we came to those choices, we actually have the same process for all the different features that we have in the game: I start with a creative brief that expresses the high-level ambition of the experience we want to target. It's like a story or desire for things a player might want. For example, as a player, I want to access my content much faster; as a player, I want to have content that is recommended and that fits my needs, or I want to spend less time in menus.
After that, I work with the UI director and the user experience lead to create mockups of the interface that we want, and of course we also look at other platforms and games, even things like music-streaming platforms or video platforms. After creating the prototypes, we try them out and playtest them with real players, then we take the feedback and we iterate on the design. It's only much later that we even get to adding the art and reach the final result, because we first focus on how it feels and works.
How does the new recommendation system work?
CB: It's not the first time in Just Dance that we've had a recommendation system, but it has always been something that is important for us and players. People can play Just Dance for the music they know and love, but they can also discover new songs that perhaps they haven't been exposed to before. It's very cool to have some surprises with music that either you didn't know or that you thought that you wouldn't like, and all of a sudden that opens you up to a new world, because you would never have thought of playing this song. Then with the new system, it's part of playlist or it's recommended by the game, and it's like, "Oh my God, that's so cool! I would never have thought of that."
That mindset of discovery and fun is what we want to create. It's a system that we've been working on, and that we are improving year after year. It takes into consideration what you play and how you play, so the more time you spend in the game, the better it's going to be to match your needs. It even considers the time of the day that you're playing and the number of people who are playing together. For example, if you are someone who often plays in fitness mode, the system is going to understand that, and recommend that kind of content. But also, if you usually play every morning to get a workout in, then all of a sudden on a Saturday night you're in a group with five people connected to your console, maybe you are not in a fitness mode anymore, so we are going to present you with different kinds of songs, and this is the moment when we throw Baby Shark at you [laughs].
You're already planning to add content to the game regularly after the launch, will player feedback have an impact on what you will add to the game?
MT: We already have plenty of ideas ourselves, such as quality-of-life improvements and other new features that we can bring to the game. At the same time, we'll learn a lot seeing player feedback when we release. So, it's hard to balance, because we need some time to plan in advance, but we also need to be reactive. What we want to do for the first year is to focus as much as possible on player feedback, because maybe there's something that players will say, "OK, this is super important" about, and we will want to either fix it or add it. We will try also to take two simultaneous approaches, because part of the team will be improving the game as soon as possible based on player feedback, while another team will be creating new content and new game modes. This process is already underway, but new content takes a lot of time to develop.
CB: We are very curious to see what players want to see next. We've already shown the game to some people in our community program - the Star Players program - and we already had some feedback from them. There are definitely a few things that we want to address, but it's important for us to make sure that the game runs as smoothly as possible and that we also dedicate time to, for example, improving player experience, fixing issues that could come up, continuing to enhance the quality of the game. There are things that already exist in the game that we know we will need to evolve step-by-step as we get user feedback, too.
Why did you decide to release this edition of Just Dance only on Switch, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S?
CB: We really wanted to create a game that would take advantage of the newest platforms, and some of the things we've added to this game just wouldn't be possible on previous consoles. We also want to lay a new foundation that unlocks a whole new set of possibilities that we know we can keep supporting into the future, so we want the game to be on platforms that are going to keep on being there for years to come. We want to build on those platforms that are the most relevant for the game and to keep innovating with new ideas and new technology.
Before we go, you mentioned previously that you've added faces to the characters in this edition. How do you think this enhances the Just Dance experience?
MT: Over the last 13 years, we've created more than a thousand characters for Just Dance. In the beginning, they were mostly just based on costumes; they didn't really have faces or personalities, and they expressed everything through the dancing. Now we're building stories and backgrounds for these characters, because it's a way for players to emotionally attach to them and relate to them. They can follow their stories directly in this new game, but also into the future. Having this connection with characters that you love is something we experience with TV shows, movies, and even videogames. Through the dancing, each character's style, their personality, the emotions conveyed through their faces - we have lots of stories to tell without words.
Just Dance 2023 Edition launches on Switch, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S on November 22 - be sure to pre-order the game at the Ubisoft Store. For more on Just Dance 2023 Edition, stay tuned to our dedicated news hub and visit justdancegame.com.