The announcement that EA Sports has delayed NBA Elite 11 was surely met by applause at 2K Sports as it leaves NBA 2K11 as the sole “sim” release for this season. 2K11 was already in position to blow Elite out of the water in sales but now it finds itself owning the entire market. However as the Madden franchise has learned that can bring about a level of scrutiny that is sometimes difficult to deal with and expectations that can almost be impossible to meet.
The difference between NBA 2K and Madden though is that competition looms for 2K. It may not be there right now, but 2K must keep customer relations high as EA will be bringing an NBA offering back at some point (most likely October of next year). They do not have the luxury of knowing they’ll have the market to themselves for at least the length of a licensing contract. So if 2K11 were to let gamers down due poor online play, game-damaging glitches, or slacking in customer relations that could still hurt them in the long run. They will still feel the heat to provide a high quality product and that is what the presence of competition provides.
2K Sports has struggled with online play in the past with all of their titles, and have yet to deliver a full satisfactory experience with the NBA 2K series. Every year it seems that the company has promised improvements only to fail in that regard. After initially speaking about improvements to the online infrastructure months ago 2K has not touched on the subject since. Even if/when they do none of it will really matter until consumers have the game and can weigh in on the experience first hand.
The even bigger issue now is that tens of thousand of additional sales for NBA 2K11 were created with Elite vacating its scheduled release. Many of the people who would have picked up that game will now grab 2K11 instead. While 2K was surely planning for a big increase in sales this year due to the prominence of Michael Jordan’s tie-in with the game, this is a huge development and whether they will be able to handle the load is in question. It was in question even before this news, but this makes for even more skepticism that they’ll be in position to deliver the online experience that gamers expect these days.
2K Sports is in a great position to become entrenched as the NBA product that consumers buy every year for the foreseeable future. It has been on the brink of that as a brand for about two years now but the opportunity is there to achieve that should they not stumble. Just being the only game available isn’t going to do that though, they have to meet the even higher expectations that will now be placed on the product.