2K Sports is coming off the extraordinary release of NBA 2K11 which in most years would mean smooth sailing. Word of mouth from the previous iteration often is the biggest influence on consumer support and confidence and marketing wise the company has that in its back pocket. However with the NBA lockout official and expected to extend into the season the series now faces similar hurdles to those Madden NFL 12 dealt with earlier in the summer. More problematic is that 2K12 does so with a labor situation that appears much less likely to be resolved without damage having being done first.
NBA 2K12 does have the benefit of the Madden series having fended off the majority of “will the game come out?” questions. It took months of stating the game would release and do so with all the teams and rosters – and several initiatives such as the cover athlete voting – to get that message across. Consumers largely now understand that despite a lockout the licenses remain in place to release the games. It’s fascinating however to see the lengths to which the NBA is distancing itself from the players. All official websites have removed images of the players. NBA 2K12 could be the only way for fans to connect with players at all.
Like Madden there is also no worry about competition as EA Sports delayed the return of their sim NBA series to 2012. Though EA Sports NBA surely would have been pushed back regardless, knowing the lockout was inevitable probably gave the company extra confidence to use this year to build rather than push out a product that could not compete. NBA 2K12 therefore has the market to itself. Both companies recently extended their contracts with the NBA.
Analysts believe NBA 2K12 could see sales drops of 50% or more if a lockout causes a delay to the start of the season or a complete cancellation. That seems a bit extreme – though sales will likely not reach last year’s heights regardless. First week sales will still be strong but the struggles would come in its hold from month to month and holiday sales. 2K11 has shown unbelievably strong holds keeping it in the top 10 in software sales even last month. Less reliance on the current (now past) season seems to have helped and that can be attributed to the incorporation of the Michael Jordan based modes.
Without roster updates driving interest and features such as NBA Today crippled keeping up interest levels and relevance to the public will be difficult. There is also the question of whether rookies will be included on rosters which has yet to be addressed. Even if sales were to drop by half of what 2K11 did to keep things in perspective those numbers would still be more than 2K10′s sales. Not a tragic result just a disappointing one for 2K.
The NBA 2K series has built such a strong fan base the past few years that it will survive even a lengthy lockout. 2K Sports surely planned ahead and will introduce compelling features meant to counteract problems that will be come upon should the lockout drag on. The series will take a hit but its momentum should be enough to carry it though. Longterm effects however could be felt if the popularity of the NBA drops in the process.