Though the news of NBA Live 13′s impending release as a discount digital title doesn’t come as a surprise given the events of recent months it does reaffirm general pessimistic assessments towards the product and explain the disappearance of promotion by EA Sports. The tactic being employed is not one of confidence nor is it an attempt to gain marketshare on a competitor. It’s admission of defeat and could signal the end of basketball from EA.
Ultimately the only way EA could reestablish themselves as a player with consumers would be to release a quality effort whether full priced as a retail release or at a discount as a digital release. All signs point to the lower price not being a long term strategy but instead done out of necessity knowing that it would not be good enough to draw any interest when going up directly against an entrenched competitor.
EA however was fully aware that they would not gain ground on NBA 2K this year even if they delivered a stellar effort. The best they could have hoped for would be to build some credibility with consumers. They rebooted the series with this in mind and have failed to even achieve that lowest of goals.
It would not at all be surprising for this to be the last NBA game from the company – if it even ends up releasing at all. Going fully digital, regardless of price, is not some kind of grand strategy. Rather they are dumping the game on the market to die and this has been evidenced by every digital release from the company to date which have been barely advertised and rarely supported beyond release.
The development costs for such a project are significant – from the NBA licensing deal to the large development team and more – and can not be recouped with $20 digital releases. A strategy of offering additional modes for something like $5 each would be interesting but would require people actually want to own the base game first.
NBA Live 13 is in no way comparable to when 2K Sports dropped their line of 2005 titled games to $20 in an attempt to increase awareness. Live isn’t a quality series that just needs people to try it out. It’s a series that, in a span of three years, has gone from the very good Live 10 to an afterthought that one would have difficulty justifying spending even $20 on.
What EA might be looking for is hardcore basketball fans to spend $80 on the NBA this year – because they’re not going to choose Live over 2K13 – and that the casual crowd (that might not normally buy an NBA game) might have interest at the lower price. Neither is a particularly enticing scenario to be banking on.
EA Sports has bypassed opportunities to change the story on NBA Live 13 and the reasons are clear. They don’t have anything that’s going to change perception of the game and they may feel better letting it quietly release and hope that some will buy it without knowing any better. EA would have been able to stick with a loser that had potential with the future in mind, but they won’t do so when the challenges are overwhelming and the end game is clear.