With two years off to construct NBA Live 13 following the swift demise of the NBA Elite 11 reboot there was a cautious optimism about the product back in February. There was no way that Live could challenge NBA 2K13 but the opportunity was there to reestablish itself and take advantage of some of the openings that the competition had left it. It wouldn’t take long however for everything about the title to start crumbling down and expose yet another fraud.
Things were looking up for the return of the series with the positive response towards the renaming of the series to NBA Live. Despite the failings of Live earlier this generation, prior to the excellent Live 10 which came too late, the name still has meaning to a lot of people. Early promotion was successful within social channels. EA Sports was able to leverage the ability to talk about the next year’s game that early without cutting into sales of a product that was on the market at the time. It was their one true advantage over 2K Sports. That they didn’t push harder in the following months was a sign of real trouble behind the scenes.
The first big misstep however came with a deceptive contest which, rather than being a genuine opportunity to get involved in the process, was done to hook consumers so they would get invested in the game early and follow it all the way through release where they would likely buy it. It was a fraudulent “contest” in which the list of “winners” read like the typical community event the company would hold. It’s possible that the company actually thought NBA Live 13 would end up being good at this point but the desperation being shown already in March created a bad buzz that would ultimately never be overcome.
The moment of truth however came with the demonstration of Live 13 at E3. The response was so bad that the game ended up being referred to by some as the most disappointing of the event. Considering the understandably low expectations towards the title prior to E3 that was quite an accomplishment. EA was caught off-guard by this development. They felt what they had taken to the event was impressive. Remember back to NBA Elite 11 though and they had a similar view of that product and only the widespread response towards the demo, negativity from this site, and the infamous “Bynum Jesus” video got them to recognize otherwise. It took those at E3 seeing NBA Live 13 and giving honest feedback to shake the company into reality again.
Following E3 promotion of the game went into hibernation mode. Other than emerging to reveal the player ratings for rookies EA Sports refused to comment on the game. There were signs that something was going on behind the scenes that was abnormal. It wasn’t long before the theory, later proved to be true, that Live was being planned as a digital release was floated. Releasing solely digital would have been a tremendous mistake…one that EA avoided only due to cancellation. The plan was to release a fairly bare bones game through XBLA and PSN for $20 and then sell additional features on top of that.
The actual nail-in-the-coffin however was the leaked gameplay footage in August. EA did all they could to get the video removed as it was an ugly display of what they had to offer and despite their claims otherwise was representative of the product they had on their hands.
The official cancellation came at the end of September and at that point no one was surprised. If EA wanted to come back with NBA Live 14 it was the only choice. Delaying and then releasing a sub-par product would have represented the absolute end to the series. The cancellation meant that most people out there will have gone unaware that Live 13 was even meant to exist. EA can instead work towards Live 14 in the attempt to resurrect the franchise without having harmed consumers in any way by taking Live 13 to market.
What EA Sports proved in 2012 is that, regardless of the studio being developed out of, they really have no idea how to handle their NBA product. The marketing of Elite 11 was obnoxious while it turned ignorant with Live 13. They have to decide whether the NBA is even something they want to continue and that it may be better to work towards the next generation of consoles if so. For NBA Live 14 is to have any chance at earning back some credibility they’ll need to find a brand new approach – one that they’re not so accustomed to as an unlikeable underdog getting up off the mat.