The Future of College Basketball Gaming

Posted February 16th, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Within a three year span no sport has taken a hit in the sports gaming world as severely as basketball. There used to be five total titles with three NBA games and two NCAA games. Now there are two NBA titles (with one possibly on its last legs) and none for college. Why has this happened specifically to the NCAA offerings and what is the current outlook on the eventual future of college basketball gaming?

College Hoops from 2K Sports dropped out because the market couldn’t support two games. When I analyzed the situation, just two weeks before that was announced, it was clear that was the case. The conventional thinking at the time was March Madness, which became NCAA Basketball, would then be able to pick up sales that had been split between the two titles. That never happened.

So now NCAA Basketball is canceled and there will be no college basketball games for the foreseeable future. Low sales, with little potential for growth, and the impact of the lawsuits that currently are being faced are the main reasons for this. Despite EA having a quasi-exclusive, as they did not buy an exclusive license just no one else has been willing to pay what the CLC has asked for, they were unable to increase sales enough to justify the costs involved with making and distributing the game.

College basketball games have never sold well. They’ve always been viewed as a secondary title and one that had several disadvantages. The games would release just over a month after the NBA games and during a time when most sports fans couldn’t care less about college basketball. For most it just doesn’t get interesting until tournament time. Add to that how it was the last sports game released during the year. It would follow up a couple months packed full of sports titles and as such it was difficult to expect gamers to spend yet another $60 on something they may have felt indifference towards.

Interestingly the release date never seemed to make much of a difference. At one point EA tried pushing March Madness into January and the sales really didn’t change at all. That was during a time where the competition was still there and released in the normal November period. Both titles sold comparably to the surrounding years.

Many would argue that 2K Sports and EA Sports can only blame themselves for the failure of their franchises. The companies cut corners borrowing a lot from the NBA games, didn’t offer much in the way of innovation (no Online Dynasty as an example), and never marketed them strongly. NBA Live has also probably been a drag on NCAA’s potential the last few years. Had it been the other way around, with College Hoops 2K being the only college offering, it probably would have performed better.

However it all comes down to there being so little potential to increase sales regardless of what they did. There was just no plausible scenario where the games would have become big sellers. So the companies decided to invest in their respective NBA franchises instead.

Something that should not be overlooked are the lawsuits that the NCAA (and EA in one case) is currently facing regarding player representations in the video games. There is merit to the claims which threaten the legitimacy of future collegiate gaming. Already we’ve seen a move towards more generic and/or inaccurate rosters. What this means is a college basketball game with already limited appeal would be even worse off if the rosters had no relation to the real life teams.

Could another company jump in and make a college basketball game? It is possible but unlikely at this time given the market conditions and other issues that would be faced. There is little demand for a game right now and the rosters would probably have to be generic, whether it be to avoid litigation or as a result of the finding in the future. The most likely scenario might be a downloadble offering on XBL/PSN that would be tournament based. There is some potential there but it would not be up to the level of quality or depth that a typical retail offering would provide.