Thoughts on the NBA Elite 11 Delay

Posted September 27th, 2010 at 5:25 pm

It is not so much surprising that EA Sports has announced a “delay” for NBA Elite 11 in that they have made the decision to do so, but in the proximity to its scheduled release. With just one week until it was supposed to be out this decision was likely due in large part to the negativity from the community and inability to gain any traction with casual gamers. The response to the demo may have been the final nail in the coffin, though certainly it would seem the potential to delay had been on the table for a while now.

I’ve held true to some level of skepticism since the very start of the promotion for NBA Elite 11. Initially rubbed the wrong way with how the game was being talked about by PR and its developers, to how it was kept behind the scenes and more specifically to 1-on-1 play at E3, to how it was shielded from the public in the past few months, along with how reps for the game continually made excuses or just wanted “trust”, there were signs all along that the game was in trouble. I read things right.

Now EA is “delaying” it though they haven’t gone as far as to say it is canceled. I don’t believe Elite 11 will see the light of day however. They need to invest the time and resources into producing a game for next October. If they were to put Elite 11 out in spring there wouldn’t be enough time to produce a quality follow-up product that is warranted for the standard start of the NBA season release and given the market conditions of today there is no way consumers would buy two EA Sports NBA games in a short period of time regardless.

This is going to result in a big financial hit for EA. Not only do they leave whatever sales they would have gotten on the table but they also likely face a fine from the NBA for not meeting the terms of the licensing contract and releasing on a certain date. Despite this EA knew it would have been far more damaging to release a sub-par product that would harm their NBA franchise for years to come. The delay is actually a sign that the company has longterm plans for the the NBA. Cancellation of the series would appear even more unlikely now otherwise they would have dumped the product on the market in order to cut their losses.

Look for EA to change the name of their NBA franchise yet again. NBA Elite was a poor choice, very few people liked it and it just brought about more scrutiny and ridicule. The name already has a stigma to it that it probably can’t shake. I wouldn’t be completely shocked if they went back to NBA Live as the name. Now it almost feels nostalgic. It’ll also be interesting to see if Kevin Durant says on as the cover athlete and spokesperson for the next release or if they’ll look to go fresh scrapping anything that could remind people about Elite 11.

NBA Jam is now actually in a better situation. It was likely planned all along that the game would be out for the 360/PS3 separately by the holidays. Now EA avoids consumers feeling tricked into buying Elite just to get Jam this way, and they’ll be able to sell the game to an audience that is actually excited for it. They also get the Wii version of Jam on the market by itself, leaving those who had wanted the HD version to make the decision to wait on that or pick it up for the Wii.

The decision to pack Jam into Elite made sense at the time. The NBA does not allow one company to drop the price of the game to beat the other. So EA looked to Jam as a way to add perceived value to the package. The problem is that even Jam wasn’t enough to spark interest in purchasing Elite. I noted earlier today on Twitter, before the news broke of the delay, that I was surprised EA wasn’t pushing Jam more as the selling point of the package. It probably would have been futile anyway with the indifference or negativity towards Elite.

When EA does come back with an “sim” NBA product they will be in better position to compete not having alienated an unsatisfied group that purchased Elite 11. However they will be facing what is clearly established as a superior brand and now with an unchallenged year they will have solidified the fan base even further. It’ll hurt the potential for EA to recover short term, however they are clearly looking several years down the line with this decision and have to understand it is going to take some time to gain consumer confidence back. This is just the first step in that lengthy process.

Make no mistake about it EA Sports is not doing the consumer a “favor” by delaying NBA Elite 11, this was a business decision first and foremost. The game was sure to get poor reviews, drop in sales even further, and kill the reboot that the company had invested so heavily in. It does save those people who had bought into the PR about the game being revolutionary, fans of the Live series, and those who wanted NBA Jam, from getting what would have been perceived as being fooled and misled. We’ll have to see where they go from here before fully accessing the damage that has been done and the future prospects of NBA products from EA Sports.