Can EA Recover From The NBA Elite Fiasco?

Posted October 11th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

EA Sports put themselves in a tough spot by deciding to drastically change the direction of their NBA franchise. Not only were they trying to introduce a different way to play a basketball game they were the underdog in the marketplace. As such they felt they needed to differentiate from the competition and in doing so try and convince consumers that it was what they wanted even if they didn’t know it yet.

Needless to say they failed to do just that, and when the demo arrived and gamers gave it a chance they responded with an unprecedented wave of disapproval. By delaying the game EA may have saved the potential to rebuild an NBA brand but they have fallen even farther behind the competition which has taken full advantage of the opening.

NBA 2K11 has since released and to some of the most enthusiastic response imaginable. At this point there is no reason to believe gamers who bought 2K11 would look at the competitor’s game next year. In the past 2K has struggled to produce a complete product and despite some issues with online play they have nailed it this year.

Delaying/canceling NBA Elite 11 was solely a business decision and framing this as having done a favor to consumers or wanting to just improve the game more is disingenuous. EA was ready to ship the game and charge $60 for it but after it became clear that consumer reaction to the demo was heavily negative, pre-sale numbers were strikingly low, and NBA 2K11 was ready to rock the marketplace, the company chose to pull it back.

It is certainly of some concern that EA felt Elite was worthy of a full release yet turned around to say it wasn’t ready at the last second. Essentially they felt they would lose more money long term by releasing the game than the hit they would take in lost sales this year. If they didn’t feel that way then the game would have released as anticipated. It was clear though that putting it out could very well have buried any chance EA had at producing successful NBA games in the future.

The marketing for Elite was obnoxious and turned me off very early on. The way the game was being framed and the particular wordage being used in releases raised a red flag…almost as though they were trying to convince themselves of what they were saying. As I noted over the months it became evident that EA was talking up the game as something special but at the same time shielding it from consumers.

I had a gut feeling that the game was going to be a mess and was never able to shake it. The way they continued to talk about it was really insulting to anyone who didn’t buy into what they were trying to sell blindly. They’ll have to change the way they go about marketing the next game in a manner that is more about rebuilding relations than it is talking up the release as something revolutionary.

EA is framing NBA Elite 11 as having been “delayed” but in all likelihood it will not be released. Instead they would seem to better position themselves for the future by working on a game for next year to come out at the traditional time.

Releasing any time from now through spring really doesn’t make any sense as the game would be seen as second-rate to the competition and late to the market. It would also cut into development for next year’s game severely. Just improving NBA Elite 11 isn’t going to do the job, they need to bring something drastically better than that with the distrust and indifference consumers now feel towards the series. That can only be done with better planning and significant development time.

NBA Elite would not even be able to benefit from the inclusion of NBA Jam which was a driving force behind potential sales that Elite would have had. Even with the $60 price many were looking at Jam as accounting for a big part of that cost. There is no evident intriguing value add-on that could be provided that could come close to what Jam was offering.

It is becoming more evident that EA will need to change the game of the series again as well. Going back to NBA Live or coming up with a fresh name seems necessary as the Elite “brand” is already irrevocably ruined. The Elite name was a mistake from the start.

Everyone agrees that competition is a valuable element of driving quality in sports games and should be hoping that EA Sports can push out quality products in the future. At this point though it is going to be years before they can even become a viable player again.