Details on NBA Elite 11’s Demise

Posted December 2nd, 2010 at 5:00 pm

The first inside look yet at what led to the cancellation of NBA Elite 11 has been provided today by Kotaku who interviewed Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello. In what amounts to a step-by-step recollection Riccitiello is forthright with details on what was happening behind the scenes and why the final decision was made.

“Somewhere in the July timeframe, they were flashing from Canada that the game was going to come in hot. In a way, they’d sort of bit off two years’ worth of work that they could only get done in 18 months. So it was going to come in hot. But they were still signaling to us that it was going to come in good, that they were going to get it.

That matches up pretty well with the vibes I was getting at the time and expressed often on the site all along, though that really went back to E3 in June when the game was held behind closed doors and restricted to one-on-one play. It was pretty evident that there was the potential of disaster and that they were probably running behind schedule.

“The demo went on around the same time we were mastering the game [Editor’s note: Meaning the game was just about done and ready to go in boxes headed to stores]. The report was — we had known a month earlier that the gameplay was great but that they didn’t synch up well against the animations, which was what….”

As Riccitiello searched for his next work, I extended my arms out to the sides, in the manner of the notorious bug that helped make the NBA Elite 11 demo a mockery. “This guy,” I said. “Yeah,” Riccitiello responded.

“So we knew that there was an issue, but they said we’re going to get this solved in the next 150 hours before it goes final.

This right here is where I take some issue with the description of the situation. The idea that all NBA Elite 11 would need was less than a week of work to fix what ailed it is laughable. No one reasonably could have thought the gameplay was “great”, that if only the animation issues were cleaned up it would have been well received. There was a lot more to why consumers dismissed the demo than the Bynum video that went viral and the and hook shot exploit.

“So there’s the table: You can ship a product you’re not proud of and compete for marginal share. You can delay the game to get a better product, but that’s going to have a knock-on effect. And we made what I judged to be the best call given the circumstances.”

It was the right decision for all parties involved, and really the only one that made sense for EA going forward. In this case Riccitiello isn’t asking for sympathy and I don’t think EA deserves any here after pumping up the game throughout the summer as a revolution when they knew it wasn’t going to be that. What he does is make it clear that it was a business decision so that at least should be respected.

“To be honest with you, I don’t want to sound self-satisfied, but I’m pretty proud of our ability to make that decision. Because, I don’t think the consumer was served badly by buying 2K. It’s a good game. And I think we’re better served. We were originally going to put Jam in our package. By separating it out people got to see what a good game that is. “

It’s good to see the recognition of the competition’s product here. Of course at the same time EA has fallen behind 2K even further, as that series has basically become the “Madden” of NBA titles. NBA Jam though has proven to be a disappointment and has not buffered the losses incurred by Elite’s cancellation in the manner they probably expected.

For the record, he wouldn’t confirm that EA’s got a simulation style basketball game for next year, be it Live, Elite or something new. But, he said, “We’re EA Sports, for Christ’s sake.”

Which would suggest there will be an NBA 12. However with the studio move to Tiburon and a tight schedule it is tough to imagine how they will pull off the quality effort needed to reestablish some credibility with consumers. That will likely need to be the main goal in the near term rather than worry over sales numbers. Make sure to check out the full article at Kotaku.

Ultimately the failure to deliver NBA Elite 11 as promised by the team that worked on it led to losses of jobs and the shift to Tiburon to handle the series. Whether or not anyone is interested in the upcoming offering it will be fascinating to follow its developments such how the game is branded (back to Live or a new name), whether the ideas that drove Elite will be used or if the game will essentially be rebooted again, and if it can all come together in time to ship in early October 2011.