Likely Loss of NBA Season Creates Immediate Problem For 2K Sports

Posted November 21st, 2011 at 11:00 am

While both 2K Sports and EA Sports have to be concerned about the effect of the lockout on the consumer base for next year and beyond, 2K now faces the dilemma of how to sustain and improve current and future sales levels of NBA 2K12 in the face of fan frustration or indifference.

In a quick poll posed across multiple social networks and combined with a large number of comments the response was clear – without an NBA season interest in the game that represents the league has already been significantly damaged. 

•Own and now will sell/trade in: 26%
•Own and will keep: 23%
•Still plan to buy: 4%
•No plans to buy: 47%

There are two important elements to focus on from these results – which are not meant to be completely scientific but instead simply detect the trends. The first is that, of those who already bought 2K12, about half plan to part with it. Not even two months have passed so that is a split that otherwise wouldn’t have been present. It may be frustration with the game and/or product of anger directed at the league but regardless that is undoubtedly a discouraging figure for 2K. The more used copies that flood the market the more the value of them drop and the less likely they’ll return for another $60 next year.

The other shows the drastic difference in perception towards 2K12 vs 2K11. First month sales of 2K11 doubled the prior version its first month – but even more impressively it stayed in the top 10 of all video game sales for an unprecedented nine straight months. It reached a level of social relevance that only Madden and FIFA could stake claim to and sales were remarkably strong for its entire run. Where the lockout hurts 2K12 the most is in those sales in the months ahead when there will be no interest for anything NBA related as it slips out of the minds of sports fans, hardcore gamers and casuals alike. It began even before the events of last week.

One only needs to look at the official Xbox Live activity reports to see how things have already been impacted. NBA 2K11 was in the top 10 of games played through the end of August marking a full 11 months at that high level. NBA 2K12 fell out after its first two weeks of release and is currently found hanging on in the teens.

2K plans to try and counteract the loss of current-day interest drivers by releasing downloadable content that will again leverage the strong presence of legends in the game and even introduce new ones. At $10 it would maybe be a reasonable offering any other year, but as written previously the problem has less to do with the content than it does the timing.

The base product is already seen as having taken a hit to its value (no season/rookies/roster movement and several issues with features) and yet the company is asking for a significant investment for new modes on top of that. It’ll be a tough sell to make – but in doing so they’ll get 2K12 back into the headlines and potentially spike sales one last time along with the holiday rush. Expectations beyond that shouldn’t be high and initial response towards the DLC has been overwhelmingly negative.

Analysts expected a prolonged lockout to cost NBA 2K12 about 50% of the sales it would have had otherwise – though my projections were more around 40%. Those type of losses would mean $40 million or more down the drain for Take Two (parent company of 2K Sports). We’re about to see the impact of a lockout that, despite planning for the worst case scenario, probably few imagined would actually materialize in this manner.

NBA 2K12 has certainly had its own share of self-imposed struggles but the league lockout was out of their control. While the plan to focus on legends and historic teams was a sound one it was not going to be able to sustain sales over the long-term. It was able to survive while missing out on the opportunity to thrive due to the early affects but beyond that with no league to support it the product becomes isolated in a situation where it simply cannot win.