NBA 2K13 Releasing from Position of Strength

Posted October 1st, 2012 at 10:15 am

NBA 2K13 is hoping to deliver on high-profile flashy new features along with core gameplay improvements when it releases tomorrow. Some areas (like online play and Association mode) took a backseat to MyCareer, MyTeam (Ultimate Team clone), and Jay-Z inspired presentation touches. Though there may be some frustrated with those decisions it is undeniable that what 2K is doing with the series has resonated with the masses. Whether that will be enough to continue to grow the series in sales will soon be realized. 

Improvements to already established areas of yearly sports games simply don’t move the needle. Something dramatic has to be done to them otherwise they’re perceived as just more of the same. That is why every game tries to push a new mode or a new spin on an old one. Big advancements and innovation are what attract the consumers who don’t already just buy the game every year without needing more reasons to do so. 2K Sports is offering plenty of that along with the typical base improvements to gameplay that would be expected. Changing up the controls is actually more dramatic than what a company would generally do in their situation.

It would be faulty to compare sales of NBA 2K13 to 2K12 given the lockout affected them significantly – only to ramp up and sustain a high level once the season began and through the playoffs. What will be interesting to analyze will be 2K13’s sales up against 2K11’s. With NBA 2K11 there was a perfect storm created with the inclusion of Michael Jordan and an incredible organic social media wave that resulted in over a million copies being sold in its first month.

The buzz isn’t quite to the same level now as pre-2K11 but as the sales of a yearly title increases that becomes a more difficult barometer to rely on. Exposure levels for 2K13 have been extreme with the involvement of Jay-Z, the Dream Team, and celebrities promoting the product through social channels. 2K has reached a point where consumers expect a very good game – though less so a sufficient online play experience – so the element of catching them by surprise like 2K11 did has been mostly eliminated.

A poll on Operation Sports pegs 21% of respondents as not planning to buy the game because Crew mode was left out. Of course that number won’t be representative of the entire consumer base but it will be interesting to see whether it sparks some sort of rebellion from those who wanted it similar to what Madden NFL 13 had to deal with recently.

Like the decision from 2K not to add back in Crew, EA Sports passed on reinserting relatively low-usage features like Fantasy Drafts and player editing, resulting in a small but very vocal crowd making themselves heard through user reviews on various sites. EA responded by actually adding in the Fantasy Drafts (and likely will do the same with editing) but that won’t be happening with Crew. It was a passionate reaction to learning Crew was removed with 2K12 – though that was truly justifiable since 2K was deceptive about the mode being gone and refused to address it either pre-release or for a month after. Still it represents just a blip on the radar with the potential of influence spreading should online problems increase the reasoning to do so.

Having no competition given NBA Live 13’s cancellation means little to 2K13. Its sales won’t be affected in any way with Live out of the way. Pressure on the company to improve online performance and options has been reduced though and the lack of attention paid to Association mode probably gets similar consideration given the absence of a competition where boundaries are constantly being pushed.

NBA 2K13 could very well exceed early sales of NBA 2K11 – though it will be no small feat to do so. What the numbers will display is whether the basketball gaming market, which has ballooned with 2K’s recent success, is sustainable over the long haul and will act as an indication of whether the ways in which the company has dedicated resources is resonating or if they are targeting the wrong things having perspective that has shifted with recent success.