EA Sports Must Evaluate Their Dedication to NBA and Make Tough Decision

Posted October 5th, 2012 at 11:15 am

When EA Sports announced that NBA Live 13 had been cancelled it came as little surprise to anyone following developments behind the series. The signs have been there for months and were covered extensively. Still, despite seemingly all reasoning otherwise, the company claims work on Live will continue with a release next fall. Everyone should recognize however that plans such as that are tentative at best. The series could be ended for good as soon as their next financial call with investors which would be the time to announce such a move. 

Throughout the summer coverage of the game included mentions of the potential of a cancellation and that the series could effectively be dead with a troubled release, delay and release, and even just the outright cancellation – though the potential of returning is much higher after a cancellation compared to the other options. EA Sports has poured tens of millions into development of Live over the past three years and received zero in returns.

Expectations were certainly low even had Live 13 released but that doesn’t change that money has been essentially thrown away one way or the other. EA can’t continue to justify such an investment. With the next console generation approaching, likely next fall, concentrating efforts there would be most worthwhile. Whether the NBA – which has to be extremely frustrated with EA – would grant them the ability to just focus on producing a game for the next generation is questionable. It is telling however that they were apparently willing to let EA release the game for $20 as a digital download when the product that has actually represented them well, NBA 2K, would not have such flexibility granted whether they would utilize it or not.

Kotaku has gone as far as to call for EA to give up on NBA Live. Considering how bare-bones Live 13 was planned to be that’s understandable if their vision is so shortsighted. That isn’t necessarily the only route to take even with the current turmoil. As a brand, not having the NBA damages the company as a whole, the same as not having MLB has reduced brand value. One could easily however argue that having NBA Live under the umbrella is actually doing more harm than having nothing at all. Certainly just about everyone would take the trade-off that would be EA dropping NBA and shifting focus to an MLB game. That, unfortunately for the time being, doesn’t seem to be a realistic proposition in the company’s mind.

One thing is for sure and that is all trust with consumers towards EA’s NBA products is gone. There has been a three year gap since the release of their last sim NBA game and they’ve been unable to produce one worthy of even hitting the market. There are a lot of bad games that are deemed acceptable for release. They may not have the responsibility to a league that EA does here, making it something the company can’t just dump on the market and move on from, but it goes to show just how poor the state of Live has become. Unfortunately the very good NBA Live 10 has been dissolved in favor of taking a risk and trying to convince consumers they want something different than they actually do…then failing to produce anything and embarrassing everyone involved in the process. Even still public statements suggest they are having difficulty to accepting reality and responsibility for the hole they’ve dug themselves.

EA learned some from the NBA Elite 11 fiasco. They were far less arrogant in their promotion of Live 13. Still, the manner in which they handled things such as selectively showing the game, running a transparent “contest” for a community event, and refusing to comment on the product leaving consumers in the dark throughout the summer was a huge mistake. They needed to be completely open and honest. If anyone thinks that Live would be in a worse state because they involved fans or apprised media of developments they’re delusional. They can’t trick people back into wanting their NBA product and disguising the process only creates additional skepticism.

Back when NBA Elite 11 was delayed EA president John Riccitiello responded to a question on whether there would be an NBA game in 2011 with “We’re EA Sports, for Christ’s sake.” Such a statement should haunt them. It represents exactly the attitude that has to change if the company is to have any hope of winning people back in the years to come.