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Editorial: It Will Get Worse For NBA Live

by Matthew Kato on Oct 01, 2012 at 11:09 AM

When EA Sports canceled NBA Elite 11 in 2010, I found the decision regrettable but looked forward to brighter days ahead. Now that NBA Live 13 has been cancelled, things are getting ugly.

Biting off more than it could chew, EA Canada's new control scheme for NBA Elite 11 was such a mess that EA Sports had little choice but to kill the project. Call me an optimist, but I was heartened that the company committed itself to producing a better product rather than foisting a bad game on a video game sports population that is already wary of year-in-year-out cash-ins.

Two years later, after EA changed development studios we still don't have an NBA title from EA Sports. While it's easy to laugh at EA's bungling of the development, the lack of another title to compete with 2K Sports' NBA 2K series inadvertently represents another bad trend in the sports video game landscape. Video game versions of NFL football, MLB (assuming 2K doesn't renew its license), NHL, and the NBA all face no competition in their respective sports. Many believe the lack of competition hurts the final product. Football fans love to point out Madden's years of failure in the current generation (and the fact that in some areas the old NFL 2K5 is still better) as evidence that competition is healthy.

I'm also nervous that after this many delays, EA may decide to put the franchise on hold until the next-generation of consoles. It's seductive to think that developer EA Tiburon could use all that time to build the game and have it hit the ground running when the next Xbox hits, but if it's true that earnest work on NBA Live 13 started only a year ago, it's impractical to expect EA Tiburon to burn a lot of money and resources working for multiple years on a game that's not expected to come out in the next calendar year. Not to mention that the momentum that NBA 2K will continue to accumulate if EA Sports waits that long could be insurmountable.

Perhaps the most dangerous competition for the franchise will come from within. With each missing NBA game, the company loses out on millions of dollars – a situation that shareholders can't be happy about. In 2010, EA Sports put out NBA Jam to represent the sport, but that's not the kind of product that can be relied upon indefinitely to fill the NBA void. I also wonder if the league itself imposes any licensee penalties for not putting out product. As bad as things have been for the series, the ultimate insult could be that EA decides it's not worth all the lost revenue and just throws in the towel. 

It's easy to think of a licensed sports game as a churned out product, but the sad saga of NBA Live shows that not only is the yearly competition stiff, but if you slip up for a moment (or three), things can get out of hand fast.