Monday Tip-Off: Reflections on NBA Live Community Events

At EA Tiburon for the NBA Live 16 Community Event

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games.

When I logged into Facebook this morning, “On This Day” presented me with a look back at previous posts that I’d made on July 25th. As it happens, on this day last year, I made a post letting my friends and family know that I’d be heading to the United States in the near future. The trip was for an NBA Live 16 community event that was being held at EA Tiburon in Orlando, but as I didn’t have clearance to talk about it openly just yet, I held back on the details and simply posted a teaser photo. I also had to be very coy on the NLSC Podcast, when discussing upcoming playtesting sessions and expressing a desire to be a part of them.

The NBA Live 16 event was one of the best that I’ve ever attended. While the game still had a ways to go – then and now – it was fun to get some early hands-on time with it, and experience the improvements. I also really enjoyed having the opportunity to meet with the developers and provide feedback to them directly. On top of all that, the whole event was extremely well-organised, with every detail taken care of, and maximum time allotted for gaming. Past events were fun and productive, but several years of organising them have definitely given EA Sports’ community managers the opportunity to make them better and better.

Since it’s been almost a year since the last one I attended, I thought that I’d reflect a little upon the NBA Live community events that I’ve been a part of. Hopefully, last year’s won’t be the last.

The first NBA Live community event that I attended was for NBA Live 07 in 2006. It was held at EA Canada in Vancouver, where the series was being developed at the time. Not only was it my first video game event, it was also my first trip overseas. In fact, the only times I’ve ever been out of Australia are when EA Sports has flown me in for NBA Live community events! I’ve always felt honoured to receive the invite, as I’m obviously rather expensive to fly in for the events. I feel it indicates the level of respect and appreciation that the development team has for the NLSC, which definitely makes me feel good about the quality of our content.

At EA Canada for the NBA Live 07 Community Event

On that note, it’s also been humbling to have been “recognised” at the events. It’s been very cool to have developers speak warmly about the NLSC when I’ve introduced myself to them, and meet people like Executive Producer Sean O’Brien, and community managers Andrew Johnson and John Coleman (aka Tha Hoop Gawd), who I’ve previously only talked to via email and Skype. The same goes for the other gamers I meet at the events. Once again, the people I’ve known I’ve only met online, so it’s been nice to finally meet and hang out in person. Of course, topping the list would be Tim Tschirner, one of our co-founders who went on to work for EA.

There was actually kind of a funny moment at the NBA Live 16 event last year where the conversation turned to PC modding. One of the guys mentioned bigh0rt’s NCAA mod for NBA 2K14 PC, and talked about getting it from the NLSC. When I mentioned that I actually ran the site, and was a part of the community that was making all those great mods, he was very gracious and complimentary. It made me feel proud of our community, while also making me realise that the work we do resonates beyond our Forum, and our corner of the basketball gaming demographic.

As I mentioned, the organisation of the events has greatly improved since the first one I attended, with one of the biggest improvements being the amount of hands-on time with the games. At that first event, we received a studio tour, met the developers, and even got a sneak peek at NBA Street Homecourt, but many of us would’ve liked to have had more time playing NBA Live 07. The NBA Live 08 event in New York included a trip to the 2007 NBA Draft, among other activities; unforgettable experiences which I’m extremely grateful for, but even though we did get more hands-on time at that event, and with NBA Live 09 the next year, we still wanted a bit more.

That’s what made the NBA Live 16 event really stand out for me. We spent three full days playing the game, with the second day of gaming running late into the night. More than any previous event, I felt that all of us definitely had sufficient hands-on time to not only discuss the game with our respective audiences, but also provide detailed, quality feedback to the developers. I can promise you that the developers I met were definitely interested in what we had to say, and I was directly asked about specific improvements and problems. While I’ve had to wait to discuss certain details, I’ve never, ever received an instruction to be dishonest in my reports.

Outdoor Basketball Court at EA Canada

In fact, it’s always been made clear to me and the other attendees that the developers want us to be honest with our feedback. After all, the reason we’re being brought in to attend the events is to give an honest appraisal of the game, and help it to improve. If we’re not going to be honest or detailed in our feedback, then it’s a waste of time and money to fly us all in; me especially. The feedback we give can’t always be put to use before the release of the next game, but we can give the team an idea of how they’re progressing, and what we’d like to see next. As I said, my impression has always been that they’re open to feedback, and the interaction has always felt productive.

Of course, we gamers can be a cynical lot, and not everyone is willing to believe me when I say that. To a certain extent, you do put your credibility on the line when you attend an event, and it’s important that you do conduct yourself honourably, for the sake of the game and the community. Unfortunately, you’re always going to be an easy target to pin blame on when a game doesn’t measure up. A missing feature or problematic bug is somehow your fault, even if you didn’t notice it because you didn’t have enough hands-on time, or it wasn’t even present in the build you played. Trying to cram as much as you can into a short time with the game, you can miss things.

As a result, I’ve had some rather unpleasant interactions with people in the community who have accused me of all sorts of things. It’s why I’m upfront about the fact that EA Sports has paid for my flight and accommodation, and arranged transport and some meals, but they have never paid for my endorsement, nor encouraged me to be dishonest. For better or worse, I’ve always given my honest impressions after an NBA Live community event. As I said though, sometimes issues have arisen in the final product that weren’t in the build that I played, or I’ve overlooked something in my attempts to try and cover everything. However, I’ve always done my best, and most people have been supportive and understanding.

The NBA Live community events have been such a great opportunity for me and the NLSC. It’s given me fascinating insight into the development of the series, and the chance to directly interact with the people who are making it. They’ve been great for the NLSC’s content and visibility, and I’ve had some great personal experiences in making the trips. From finally meeting Tim, various other developers, and my fellow basketball gamers in person, to sitting in front of the guys heckling Stephen A. Smith at the 2007 Draft, to simply getting my hands on the game before a lot of other people do…it’s all been very special.

At the 2007 NBA Draft during the NBA Live 08 Community Event

I hope that I do have a chance to attend more NBA Live community events in the future. If the opportunity does arise, I will of course represent our community to the best of my ability, and continue to provide honest, constructive feedback to the developers. It’s a long flight from Australia to the US, and last year I caught a nasty cold on the way back, but I have absolutely no regrets. A cough and some jetlag are undoubtedly worth the wonderful experiences of a community event, and the opportunity to have some small role helping out with the development of a video game series that I grew up playing. Simply put, it’s a fantastic initiative.

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Izzy Snow
Izzy Snow
July 26, 2016 12:38 pm

Great article Andrew. I do hope you get invited again to test Live 17. Funny about catching a cold though. My wife was in Orlando for my daughter’s dance national competition. She brought back with her a cold…which I caught from her : ( Still recovering. Anyway, hope all is well bro.