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. This week, I’m tipping things off with a few thoughts on another underwhelming start to the preview season.
In recent episodes of the NLSC Podcast, as well as bulletins covering tidbits about NBA Live 18 and NBA 2K18, I’ve talked about this year’s preview season being a little slow to get underway. It’s frustrating, as I found myself discussing the same issue around this time last year. I had hoped that with the return of NBA Live, we might also see a return to the days where there was a constant stream of preview media and information about the upcoming games. Instead, it’s been the same trickle of info, and relative radio silence from both EA Sports and Visual Concepts.
We obviously know that NBA Live 18 and NBA 2K18 are coming out, and we’ve seen glimpses and heard a detail or two here and there, but that’s it. We know what NBA 2K18’s pre-order bonuses are, but we haven’t heard anything about new features or improvements. We do know a little more about NBA Live 18 coming out of EA Play, but the hype train stopped rolling shortly afterwards. With the way info is held back until it’s almost too late, it’s difficult not to ask the question: what happened to the preview season?
Admittedly, the preview season has always started out a little slow. Noteworthy yet ultimately inconsequential details such as the cover player and soundtrack tend to be announced early, and then the hype builds over the following weeks and months with screenshots, gameplay footage, and developer blogs. We’ve been given an insight into the key improvements and additions to gameplay and game modes. We’ve learned about new content, such as additional historical teams or revamped cards in the team building modes. We haven’t had to wait until the very last minute to find out all the important information about the games.
Last year, however, we waited and waited for significant information about NBA 2K17 to drop. The community’s frustration understandably boiled over, and when we still hadn’t received any news of significance by mid-August, people began to exasperatedly ask when we’d actually hear something. The response from NBA 2K’s community representatives was, to be blunt, disgustingly unprofessional. They openly mocked gamers, including those who were fairly questioning the practice of pushing pre-orders for months without providing information on the game. The disrespect for the user base was utterly disgraceful, and left many wondering how they still had jobs.
While the incident obviously didn’t affect NBA 2K17’s sales, it highlighted the arrogant attitude that the series’ success has bred. It’s been almost a decade since NBA Live posed a threat in terms of sales and critical response, which seems to have led to some complacency on 2K’s part. Why should they worry about figuratively flipping gamers the bird? They’ve dominated the demographic for a long time despite legacy issues, microtransaction gouging, and occasional rudeness towards fans. They know that game is going to sell regardless. NBA 2K has been a great game, but it also has some troubling problems, and we want to know that they’re being worked on.
It’s also why a lot of basketball gamers want to see NBA Live make a strong comeback. Having two viable options gives us a choice as consumers, and keeps both developers honest. Unfortunately, EA Sports is not capitalising on Visual Concepts’ complacent silence, or the hype that they generated with early glimpses of NBA Live 18. By pushing back their preview season, they’ve allowed the excitement to cool down. This runs the risk of turning intrigued anticipation into frustrated impatience, and eventually, bored apathy. Releasing little snippets of information, while building up to some big info dumps, would be a wise move.
EA have adopted a more cautious and humble approach than 2K, which is understandable given NBA Live’s struggles compared to NBA 2K’s success. 2K is in a position to brag; Live is not. I do like that EA have owned their shortcomings, and they’ve said all the right things as they’ve sought to rebuild the NBA Live brand. However, it’s also important that they keep the brand in the minds of gamers – not just the mobile game, but NBA Live 18 as well – and get everyone excited by keeping us informed. NBA Live has much to prove, much ground to gain, so EA can’t afford to squander the favourable opinions and interest that EA Play generated.
To that end, both EA Sports and Visual Concepts have plenty of reason to start letting basketball gamers know what’s up sooner rather than later. Obviously, as a content creator, I have a vested interest in a longer, busier preview season. However, as a consumer and fan of both series, I also want to be informed and given a reason to get excited about the upcoming games. I think it’s safe to say that we all do, whether we’re interested in Live, 2K, or both games. And so we ask ourselves, how did the preview season come to this? How have we gone from the days of at least getting some snippet of news each week, to several weeks where we hear nothing at all?
As suggested in the Forum, it’s possible that the official unveiling of all the new Nike uniforms is playing a role in delaying the preview season from properly getting underway. At this point, it’s obviously tough to show any snippets of either game without leaking those designs. It’s a viable explanation for the delay this year, but this isn’t a new trend. Last year’s lacklustre and abbreviated preview season could perhaps be explained by the fact that only one game was being released, but it wasn’t the first time that NBA 2K was released unopposed by an NBA Live title. Despite being the only game in town for a few years, the preview season was never that quiet.
So, what else could it be? Well, beyond factors such as caution, complacency, arrogance, and of course, mandates from the NBA, perhaps there’s a concern about tipping their hand. A couple of years ago, we saw both games unveil online team play modes that used the term “Pro-Am” in their branding. Given the concepts and the generic nature of the term, it was most likely just a case of coincidence and common inspiration. Nevertheless, it may have led to some degree of paranoia on both sides, resulting in their hesitation to let the cat out of the bag too early.
Alternatively, but in a similar vein, it may be that both EA Sports and Visual Concepts are trying to get the “last word” of the preview season. If one game lays all its cards on the table early, there’s an opportunity for the other game to swoop in and make an announcement that blows us all away, overshadowing almost everything else that’s been said and seen during the preview season. This eagerness to drop the final bit of news that resonates with basketball gamers is perhaps forcing EA and 2K into a stalemate, as both developers wait for the other to be the first to reveal what’s up their sleeve. It’s an understandable position, but frustrating for us nevertheless.
I must emphasise that I’m not blaming the producers, engineers, or community managers here (although the rudeness from some of 2K’s reps is something they have to own). Their hands are tied as to what they’re allowed to reveal at any given time, so it’s unfair to attack them for doing the right thing, as per the terms of their employment. Our criticism and frustration should be aimed at the higher-ups who have laid out this particular marketing strategy. They no doubt have their reasons for that plan, of course, but there’s also merit in keeping gamers more informed about the development process, and what they can expect from the upcoming release.
Also, while I’d like to see the preview seasons tip off soon with a steady stream of screenshots, videos, and information, I’m hoping it doesn’t become antagonistic. For those who followed along with the preview season leading up to the release of NBA Live 10 and NBA 2K10, you may recall that both companies took to tossing a few barbs back and forth. The situation soon became petty, and at the end of the day, it only stoked the fanboy flames. That kind of stuff may delight the people who seem more invested in disliking the other product rather than enjoying the one they do like, but it’s not a good look. Both developers should focus on promoting their own game.
With all that being said, I do feel optimistic about both NBA Live 18 and NBA 2K18. I believe this could be a very strong year for basketball gaming, with two viable sim-oriented titles, and a brand new arcade-oriented title in NBA Playgrounds, which has continued to improve post-release. However, I am anxious for the preview season to tip off soon. Not just so that I have news to post and content to create, but so that we can all learn about this year’s games, and hopefully, get excited about them. With so many ways to connect with the user base and pump out previews, both EA and 2K should rethink the approach of dragging their feet on keeping us all informed.