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 some candid thoughts on the downfall of the NBA Live series, and how it – and basketball gamers – really deserved better.
Maybe it’s too early to be eulogising the NBA Live series, though others might argue that it’s too late. It’s been almost two years since the official Twitter posted an update on the future of the series, announcing that EA Sports would be skipping NBA Live 20. Since then, the account has only Re-Tweeted a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant. While the silence is deafening and does little to convince fans that the door hasn’t been slammed shut on the NBA Live series, the lack of an official announcement and the occasional interesting leak or rumour has maintained a glimmer of hope.
However, after another EA Play without any word on the future of the series, many of the fans who have continued to fly the flag for NBA Live are beginning to give up on it ever returning. If nothing else, supporters of the brand are resigning themselves to the fact that until they actually hear concrete news, there’s no point in speculation and getting their hopes up. I’d count myself in the second group, though I’ve never been less optimistic about NBA Live. You may ask why we wanted NBA Live to return, and why we care about its current state. To be blunt, the NBA Live series deserved much better than it received over the past fifteen years, and so did hoops gamers.
If there’s one thing I wanted to impress upon people in my 25th Anniversary of NBA Live retrospectives, it’s that the series was a brand leader in its heyday. There are some gamers who proclaim that NBA Live was never good, and while opinions and preferences are subjective, I simply can’t agree that that’s a well-reasoned assertion. In its golden era, NBA Live tended to be the best overall sim basketball game, and the one we could count on being released year after year. It pioneered many innovative modes and features; in many cases NBA 2K has done them much better, but they were still in NBA Live first. NBA Live once more than measured up to its peers.
It’s been a long time since that was the case of course, which is why I’m so wistful in my lament that the NBA Live series deserved better. When you look back at all of the missteps and missed opportunities, NBA Live should still be around and a great hoops game in its own right. It may have still been the number two title behind NBA 2K, but it could’ve – and indeed, should’ve – remained a viable alternative in the sim space. I’m sure you know the history. NBA Live 06 launched on Xbox 360 with solid gameplay and great graphics, but lacked depth. NBA Live 07 was a big setback, NBA 2K pulled ahead in sales in 2008, NBA Elite 11 happened, and the series never really recovered.
As much as the continued rise of NBA 2K made it the premiere brand, the NBA Live series relinquished the top spot through its blunders and bewildering decisions. Again, this has been well documented and is no secret, but reflecting on it today, I can’t help thinking that a series that was once very popular and understandably successful did deserve better than that. Not because I think people should shed a tear for Electronic Arts and lost profits, but because a lot of talented and passionate people have worked on NBA Live, and many of us older basketball gamers grew up playing the series. Its current state is ignominious when you think about the heights that it once reached.
To that point, the NBA Live series deserved better than risking a launch on Xbox 360 without the depth that people wanted. It deserved better than being handed over to someone whose background was in hockey, not basketball. This mistake would then be repeated on the eighth generation, when after another hiatus NBA Live returned under the leadership of someone with a background in developing NFL games. As one of the oldest and longest-running basketball games, it deserves better than to be quietly put out to pasture without so much as an official announcement, let alone any kind of tribute and thank you to the gamers that made it so successful for so long.
Once again, I’m not looking at this from a corporate perspective. As far as losing one of their major sports series and all of the potential profits, this is something that EA Sports has brought upon itself. However, the actual games – the NBA Live series, along with the talented and dedicated people working on it – deserved better treatment from the suits that were calling the shots. It deserved better leadership, which is not to say that there was never anyone competent in charge. Sean O’Brien’s vision for the series was promising, and was slowly coming to fruition as of NBA Live 16. To that end though, it deserved better than another change in direction that didn’t pay off.
And yes, we gamers deserved better when it came to the NBA Live series, too. The older fans that remembered what made the series successful and were eager to give feedback didn’t deserve to be discarded in pursuit of a “new, younger demographic” that – if it actually existed – were among the millions of gamers already playing NBA 2K anyway. We deserved better than having to beg and plead for basic staples such as roster editing, or improvements to Dynasty/Franchise mode. And quite frankly, we deserved better than a directionless hybrid of the NBA Live and NBA Street series that fell short, failing to move the needle or find the mythical demographic it sought.
Considering how loyal and supportive NBA Live fans have been through its ups and downs – particularly the downs – we absolutely deserve better than the complete lack of transparency regarding the future of the series. Sure, at this point we can draw our own conclusions, but it’d still be nice to get an official statement. If this is it for the NBA Live series, then we want some sense of finality and closure; I do think that we deserve that much. It’s not surprising that the communication has been lacking. The community manager that took over around NBA Live 18 simply stopped talking to us and other long-running sites, spearheading that push for a new, younger demographic.
If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. The old guard were unceremoniously shouldered out to make way for influencers handpicked by someone who, to my mind, wanted to be EA’s answer to Ronnie 2K. Throwing out the feedback of people who knew their stuff and genuinely cared about the NBA Live series was a huge slap in the face. At the end of the day, it didn’t do the game any favours whatsoever, either. We deserved better than a community manager and executive producer with backgrounds in the Madden series, who wanted to bring in their own community reps and ill-fitting ideas for the game. With so much untapped potential, Live deserved better than that, too.
At this point, allow me to address the inevitable “Who cares, we’ve got NBA 2K” argument. It’s true that it could be worse for us basketball gamers. We could have no sim NBA game at all, and for all of our complaints, NBA 2K could definitely be in much worse shape. However, we’re seeing the reality of a virtual monopoly by way of NBA Live’s struggles, and NBA 2K’s market strength. NBA 2K has done whatever it pleases as far as anti-consumer practices, with little repercussions. Any controversy quickly blows over, and the game continues to sell well and make bank in recurrent revenue regardless. After all, if we want a new NBA game, what choice do we have?
Again, we deserve better than that, just as NFL gamers have deserved better than only having Madden. We arguably have it worse because there could be another game in the space, since the NBA hasn’t sought exclusivity at this time. Furthermore, it doesn’t necessarily have to be EA Sports and NBA Live providing a viable alternative, but it remains the most likely scenario. I’d also like to point out again that any gamers that want nothing to do with NBA Live have a completely understandable stance, and no one has to buy it. However, even if you have no interest in picking up a hypothetical future NBA Live, competition and alternatives are ultimately beneficial to everyone.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s happening anytime soon, if indeed ever. There have been some disconcerting rumours floating around about the future of the NBA Live series, and the lack of any information to the contrary continues to dim our hopes. As much as I’d be disappointed to see an official announcement that the series is finally done, I’d appreciate the closure. Look, for all its problems, the NBA Live series has been around too long, achieved too much popularity, and had too much influence on the genre, to peter out with barely a whimper. If it’s over, let us know. If it’s not, a vague update is better than none at all. We deserve to be informed at least.
With its long history, the NBA Live series deserves better too, but it’s deserved better for many years now. There was no good reason to keep changing directions, which only served to strip the series of its strong points and identity. It was unnecessary, and incredibly foolish, to lose talented and knowledgeable developers to Visual Concepts because of those changes in direction. It’s bewildering that the series has at times been handed off to people whose background is in hockey and football. Frankly, it hurts that dedicated fans with useful feedback were shut out, just because it wasn’t what the new people in charge wanted to hear. Again, so much potential, utterly wasted.
Perhaps in that regard, the NBA Live series did get what it deserved. There are only so many mistakes you can make, so many times that you can let down the fanbase, before you finally err beyond the point of redemption. Even then, there are people who would be ready and willing to give NBA Live a shot if it could ever pick up the pieces, or at least be happy that a viable alternative could force 2K to ease up on microtransactions. Again, if this is the end, it’s an ignominious one. Yes, the NBA Live series has been its own worst enemy, but with all of its success and influence, it still deserved better than this. Considering the current state of the genre, so did we.