Starting with the 2010/2011 season edition, the series was to have been re-branded NBA Elite. Following the cancellation of NBA Elite 11, EA Sports elected to dedicate two years to the development of the next game in the series which on February 23rd 2012 was revealed to be NBA Live 13, returning the series to the NBA Live branding. NBA Live 13 was cancelled on September 26th 2012 however, and the series finally returned with a new release in 2013, NBA Live 14. The game is currently being developed EA Tiburon, with NBA Live 95 through NBA Elite 11 being developed by EA Canada.
Games in the series
Nineteen games have been released in the series, beginning with NBA Live 95 in 1994. NBA Live 10 was to be succeeded by NBA Elite 11, the first game under the new NBA Elite branding. EA Sports ultimately abandoned the re-branding after the cancellation of NBA Elite 11, opting to return to the NBA Live name. Following the cancellation of NBA Live 13, the series was finally rebooted with NBA Live 14, released for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
- NBA Live 95
- NBA Live 96
- NBA Live 97
- NBA Live 98
- NBA Live 99
- NBA Live 2000
- NBA Live 2001
- NBA Live 2002
- NBA Live 2003
- NBA Live 2004
- NBA Live 2005
- NBA Live 06
- NBA Live 07
- NBA Live 08
- NBA Live 09
- NBA Live 10
- NBA Live 14
- NBA Live 15
- NBA Live 16
- NBA Live Mobile
- NBA Live 18
- NBA Live 19
- NBA Live 20 (In Development)
The Early Years
NBA Live's origins can be traced back to Electronic Arts' NBA Playoffs series, which began with Lakers vs Celtics in 1989. The series' first official release was NBA Live 95 for the Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1994. NBA Live 95 was, at the time, the most advanced basketball game on the market featuring five on five gameplay utilising twelve man rosters for all twenty seven teams competing in the NBA through the 1994/1995 season. In contrast, most of the NBA Playoffs series had featured teams that had qualified for the previous season's playoffs rather than the entire league, though NBA Showdown 94 was the first game to include a complete league of teams.
NBA Live 95 also offered a wide variety of features intended to simulate the NBA experience such as the ability to play through an entire NBA season and Playoffs and make trades and lineup changes. It also featured the ability to set team plays and strategy, watch memorable moments over and over again with instant replay and completely tracked stats, standings and league leaders during a season or playoff. The PC version was notably different to the console release, containing updated 94/95 season rosters as opposed to final 93/94 rosters and offered more in-depth team management functions (the console version did not allow users to reorder their rosters or trade bench players). Due to licensing issues, David Robinson and Charles Barkley were absent from the rosters.
A sequel was released the following year, with NBA Live 96's tagline promoting it as a "Back to Back Champion". NBA Live 96 was very similar to its predecessor but featured updated rosters including the expansion Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies. It was also the first game in the series to include Create-a-Player and also expanded the team rosters to fourteen, including two injured reserve slots. A Free Agent pool was also used for the first time in NBA Live 96, however no free agents were included by default and the pool only contained fourteen slots the same as regular NBA teams, limiting the amount of players that could be released.
The PC version of NBA Live 96 also introduced multiple camera angles in both gameplay and instant replay and on-the-fly playcalling utilising the function keys (F1-F4 for Player 1, F5-F8 for Player 2). It did not feature the expansion draft feature found in the SNES version however, which allowed users to re-live or re-create the expansion draft held to fill out the rosters for the Raptors and Grizzlies. The SNES version did not include several rookies in addition to Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, however their data could be pre-loaded by entering player names in Create-a-Player. A few legendary players including Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson could also be automatically added this way. Adding these players made use of a created player slot however, in some cases forcing users to pick and choose which missing players they wanted to add to their roster.
NBA Live 97 represented a major overhaul in the graphics of NBA Live. Although players would not yet use proper faces, facial features were more detailed and there was more variety in player models with heavier players appearing more bulky. Team jerseys also featured more details with correct designs including logos and trims, rather than simply using the appropriate colour palette as in the first two games. The PC version also expanded its team management functions with 100 Created Player slots, a bigger Free Agent pool that included several free agent players by default and proper fifteen man rosters with three injured reserve slots. Despite these updates, many fans considered NBA Live 97 too small a step forward in terms of gameplay.
Roster Players were also used for the first time in NBA Live 97 to fill in for Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, whom EA Sports were not licensed to include in the game. NBA Live 97 was one of the few games that featured Shaquille O'Neal, which became a selling point listed on the back cover of all versions of the game.
Introduction of 3D Acceleration and Early 2000s
NBA Live 98 presented another step forward in the series, being the first game to utilise 3D graphics accelerators. The enhanced graphics included better player models, environments and for the first time, real player faces. It also attempted to address some of the gameplay concerns of previous titles. Fans had begun to expect more realism from basketball titles and NBA Live 98 reflected this, toning down dunks somewhat and removing some of the flashier dunks, especially for players who were not exceptional athletes. Michael Jordan once again appeared as a generic looking Roster Player but Charles Barkley made his official debut in the series with the release of NBA Live 98.
Also making their debut in NBA Live 98 were GM Mode, the forerunner to Franchise and Dynasty Mode, play-by-play commentary by Verne Lundquist, In-Game Saves (as well as the ability to save replays) and the Three Point Shootout. NBA Live 98 was also the final game in the series released for the Mega Drive and SNES. The PlayStation version contained various codes that were not used in the PC version of the game. The controls of the PC version however were finally updated to include a steal button, an addition that was met with much enthusiasm. An official patch was also released to address some issues in the PC version.
NBA Live 99 continued to build upon NBA Live 99 by further enhancing the graphics and the concept of GM Mode through Multi-Season Mode which introduced multi-year play and aspects such as player development, though it did not include the rookie draft or free agency. NBA Live 99 is noteworthy for being released during the strike-shortened 1998/1999 season, which meant that the game shipped with final 1997/1998 rosters rather than 1998/1999 rosters including Class of '98 rookies such as Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison. Two official updates were released that addressed various gameplay issues while also adding the 50 game schedule the NBA utilised in 98/99 and updating the rosters to include rookies and the latest transactions.
The concept of 3D portraits was also introduced, with the user being able to select the traditional 2D portrait or a moving, 3D portrait that showed off the player's cyberface. The PC version also recognised common names entered as the surname in Create-a-Player, meaning that created players who shared a common surname with an NBA player (Robinson, Smith, Jones, etc) would have their name called by play-by-play commentator Don Poier but not the PA Announcer.
NBA Live 2000 was released the following year and for several years afterwards would be hailed as the pinnacle of the series, though in a 2007 poll held by the NLSC it would finish second to NBA Live 2005. Live 2000 was the first game to feature Franchise Mode, finally fulfilling the wishes of NBA Live fans by providing a multi-year season mode complete with NBA Draft, salaries, free agency and the rookie draft. Due to restrictions imposed by the NBA, players did not use their actual salaries but rather used "points" and a "point cap". To date, NBA Live 2000 is the final game in the series to allow players to a save a game in progress.
Legends were also included for the first time in NBA Live 2000, resulting in Michael Jordan's debut in the series. As licensing difficulties have resulted in fewer players being included in the Legends rosters over the years (and none at all in the seventh generation console releases), NBA Live 2000 features the most complete set of Legends in its default rosters, though Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Clyde Drexler and George Mikan are noteworthy exceptions. A two-man commentary team was also used for the first time pairing Don Poier with former NBA player and current Sacramento Kings coach Reggie Theus. Due to the absence of an All-Star Weekend in the 1999 season, the East and West All-Stars were not playable by default in Exhibition Mode but could be added to the PC version through DBF editing and appeared during Season and Franchise Mode.
The following year, NBA Live 2001 was released amid much controversy. After being delayed, the game is best remembered for several bugs and gameplay issues as well as the tentative possibility for an official fix falling through. Common complaints also revolved around the absence of several popular features that were not featured in 2001, such as in-game saves, custom teams and the three point shootout. NBA Live 2001 did retain the ability to save replays however, for the first time allowing users to save replays in video format for easier distribution. It also introduced the ability to place less than twelve players on the active roster. Within the NBA Live community, it is also notable as the first game to feature former NLSC webmaster Tim Tschirner as a member of the production team.
Making their debut as a commentary team in NBA Live 2001 were Don Poier and Bob Elliot. The two would go on to be the voices of NBA Live for two more games before the team of legendary NBA announcer Marv Albert and Mike "The Czar" Fratello would take over commentary duties in NBA Live 2004.
NBA Live 2002 would prove to be an even more controversial release as it was the first game in the series not to be released for the PC market, causing an uproar in the community. The game was also panned for featuring several bugs that had appeared in NBA Live 2001 but remains noteworthy as the first game in the series to include Michael Jordan as an active player, owing to his comeback with the Washington Wizards. It did represent an improvement on previous console versions however with a ten year Franchise Mode and superior graphics. Beginning with NBA Live 2002, the series also abandoned 2D portraits in favour of the moving 3D portraits which utilised in-game faces, though NBA Live 2005 would bring back real photos.
NBA Live 2003 marked a return to the PC platform but also more controversy for the NBA Live series. One of NBA Live 2003's most noteworthy features was the debut of Freestyle Control, at the time considered somewhat of a revolution in player control whereas before the user relied on the CPU to select an appropriate move. Graphics continued to improve taking advantage of newer hardware and coaches now walked the sidelines NBA Live 2003 also rectified some of the issues that plagued NBA Live 2001 and NBA Live 2002, such as the ratio of offensive rebounds to defensive rebounds and other miscellaneous bugs. It was not without problems of its own however; NBA Live 2003 is perhaps best remembered for its arcade-style gameplay with exaggerated blocks that rocketed to the opposite baseline with a booming sound effect, crashing sound effects on dunks and scores that frequently exceeded 150 points on twelve minute quarters. Freestyle Control was also deemed too powerful, with the Wishlist for NBA Live 2004 placing much emphasis on realism.
With the growing emphasis on the console market, the PC version became a port of the version released for the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox. This change angered PC users who disliked the console orientated user interface and the limitations imposed by the console hardware of the day. However, the PC version of NBA Live 2003 was the first game in the series to include an extensive CustomArt system that supported community made patches, allowing patchmakers to make detailed player and team specific updates and distribute them without the need to modify the original VIV files.
NBA Live 2004 was generally more well received as it significantly toned down Freestyle Control and the pace of gameplay, resulting in a more realistic game. Gameplay sliders made their debut in the series, catering to fans who wanted to tweak the game for more desirable results or an increased challenge while forced drop step and pro hop (jump stop) moves were added to the controls. Franchise Mode was rebranded Dynasty Mode and added the popular feature of Dynasty cutscenes, which included players walking up to shake David Stern's hand during the Draft, meeting in the locker room after a trade or sitting at the coach's desk after re-signing. Overall, the atmosphere of NBA Live 2004 was generally thought to be a lot better and preferable to NBA Live 2003 which most had seemed silly with comedic cutscenes and arcade-style gameplay.
Another change made in NBA Live 2004 was the seperation of offensive controls into seperate buttons for jumpshots and dunks/layups. This meant players could choose to attempt a jumpshot (or contextually appropriate shots in the paint) or force a layup or dunk attempt, depending on the player's position on the floor and their abilities. A running floater would be attempted in the event that a player was too far from the basket to attempt a dunk or layup. The decision was generally met with approval and continues to be utilised in the series. Marv Albert and Mike Fratello are featured as the commentary team in NBA Live 2004, proving to be a popular choice.
NBA Live 2005 represented another step forward in the series with the addition of All-Star Weekend, bringing the Slam Dunk Contest to NBA Live fans for the first time while also seeing the return of the Three Point Shootout. It also brought back 2D portraits and further tweaked gameplay, adding more slider options for greater customisation. Freestyle Air was added giving users an option to attempt a tip-in, put-back or simply grab the rebound on a missed shot. The game's sound effects, notably those used for dunks, were replaced with more realistic sounds much to the approval of NBA Live fans. NBA Live 2005 also featured several unlockables available in a visual representation of the NBA Store, with unlockable shoes and jerseys adorning the walls of a 3D environment.
Marv Albert and Mike Fratello team up for the final time to date in the NBA Live series as Fratello would become the coach of the Memphis Grizzlies during the 2005 season. Beginning with NBA Live 06, Marv Albert was joined by former NBA guard Steve Kerr, a role Kerr has kept despite his position as president of the Phoenix Suns.
PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360 Era
NBA Live 06 marked the series first release for the seventh generation of consoles with an Xbox 360 version of the game being produced. The Xbox 360 version was largely panned as several popular features including Dynasty Mode were not ported, with EA later citing that they wanted to rebuild those features from the ground up. Reaction to the gameplay itself was generally positive and at least on par with other versions of the game and the graphics were generally praised but the lack of Dynasty and other gameplay modes resulted in generally low scores from the video game media and a largely negative reaction from fans.
The PC version of NBA Live 06 meanwhile introduced the concept of Freestyle Superstars, granting higher rated players additional moves that made them more formidable. Unfortunately this made players too powerful at times with some of the Scorer moves in particular being virtually unstoppable, though this granted users valuable scoring weapons to contend with the comeback logic featured in the game. Along with NBA Live 2005, it remains one of the more popular releases for the PC and was the last NBA Live released for the Nintendo GameCube.
NBA Live 07 expanded on the Freestyle Superstars concept, adding two tiers of superstars abilities as well as X-Factor players and the ability to switch between Freestyle Superstars movesets on-the-fly. FSS moves were utilised in all versions of the game though the Xbox 360 version used three levels of movesets and additional Level 3 moves that could be used when a player was "In The Zone". The 360 version also included Dynasty Mode, the All-Star Weekend and other game modes that appeared in the PC, PS2 and Xbox versions. Signature jumpshot styles were also motion captured and included for several prominent players.
The Xbox 360 version also sought to introduce several "Next Gen" features, such as Procedural Awareness (players following the ball with their eyes and reacting to the play), Foot Planting Technology (running animations) and ESPN Integration, which took advantage of EA's new partnership with ESPN. These features had mixed success, with foot planting resulting in better looking animations in some situations but making player movement less fluid and causing problems when trying to execute certain moves too close to the hoop, since player "gathering" animations were lengthy and intended to begin at specific points on the floor, otherwise players ended up underneath the basket or short on their leap.
For the only time in the series, the controls were divided into seperate buttons for jumpshots, dunks and layups. This change was met with a mixed reaction; while it could benefit users by giving them more control on offense, it also caused problems as it was easy to press the wrong button and attempt a dunk instead of a layup, a mistake that would lead to an awkward layup attempt for players whose attributes would not allow them to dunk. No compenstation was made if a dunk attempt was attempted from too far out either, leading to the same awkward layup animation. The concept was abandoned beginning with NBA Live 08.
The PC version of NBA Live 07 remains one of the least popular in the series due to several issues, including a problem with player fatigue and substitutions. Although an official patch was released and unofficial workarounds have been developed, the solutions have not been perfect and the gameplay remains widely criticised. Nevertheless, the patchmaking community was very active in modding NBA Live 07 with projects like the Supreme Update Mod greatly enhancing the experience for many PC players.
NBA Live 08 PC was met with a similar reaction, containing several of the same issues as the PC version of NBA Live 07 along with new problems such as unrealistic simulated stats. Due to the absence of an official fix, NBA Live 08 remains an even more unpopular version of the game amongst the PC releases. It is also the last PC release to date, though the series is expected to return to the PC platform in 2009 with the release of NBA Live 2010, though as of December 2008 the future of the PC version remains unconfirmed.
In contrast, the Xbox 360 version and debuting PlayStation 3 version of NBA Live 08 were met with more approval with new features including Go To Moves, Hot Spots, Own The Paint, FIBA World Championship and a revamped approach to Dynasty Mode headlining the improvements and additions. Freestyle Control was also replaced with Quick Strike Ballhandling, a similar control approach that allowed users to break out of animations and string together moves more fluidly. Reception was not resoundingly positive however as the decision to eliminate release points when taking jumpshots was criticised for taking control away from the user and PlayStation 3 users uniformly reported framerate issues. Xbox 360 users did not experience problems with framerate but often experienced extremely long loading times, answering as many as twenty trivia questions during the loading screen with four or five questions representing an acceptable loading time.
NBA Live 08 also introduced enhanced online play in the form of Online Team Play, a downloadable update made available a couple of months after the release of the game. With the update installed, players were able to assume control of a single player and take part in an online game with nine other players playing on nine different consoles, each user controlling a single player on the court. Online Team Play proved popular and was included as a feature out of the box in NBA Live 09.
Several months before the release of NBA Live 09, the announcement that the game would be another console only release was met with much anger within the online NBA Live community. The release of rival NBA 2K9 for the PC platform has seen several disgruntled NBA Live players make the switch to 2K Sports' game. A return to the PC platform in 2009 has been hinted at but as of December 2008, remains unconfirmed.
NBA Live 09 was released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Nintendo Wii systems with the Wii version being branded NBA Live 09 All-Play, a brand exclusive to the platform. Early previews hinted at a "ground-breaking" feature which was officially revealed to be NBA Live 365 on July 14th, 2008. NBA Live 365, with the tagline "Made Fresh Daily", comprises in-depth player AI that governs how a player plays at the offensive end in regards to where they prefer to shoot from and the kinds of plays run for them, as well as daily roster updates with the latest NBA lineups complete with missing players added and hot and cold streaks accounted for as the 2008/2009 NBA season progresses.
Other significant additions include the NBA Academy, an expanded practice mode that is also used for scouting and player development in Dynasty Mode, Signature Play Calling, Be A Pro Mode, Lockdown Defense, Pick and Roll Control and further updates to the Quick Strike control system. The game also included 24 FIBA teams and expanded FIBA tournament mode, continuing to make use of the FIBA license acquired before NBA Live 08. Users can also save replays and upload the videos to EA Sports World, making use of extensive editing features to include creative camera angles and video techniques. Reception has been fairly favourable amongst fans while professional reviews have been more mixed.
The PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii versions have garnered less favourable reactions from fans and critics alike, with several issues from previous games remaining unresolved and gameplay vastly inferior to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. To date, NBA Live 09 is the final game to be released for the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii.
NBA Live 10, released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable, garnered a more positive response than other recent games in the series due to an emphasis on improving gameplay and atmosphere, but was considered to have fallen short in terms of the quality and variety of its game modes.
The re-branded NBA Elite 11 was cancelled following internal dissatisfaction with the product and poor reception to the demo released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. EA Sports' series of sim-oriented basketball games was to resume with NBA Live 13 in 2012, with development being handed over to EA's Tiburon studios after all previous games in the series had been developed by EA Canada. However, NBA Live 13 was cancelled on September 26th 2012, with EA stating that the series would be continuing, alluding to an NBA Live 14 coming in 2013.
PlayStation 4 and Xbox One Era
NBA Live 14 finally saw the return of the series, as a launch title for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game was not received well, due to stiff controls, and an overall lack of depth in game modes, as well as the complete absence of roster customisation. The issues with NBA Live 14 were addressed in an open letter from Executive Producer Sean O'Brien, and a couple of official patches were seen as making a few noticeable improvements to the game, hinting at the series' potential. NBA Live 14 was the first game in the series to utilise EA's new IGNITE engine, as well as the first NBA Live title to feature Ultimate Team and BIG Moments.
Further improvements were made in NBA Live 15 and NBA Live 16, however the games were still considered to be inferior to NBA 2K15 and NBA 2K16 respectively. While both titles made enhancements to gameplay and small additions to game modes, gamers were still frustrated with the lack of roster editing, and overall depth. NBA Live 16 introduced LIVE Pro-Am, which garnered positive reviews, but left several gamers frustrated at a perceived lack of traditional NBA content. Overall, NBA Live 15 and NBA Live 16 were better received than NBA Live 14, but the consensus is that there is still a long way to go for the NBA Live series.
On May 10th 2016, it was announced that the next NBA Live game would not be released until early 2017. In its place, NBA Live Mobile was released worldwide on July 5th, following a soft launch in Canada on February 17th. Essentially a mobile version of Ultimate Team, it has been fairly well-received, especially compared to recent console releases. In January 2017, rumours of a possible demo release titled "The Drive to NBA Live" emerged. An investor call in late January finally revealed that the early 2017 release had been cancelled, in order to continue development and release a fully-featured NBA Live 18 in Fall 2017. NBA Live 18 was released as planned, receiving a slightly warmer reception than its predecessors. NBA Live 19 was released in September 2018, receiving the most positive reviews since the relaunch in 2013.
Re-branding to NBA Elite
The July issue of the Official Xbox Magazine revealed that beginning with the 2011 season release, NBA Live would be re-branded NBA Elite. The change was confirmed by EA Sports on June 2nd 2010, following promotional images posted on their official Facebook pages with references to the word "Elite". NBA Elite 11 was set to be the first release in the NBA Elite series but was ultimately cancelled shortly before it was due to be released. NBA Elite was however released on iOS on November 5th 2010.
Return to NBA Live
On February 23rd 2012, EA Sports confirmed that they would be returning to the NBA Live branding with NBA Live 13, originally scheduled for release in the Fall of 2012. However, citing a desire to release the best product possible, the game was cancelled in September 26th 2012 with a new release tentatively planned for 2013. The series is now being developed by EA Tiburon, the studio responsible for EA Sports' Madden NFL series, in contrast to all previous NBA Live games (and NBA Elite 11) which were developed by EA Canada.
Criticism & Controversy
Although it has remained a popular video game franchise since its inception, the NBA Live series has been subject to criticism and controversy throughout the years. Over time, fans have desired more and more realism from basketball video games and much of the criticism that is levelled at NBA Live and other basketball titles revolves around its ability to produce a realistic representation of the NBA. Other common criticisms include missing features (particularly those that have appeared in older NBA Live titles) and unresolved bugs and similar issues.
The PC platform has been at the centre of most of the controversy in recent years, with NBA Live 07 and NBA Live 08 being particularly unpopular ports of the PlayStation 2 version, featuring several intrusive bugs. EA Sports' decision not to release PC versions of NBA Live 2002 and NBA Live 09 has also been controversial, particularly the latter due to the fanbase's dissatisfaction with NBA Live 07 and NBA Live 08.
For many years, the NBA Live series has been compared unfavourably to the rival NBA 2K series, which has surpassed it in critical reception and sales. A big turning point came with NBA Elite 11, which was intended to breathe new life into the series but due to internal dissatisfaction and poor reception of the demo, it was indefinitely postponed a week before it was set to be released and ultimately cancelled. NBA Live 13 was also ultimately cancelled.
The series finally returned with NBA Live 14, a game that received mostly negative reviews. Since then, the series has struggled to regain sales and critical acclaim. The subsequent releases, NBA Live 15 and NBA Live 16, received more mixed reviews, but were generally been considered to be slight improvements over NBA Live 14. The next game in the series, NBA Live 18, will be released in Fall 2017. A mobile game for iOS and Android devices, NBA Live Mobile, was released in Canada on February 17th 2016, and worldwide on July 5th 2016. Essentially a mobile version of Ultimate Team, the game has been generally well-received, compared to the most recent console versions. After skipping a release in 2016, 2017's NBA Live 18 was better received. NBA Live 19 also received praise for getting the series back on track.