Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a countdown of the Top 5 PR Disasters in Basketball Gaming.
Video games are serious business…well, just about as serious as a hobby can get, anyway. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry with passionate consumers who naturally want value for money, and to be valued by the companies making the products they’re buying. The relationship between gamers and developers can be contentious at times, and while our behaviour admittedly hasn’t always been exemplary, there are certainly times when EA Sports and Visual Concepts have made disappointing decisions, or acted in a way that left a lot of basketball gamers feeling unappreciated or ripped off.
There have been several unfortunate incidents over the years, so as with any Top 5, I can’t account for all of them, and even if you do agree with my picks, you may not agree with the ranking. I’ve tried to base my selections on a combination of the severity of the incident, the long-term impact it’s had, and the general level of outrage that I’ve observed within the community. Finally, as always, these lists are intended to offer up my take on a subject while beginning the conversation, not ending it. With that being said, let’s tip off the countdown with number five.
5. No Patch for NBA Live 2001, No PC Release for NBA Live 2002
I’m kind of cheating as I’m combining two issues into one here, but they are definitely related, and occurred within a few months of one another. The controversy began with NBA Live 2001, specifically the PC version which was a late release. Although I’d have to say it’s a bit better than I remembered upon revisiting it last year, it was still a disappointment at the time. There were issues with rebounding and other gameplay quirks, and despite our best efforts, it was obvious that an official patch was needed. For a long time, a fix was in the pipeline, but then it fell through and was cancelled. As you might expect, this did not endear EA Sports to PC basketball gamers.
Said PC basketball gamers were delivered another blow months later when it was revealed that NBA Live 2002 was going to be a console-only release. That would have been a controversial decision at the best of times, but in the wake of all that had happened with the cancelled patch for NBA Live 2001, gamers were furious. Unfortunately, many took out their ire on Tim – one of the NLSC’s founders, who was now a member of the development team – unfairly holding him solely and personally responsible, which he definitely wasn’t. As far as EA was concerned however, the whole situation wasn’t good PR, resulting in resentment and distrust.
4. NBA 2K14’s Server Shutdown
At some point, online services for most games are shut down. It tends to happen sooner with basketball games and other sports titles, owing to annual releases and the userbase moving on. Not everyone buys the latest game each year however, and with deep modes like MyCAREER, gamers may be inclined to stick with a particular release for a while, or indeed, revisit an old favourite from time to time. Despite being a single player mode, MyCAREER has online components and functionality that are rendered unavailable once the servers are shut down. That’s exactly what happened when online support for NBA 2K14 concluded.
Unfortunately, the intended transition to offline MyCAREER saves did not go to plan. Gamers instead found themselves locked out of their save games, an issue which 2K were slow to address. Emails from 2K Support were unfortunately worded, referring to the saves as “retired” and stating “all good things must come to an end”, which unintentionally came across as condescending. That only prompted further outrage, though it cooled off a little once the servers were reactivated, and 2K extended post-release support from 18 months to 27 months. The shutdown was inevitable and there had been warning, but when problems arose, the situation was poorly handled.
3. NBA Live is Discontinued on PC
It was difficult for PC basketball gamers to fully trust EA Sports after the console-only release of NBA Live 2002. Even after the series returned to PC with NBA Live 2003, there was always a worry that the platform would be abandoned once more. These concerns were realised come 2008, when it was announced that NBA Live 09 would only be released on the PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. NBA Live 07 and NBA Live 08 PC had both been problematic and disappointing releases, but they were still diligently played and patched by the community. Needless to say, the announcement was not well-received.
In the wake of the announcement, we set about creating a project to keep NBA Live alive on PC. Visual Concepts finally making the jump to the platform with NBA 2K9 also lessened the sting for a lot of PC basketball gamers. NBA Live is yet to return to PC, so the controversy here is unfortunately ongoing. It does bear mentioning that the PC userbase is a niche within a niche when it comes to basketball gaming, and there’s something else that I feel has been more damaging to the NBA Live brand in the grand scheme of things, which is why I haven’t ranked this number one. Still, for many basketball gamers, this was the final straw as far as supporting EA’s series.
2. Smug Twitter Exchanges
While many NBA 2K titles have received a lot of acclaim from reviewers and basketball gamers alike, their track record with PR and interactions with their fanbase isn’t quite as stellar. This goes back to a rather unprofessional remark regarding a patch for NBA Live 10 – incidentally, an early candidate for this list – with Ronnie 2K (not surprisingly) at the centre of the controversy. As social media has grown in prominence, there have been other tacky moments. The biggest PR misstep would have to be the snarky replies to queries as to when we’d get some information on NBA 2K17, after months of pushing pre-orders with no substantial previews.
The attitude rubbed gamers the wrong way, to put it mildly. Instead of a reasonable “News is coming, we’re not allowed to say when yet, but it’s awesome!”, it felt as though 2K’s reps were thrusting a middle finger in our faces, while jeering “What are you going to do? We’re the only game in town!” The incident ultimately didn’t affect sales, but the lack of professionalism was appalling, the smugness off-putting. It’s arguably helped prompt support and optimism for NBA Live and EA – a series that has fallen on hard times, by a developer that is traditionally seen as an unsympathetic figure in the industry – so I believe it ranks up there when it comes to PR blunders.
1. NBA Live’s Cancellations & Delays
Really, could anything else top this list? Basketball gamers have been disappointed by various releases in the NBA Live series over the years, but up until NBA Live 10, the game still sold relatively well. The debacle with NBA Elite 11 marked a sharp downturn in the series’ fortunes, a situation that it is still recovering from. For a start, not a lot of people were too crazy about the name change; it just didn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly. The change in direction for the game didn’t pan out either, and it was abruptly cancelled, less than a week before it was meant to launch. Unopposed, NBA 2K11 – a great game that brought back Michael Jordan – set new sales records.
After taking a year off, the series was set to return in 2012 under its familiar branding with NBA Live 13…which was then cancelled. The series was finally rebooted with NBA Live 14, but it was not well-received. NBA Live 15 and 16 were considered marginal improvements, but the former’s release was delayed, immediately inviting speculation that it too would be cancelled; a sign of how trust in the brand had been eroded. The release intended for early 2017 was also cancelled, though with whispers of big improvements and a transition to the Frostbite engine, there seems to be a tad more optimism this time around. Nevertheless, NBA Live 18 has a lot to prove.
What’s your take on some of these incidents? What other bewildering PR blunders from basketball video game developers have riled you up in the past? Have your say in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.