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Wayback Wednesday: Thoughts on EA’s Next NBA Sim Game

LeBron James in NBA Live 13

Welcome to Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! This is a feature where we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content.

It’s been revealed that NBA Live 17 won’t be shipping in the Fall of 2016 as expected, as a new console version of NBA Live will instead be dropping in early 2017. Naturally, this has led to disappointment and speculation that the series will be moving in a completely new direction, abandoning the AAA model in favour of being a mobile-only game. At this point, those of us who are interested in seeing NBA Live improve and succeed are anxious to hear more concrete details about the future of the series.

NBA Live’s hardships and setbacks over the past six years are well-documented. They include the cancellation of NBA Elite 11 and NBA Live 13, poor reception of NBA Live 14, and a postponed release for NBA Live 15, to say nothing of Metacritic scores. As we find ourselves in familiar territory, I’ve dug into the archives and found an article that I wrote about the future of the series back in April 2011, when we discovered the series would attempt a relaunch with a game that would eventually be the cancelled NBA Live 13. As with previous articles I’ve revisited, I’m presenting it as-is (aside from a couple of images), and following it up with some commentary.

So, what was my take back then, and have my thoughts changed? Well, let’s take a look back…way back…

Thoughts on EA’s Next NBA Sim Game

Originally published April 8th, 2011

For those who haven’t yet seen the announcement, it has been revealed that EA Sports will not be releasing a sim-oriented NBA game again this year, instead releasing the next game in Fall 2012. As with the announcement of NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, I’ve decided to post a few thoughts on the news which you can check out below.

Needless to say, there’s an element of risk here for EA Sports. The NBA Live series, for so many years the best selling NBA sim (if not always the best received), was overtaken in sales beginning with NBA Live 09 and lost even more ground the following year with NBA Live 10. The cancellation of NBA Elite 11, while in some ways a face saving move, at the same time dealt the brand another blow and sitting out another year assures 2K Sports another decisive victory. NBA 2K11 delivered the goods and provides 2K with a great foundation for NBA 2K12. Unopposed, it will likely draw in even more disgruntled former NBA Live diehards.

However, the silver lining here is that all this time to develop and polish the game along with a new development team at EA Tiburon might be what’s needed to get things back on track and inject new life into the series, without a frantic rush to rebuild everything within one development cycle. The idea of the game taking at least a year off to get everything right is something that we fans have discussed in the past, even long before Elite 11 was canned. Now that the call has been made to wait another year, there’s an opportunity to really bounce back strong.

Kevin Durant in NBA Elite 11

And let’s face it, to have a shot at winning back the fanbase and gaining some ground on NBA 2K, that’s exactly what they’re going to have to do. A lot of people have given up on the series, which is understandable as the situation has have never been bleaker than it is right now and 2K is putting out a strong product. However, I’d suggest that the door has been left open for EA because NBA 2K11 – in my opinion, one of the most impressive basketball games ever released – still wasn’t perfect and not everyone was entirely happy with every aspect of the game. NBA 2K12 certainly may address those concerns, but then there are also people don’t like everything about NBA 2K’s approach to controls and other aspects.

As such, there’s room for a viable alternative, a spot that’s open to EA’s game if it can deliver the experience gamers want. I still believe that having two strong brands is good for everyone, benefitting us as consumers and getting the best out of developers as well. I’d prefer there to be at least two quality sim-style NBA games available along with an arcade title. I’d much rather be spoiled for choice than have just one developer and one title left standing.

So yes, I’m hoping for the best in the wake of the announcement. I’d like to see EA’s game make a strong comeback. Will it happen? I think most people’s answers to that question would run the gamut from scathing doubt (or at this point, a flat out “no way”) to cautious optimism. I’d place myself in the cautiously optimistic crowd, but having said that this could be EA’s last chance at making a triumphant comeback with their NBA sim series. Again, I’m hoping they can make it happen.

Stephen Curry in NBA Elite 11

Something that could end up putting a damper on any NBA game released this year is the potential lockout, which may see part or all of the 2011/2012 NBA season go up in smoke. Should that happen, EA may actually be able to use it to their advantage, reducing the impact of skipping another year and gaining a chance to make a big return alongside the real NBA. If NBA Live 99 is any indication of how a lockout may affect releases this year, NBA 2K12 (and for that matter, NBA Jam) would have to make do with final 2010/2011 season rosters, in the absence of any player movement and new rookies being signed. It’ll be interesting to see whether the NBA 2K12 team would look to add more historical content or how they’ll otherwise compensate for a lost season if a new CBA can’t be ironed out in time.

Getting back to EA’s game, it remains to be seen which title they’ll brand it with. The press release simply mentioned the “next NBA simulation title”, which suggests the NBA Elite name may now have been scrapped. Given the negative connotations associated with NBA Elite – I’m sure most people are familiar with the “NBA Delete” meme that was coined following the demo’s release – that wouldn’t be a bad move. A return to NBA Live might not be out of the question and it could even evoke a bit of nostalgia for the brand, but the Live name has also taken a hit over the years. Given EA’s partnership with ESPN, I wouldn’t be surprised if the network is somehow featured in the name moving forward.

With some eighteen months before the game’s scheduled release, I’d suggest that it’s going to be some time before we get any kind of concrete information or previews. For a while, all we’ll have are Wishlists and speculation. Between now and then, we’ll also be able to get our NBA video gaming fix in the form of NBA 2K12 and NBA Jam: On Fire Edition.

Dwight Howard in NBA Elite 11

EA has a long road ahead of them in bringing their NBA sim back and getting it to the point where it needs to be but I for one sincerely hope they will succeed. Hey, if Duke Nukem Forever can rise from the ashes and escape development hell after long becoming a running gag amongst gamers, a successful reboot of EA’s sim basketball series after a two year hiatus mightn’t be so far-fetched. Not if they can make the most of this opportunity.

Commentary

Well, first of all, let me first acknowledge how much of a disappointment Duke Nukem Forever was. I mean, it’s functional and playable, but nowhere near as enjoyable as its classic predecessor, Duke Nukem 3D.

Alright, alright, that’s not the issue here. It’s a little over five years later, and the NBA Live series still hasn’t made the really strong comeback that a lot of us long-time fans were hoping it would. It’s shown promise, and there’s potential for it to be great again, but the latest announcement is definitely a cause for concern. More than the disappointing launch of NBA Live 14, more than a couple of cancelled games, a move to being a mobile-only game would be the death knell for what was once the top series in basketball gaming.

Of course, right now that’s just speculation. NBA Live 17 hasn’t been cancelled; it’s been pushed back to early 2017, allowing for a longer development cycle. Releasing a new version of NBA Live Mobile is a way of keeping the brand active and in the minds of gamers, though as several people have pointed out, it could be testing the waters for a complete change in direction. I do hope that isn’t the case, as I obviously have fond memories of the series, and would like to see at least two viable NBA games on the market. I’ll talk about it more in this week’s Podcast, but I am trying to remain optimistic at this juncture. I certainly do have my concerns, though.

Anthony Davis dunks the basketball in NBA Live 16

Touching on some other points I discussed in that old article, NBA 2K12 did in fact ramp up the amount of historical content, and it was awesome. When the lockout finally ended, official roster updates took care of the missing rookies and everything else. With the improvements 2K has made to its controls, the series has become a lot more accessible to me, and some of the recent iterations rank among my all-time favourite basketball games. Also, EA did go back to the NBA Live moniker, which was for the best. On top of its damaged reputation, NBA Elite just doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily. It’s an awkward name, and I’m glad they did away with it.

Something else that should be noted is that the game that would become NBA Live 13 unfortunately didn’t have a two year development cycle. A lot of time was spent putting together a new development team, which was followed by a considerable amount of turnover and further rebuilding. As a result, there was no golden opportunity to spend a couple of years developing the next game. With the changes in direction, a new console generation, and starting over from scratch, NBA Live is still trying to play catch-up. Needless to say, that hasn’t helped at all, becoming one of the biggest obstacles in the development of NBA Live.

And so, NBA Live finds itself in a similar position today as it did back in April of 2011: trying to recapture past glory, competing with a basketball game that has become a juggernaut. I have to admit that I’m a little more cautious in my optimism this time around, but I am still hoping for the best; to quote Yogi Berra (and subsequently Rocky Balboa), it ain’t over til it’s over. However, there’s still much work to be done, and a console version of NBA Live 17 is really going to have to “bring it”. We’ll have to see what happens over the next few months.

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CEOHaize
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CEOHaize

The fact that they won’t be releasing on consoles until early 2017 makes me think it won’t be a sim game