This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some 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. This week, I’m taking a look back at the EA Sports Bio in NBA Live 2004.
In these days of microtransactions for ratings boosts and cosmetic items alike, the notion of receiving rewards for simply playing a game seems rather quaint. Likewise, the idea of having to unlock additional content rather than it being openly promoted as a selling point, either by having it readily available out of the box or perhaps as a pre-order exclusive, seems delightfully retro. That’s how it used to be though, with most content either being unlocked by completing some objective, earning points for an in-game shop, or in some cases, punching in a code.
For their range of 2004 season games, EA Sports introduced a new initiative that was intended to reward gamers, as well as provide an incentive to buy more than one title. That initiative was the EA Sports Bio, a feature that was exclusive to consoles. Even though it was intended to drive sales and put the squeeze on the competition, it was an initiative that benefited gamers even if you only purchased one title, as I did with NBA Live 2004. It’s an interesting concept that inspired features in later games, so let’s take a look back…way back…
The EA Sports Bio can perhaps best be described as a rewards and tracking system. Upon firing up NBA Live 2004, or any of the 2004 EA Sports titles, a save file would be created for the EA Sports Bio. No further registration was required, seeing as how online connectivity for consoles was still in its infancy (and indeed, not available for the original PlayStation 2 without an adapter). From then on, as long as the data file wasn’t deleted, your EA Sports Bio would continually log your total playing time for all of the 2004 EA Sports titles that you owned. As previously mentioned, the feature was a console exclusive, and isn’t accessible anywhere in NBA Live 2004 PC.
As noted when it was announced, the EA Sports Bio was essentially an extension of a rewards system that had been featured in EA’s 2003 line of sports titles. Under that system, the games would search for save files from other titles and upon finding them, would unlock special rewards. The EA Sports Bio expanded on the idea, introducing the playtime tracker and a menu where you could view all of the EA Sports titles that you owned, as well as your accomplishments in them. There was also a level system to unlock rewards in each game. Levelling up was achieved through a combination of racking up hours with a game, and completing various game-specific objectives.
Once again, the purpose of the initiative was clear: buy an EA Sports game, or more than one, and spend as much time playing as you possibly could. The more titles you purchased and the more you played them, the quicker you’d level up. However, as I found out from only playing NBA Live 2004, simply spending a lot of time with one game I really enjoyed was enough to make consistent progress towards the next level in the EA Sports Bio. As I also discovered when I left the game on overnight, letting it idle in the menus was also enough to rack up hours on the playtime counter, though progress was made much quicker by actually playing games and completing tasks.
To that end, even though it was a marketing gimmick and a method of monopolising your time with EA Sports titles, the EA Sports Bio was a feature that felt as though it was genuinely trying to reward gamers for their loyalty and interest in the brand. Due to the fact that it came out before the PC version and I’d already started what turned out to be a memorable Bulls Dynasty, I played the PlayStation 2 version of NBA Live 2004 extensively. I remember feeling a sense of accomplishment whenever I levelled up, either through completing objectives or logging more hours. Much like Steam’s “Hours Played” count, it reflected how much I was enjoying the game.
Unlockable rewards in NBA Live 2004 included shoes, tattoos, NBA Store Points which could be used to unlock other shoes, jerseys, and player accessories, and bonus Dynasty Points that could be spent on enhancements for your team in Dynasty Mode. None of that may seem especially exciting these days, but at the time it was satisfying to see that dialogue box letting you know that you’d unlocked the next reward upon reaching the required level. Even though a lot of that content could be unlocked much more quickly through cheat codes, there was a certain satisfaction in doing it legit. If nothing else, it was cool to track your hours played, and biggest accomplishments.
Unfortunately, I no longer have my original EA Sports Bio. Although I’ve kept the same copy of the PC version of NBA Live 2004 that I got back in 2003, I traded in my PlayStation 2 copy and ended up deleting all of my saved data. I wasn’t to know that I’d later pick it up again cheap off eBay, in order to complete my collection. I would certainly come to regret deleting my Dynasty save from my memory card, along with a Bio containing all of the progress earned from a solid year of playing NBA Live 2004. I’d love to still have that data for posterity, but as it stands, it’s one of my regrets when it comes to NBA Live saves that I’ve lost.
Ultimately, the EA Sports Bio was an initiative that only lasted a season. EA did not utilise it in NBA Live 2005 and beyond, and it’s unclear as to whether or not there were ever any plans to do so. Some of the basic concepts have been recycled and put to use in other features over the years, however. In recent NBA Live games, the EA HoopsNet feature shares your activities and achievements with friends, and is also a level system with different rewards being earned as you rank up. It has no connection with other EA Sports games, though. NBA Jam: On Fire Edition also granted bonus Jam Points to gamers who had a save file from the previous year’s NBA Jam.
With that in mind, it’s not a stretch to say that the EA Sports Bio helped pioneer those features in today’s games. Back in the day, it was certainly a fun gimmick. Again, I do regret deleting my saved data, and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that wished I could get that progress back. As much as I do love NBA Live 2004 though, it might be too much of a time-consuming task. I could always leave the game on and running day and night for a few weeks, but without a history of my accomplishments, it wouldn’t be quite the same. Perhaps I’ll just leave the memories alone, and enjoy the features in modern games that the EA Sports Bio paved the way for.
Then again, a little retro gaming never hurt anyone. I wonder what the other 2004 EA Sports titles are going for on eBay, these days…