NBA Live 13 is dead and buried. It was probably never fully alive to begin with, although EA Sports had us thinking otherwise with trailers, previews and other updates leading into its rumoured late-October digital release, before its cancellation earlier today.
So what exactly has happened to this once respected and immensely popular sports sim? Was 2K Sports’ NBA 2K series really responsible for the series’ demise, or is it more than that? Did fans lose patience? Or did people just stop caring about basketball video games?
These are questions I’m asking myself, because I care deeply about this franchise: growing up in the Michael Jordan era, the NBA Live series was my chance to replicate the superstardom that is the NBA. For the past few years I’ve been able to sit back and admit that the NBA 2K series is probably better overall, but I can’t admit that NBA Live should follow suit. I never really wanted the series to change that much, as long as I got an enjoyable basketball game that challenged me at the highest level and kept me playing through the season.
Yet, EA Sports doesn’t feel that NBA Live 13 is good enough to be released. I admire the decision to cancel it so close to release, because I don’t think doing that could be any worse that releasing a crappy game that no one cares for.
But questions remain: why promote a game (as modestly as EA Sports did) and then cancel it right before the season starts? The same mistake was made with NBA Elite 11: a demo was released and a release date set, but the game was cancelled (and rightfully so: the demo is disgracefully awful in every sense) literally weeks before it was released. How can consumer trust be restored?
As an NBA Live fan, frustrations have existed for a while. NBA Live 06 on Xbox 360 was a true insult to fans: it lacked any deep features and was basically just a visual demo for the console and EA Sports development tech. Compared to the team’s other offering at the time in Fight Night Round 3, NBA Live 06’s retail release was basically a demo on a disc.
The releases over the following years were met poorly from gamers and critics alike, as the 2K series continued to evolve the genre, offering new ways to interact with your virtual teammates. NBA Live kept the core experience intact, but NBA Elite’s dysfunctional button mapping and control issues showcased EA’s interest in replicating the successful mechanics of its competition, rather than offering its fans a genuine upgrade to a much-loved basketball gaming experience.
Were sales so bad that EA Sports needed to completely redefine the series? The change from NBA Live 10 to Elite 11’s demo is quite surreal, with the former feeling nothing, NOTHING, like the series it was supposed to be a spiritual successor to.
Interestingly, EA Sports’ commentary on the cancellation of NBA Live 13 is eerily similar to the statement we got about NBA Elite 11.
The publisher at the time said it wanted to create “a game that will introduce several breakthrough features”, and because that hadn’t been achieved, the game was eventually delayed and then cancelled. “Unfortunately, NBA ELITE 11 is not yet ready,” it said.
Similar rhetoric appears in the company’s statement for NBA Live 13’s cancellation. Terms like “innovation”, “quality” and “not ready” replicate a belief that the publisher doesn’t quite seem to have much faith in the NBA Live audience.
While gamers are thankfully getting the better of the two franchises with NBA 2K13, competition is a great thing that we should hope returns to the basketball sim genre. EA Sports certainly needs to get its act together, and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, maybe it should take what was so loved about the series and expand on it. Because with its last two attempts at taking on 2K Sports’ apparent innovation with its own series, it’s creating games with no hype, no real drive and no NBA Live feel.
By Gaetano Prestia