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Basketball Jones: The Rise & Fall Of NBA Live

By
Posted on September 28, 2012 AT 01:10pm

NBA Live has been a basketball staple for years. When EA Sports first release NBA Live 95‘ in 1994 the NBA was at it’s apex. Players in the NBA were in their prime, and basketball was more popular than it has ever been before. So for EA Sports, the formula was simple: create a basketball simulation that has all of the NBA players and stars with enhanced gameplay mechanics featuring a full NBA season, real players. The formula worked for years and EA Sports was at the top of the hill.

Throughout each iteration, NBA Live expanded with it’s creativity adding new features to each game such as the 3 Point Contest, player creation, and  in later years the dunk contest. But for me the one that really stuck  out was NBA Live 2000 which included the greatest basketball player of all-time: Michael Jordan. Previously, one could only create Michael Jordan in the game and the harrowed announcer would regard him as “Number Twenty-Three!” whenever he would score. But this game had his airness himself finally in the game. It seemed like EA had a good thing going for this,  and I assumed they would take advantage. It turns out that I was wrong, and another game company would take EA’s idea and feed it while creating  what I and many others consider the greatest basketball  simulation ever created.

With the gem EA Sports had going on, there was no doubt that NBA Live was the king of the block in terms of simulation basketball games. Others had come and go and there really weren’t many challenges that NBA Live had to face in terms of simulation basketball. That was until a company called Visual Concepts came along and developed their basketball series that we all know very well. The NBA 2K series was started in 1999 originating on the Sega Dreamcast. Featuring importing of created players onto another gamers’ Sega Dreamcast, there was no doubt that NBA 2K was well on it’s way to becoming the star of the hardwood.

The battle between the two games raged on but NBA 2K seemed to do things that NBA Live didn’t do as often – innovate. Each year there was a new feature for NBA 2K that seemed to innovate the game enough to help it continue being the king on the block. Introductions of Franchise Modes, My Player modes, and others were crushing the competition for 2K. EA Sports seemed to shy away from their NBA Live series as well expanded their development studios to EA Sports BIG introducing new games like NBA Street which featured arcade-like gameplay reminiscent to Acclaim’s NBA Jam. It was successful series but if someone wanted to play a simulation basketball game, NBA Live was no longer regarded as the top dog.

Finally in what I think was the final blow, NBA 2K introduced the ability to not only play with Michael Jordan, but to play with the NBA teams from era’s past such as Larry Bird’s Celtics, Patrick Ewing’s Knicks, Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers, the addition of the Olympic Dream Team and much, much more. NBA 2K did exactly what we would have expected NBA Live to do back in 2000- take the idea of having an old school basketball player in a video game, and add the teams. Think about it. This was when the NBA was in it’s prime…during the early/mid 90′s to about the early 2000′s. So why not take what was the best times in a sport and import it into a video game? It was such a simple concept but it worked flawlessly for Visual Concepts. NBA Live promised us they would be back and even went ahead with their change calling themselves NBA Elite which was to be released in 2011 but that never came to pass.

In closing I will say this: At one time I believe that the NBA Live series was the best basketball series ever made. I wasted many afternoon’s during the fall and winter playing NBA Live  95‘,  NBA Live 2000 and many others. But they did not continue to innovate like the NBA 2K series has which was their demise. With the recent cancellation of NBA Live 13 there is no doubt in my mind that NBA Live has completely fallen and may have a very difficult time getting up. I would also say that the fact that the NBA Players license was shared between two different games giving gamers a choice didn’t seem to help the NBA Live series either. It makes you wonder what would happen the license was shared again like it was previously for the NFL. Maybe we’ll find out someday, but the name of the game for sports games these days is clearly innovation. Give the player something new, never seen before, and nostalgic, and you will have their loyalty without question. EA Sports has announced that they plan on releasing NBA Live 14′ next year and plan on making “next year’s game great”. Until then, we will have to wait and see and disappointed NBA Live fans will have to keep the bench warm until they get some playing time next season.

Albert Perkins is one of the journalists writing for DigitalNoob, and also co-hosts & produces The Weekly Beat Podcast on DigitalNoob. Away from gaming you can find Albert watching sports, television, movies, and regularly being the jokester & punch line amongst his friends. You can follow him on Twitter @AlbertPerkins.


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