2K Sports benching NHL series?

NHL 2K11 absent from Take-Two Interactive release schedule for next year as publisher rethinks its sports lineup.

Source: In a post to his Pastapadre site, former SportsGamer writer Brian Wiedey pointed out that Take-Two Interactive neglected to include NHL 2K11 on its 2010 release schedule.

What we heard: As Wiedey pointed out, Take-Two's fiscal fourth quarter report (released yesterday) has been the publisher's preferred opportunity to confirm new installments in its long-running ice hockey series.

NHL 2K10 cover athlete Alex Ovechkin, understandably furious, heartbroken, and/or surprised at rumors of the series' demise.

That alone might not raise eyebrows, as Take-Two's preliminary 2010 lineup is far from inclusive, consisting of only seven games. However, the publisher did specify that it would have MLB 2K11 and a new NBA 2K11 game next year, leaving NHL as the only annualized Take-Two sports franchise unaccounted for.

Dropping the NHL series would make some sense for Take-Two. 2K's games have been a distant second to EA's efforts this generation, both critically and commercially. And while the recent Wii edition of NHL 2K10 was warmly received by critics and vigorously supported with TV advertising, that hasn't significantly boosted sales over last year's edition. With the publisher's stated focus on AAA game development, a middling licensed franchise with a limited potential audience up against tough competition every year might be a tempting target for cutting costs.

Take-Two also seems to be shying away from the need to compete with EA in the sports genre. It was the desire to compete that led the publisher's management team (a group since ousted) to shell out for third-party exclusivity on the Major League Baseball license, a move that executives said will cost Take-Two $30-35 million during its current fiscal year alone.

The official story: "We are currently in the process of evaluating our sports portfolio and have not announced any new NHL titles at this time."--A 2K Sports representative.

Bogus or not bogus?: Tentatively not bogus, but no matter how one slices it, the outlook isn't good for NHL 2K11. Take-Two proved itself willing to walk away from an unprofitable series after it canceled its College Hoops series in 2008. And given how strong EA's puck sims have been in recent years, there's likely not much of a near-term opportunity to increase NHL 2K's market share without a significant investment.

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