ESPN Videogames announced today that its basketball title, ESPN NBA 2K5, has gone gold and will ship to retail stores tomorrow. Originally scheduled to ship on October 5, the game will now hit the PlayStation 2 and Xbox this week at a suggested retail price of $19.99. ESPN Videogames is the official brand for the lineup of sports titles developed by Visual Concepts, published by Sega, and distributed by Take-Two.
Today's maneuver appears to be nothing less than a counterpunch to a direct attack by Electronic Arts. That company's basketball title, NBA Live 2005, was also originally slated to ship on October 5 but was going to do so at an MSRP of $49.99. After ESPN's NFL and NHL titles took sales and attention away from EA's lineup by launching earlier and at a budget price, EA fired back just days ago by moving up Live's release date and lowering its price to $39.99.
[UPDATE] For its part, Electronic Arts played it cool when it came to questions suggesting it was from a strategic point of view that recent decisions concerning the NBA Live launch date were made. "EA SPORTS was built on competition and this year is no different from any other," a spokesperson told GameSpot. "We'll do whatever it takes to maintain our leadership in sports games."
Visual Concepts' Greg Thomas elaborated on the race to retail with more vigor. A brief conversation with Thomas, ESPN NBA 2K5 developer Visual Concepts' co-founder and president, netted the following information.
GameSpot: Seems like the new, closer date for your title is a shot across the bow towards Electronic Arts. Is that that case?
Greg Thomas: Our ship date isnt in response to anything anyone else has done. If you look at what weve done historically, weve always tried to get our games into the hands of consumers early. Our goal was to ship the game only when we were comfortable that we could deliver the best NBA game.
GS: Was the new date (and new price) EA tagged on to its basketball title incentive enough to get the wheels moving faster in San Rafael?
GT: We never stop tearing up tires here. Weve had the nitrous boosters going since day 1. Its great to be at the finish line, but were already planning 2K6. Im extremely proud of what weve been able to accomplish. Simply put, its the best playing NBA game at the best price.
GS: What if anything did you have to leave out of the game to get the ship date so close to the competition's?
GT: Nothing, I want to make that clear. Nothing. I refuse to sacrifice quality to make a date. Anyone who plays the game will be able to tell that not only did we not sacrifice quality, we focused on it.
GS: Most analysts are giving you and Take-Two high marks this year in terms of your ability to make inroads in marketshare as well and mindshare. Could the $19.99 price point become solid, year in and year out?
GT: Were very pleased with the performance of ESPN NFL 2K5 and ESPN NHL 2K5. Weve still got games to ship this year and thats what we are focusing on. Our goal is to get as many gamers playing our games as possible.
GS: What sort of percentage increase in unit sales are you looking for from NBA 2K5 this year out?
GT: We arent giving out any specific details regarding our strategy. But Ill let you in on a secret .We want to sell a lot of games. [laughs]
Look for GameSpot's reviews of both titles later this week as we scramble to keep up with EA and ESPN's capriciousness.