The comings and goings of sports game developers doesn't usually receive much fanfare--in fact, it's a fair bet to say that most sports game fans don't know a lot about who is behind their favorite games. Just a few years ago, I was caught by surprise when I ran into Mike Wang at an EA Sports event in Vancouver. Previously with 2K Sports' NBA 2K series, Mike was one of the instrumental figures in establishing the 2K series' basketball success. That he had jumped ship to go work on the NBA Live turned out to be a good thing for EA's basketball series, but I vividly remember being completely surprised to see him in an entirely new setting.
My, how things change. In a press release today, 2K Sports has announced that Wang has returned to the fold and will be contributing to this fall's NBA 2K11. It's not exactly Lane Kiffin bolting Tennessee for USC, but--at least on my beat--it's big news. And even though Wang might not be a household name to all the NBA 2K series fans, it's good to know that his stamp will be all over NBA 2K11. Recently, I got a chance to ask the NBA 2K11 team some questions to get a feel for where this year's hoops game is heading and, specifically, to Mike to learn about more about his decision to come back to 2K Sports.
GameSpot: Mike, the most obvious question first: Why did you decide to return to the NBA 2K franchise?
Mike Wang: I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had to work on the Live series. I met a lot of great people (both inside and outside of work) and learned a lot from the experience. But my heart is, and always has been, with the 2K franchise. I guess leaving in the first place was what it took for me to realize just how much. For me, it all boils down to the fact that I just love making basketball games, and, obviously, I want to work on the best title out there and work with people who have that same vision. And that place is here at Visual Concepts.
GS: What did you learn from your time at EA Sports that you hope to bring back to 2K?
MW: What EA gave me was exposure to new ways of thinking about basketball games. I can’t say that I agree with how everything is done over there or with some of the ideas that people wanted to try, but you can always learn something from being in a different environment with different people. It also gave me some time to experiment with ideas that I hadn’t yet tried in 2K basketball. The 2K dev team is already incredibly talented and everyone here loves the game of basketball. I’m just doing my best to contribute to an already strong product to make it that much more enjoyable for basketball fans. And my experience with EA will just serve to make the 2K franchise stronger in the long run.
GS: Last year, you were an outsider looking in at NBA 2K10. What were your thoughts on the game as a competing developer?
MW: It was exciting actually. Even though I’m a developer, I’m really just a big basketball gamer first and foremost. And while I was a competing developer when NBA 2K10 was released, I was secretly rooting for 2K basketball because I wanted something new to play this season. 2K’s product was incredibly strong this year, and I think that was reflected in the sales numbers. I’m a harsh critic, though, so as much as I loved NBA 2K10, I still created my wish list for NBA 2K11. I’m just glad that I’m back here now so that I can act on those items and help the team create the ultimate hoops sim that I know millions of consumers are craving. I don’t want to give anything away yet, but even in early stages of development, we look to be heading in that direction.
GS: Erick, what's got you excited about NBA 2K11 so far?
[2K Sports lead feature designer] Erick Boenisch: While we’re not here today to talk about the specifics of NBA 2K11, I can say that morale on the team is at an all-time high. You can tell something special is happening when you see guys walking around the office with a lot more swagger than what you’re accustomed to seeing. The entire team has really bought into what we’re trying to deliver our fans with NBA 2K11. One goal, one focus--and that’s the best playing basketball the video game market has ever seen.
GS: The My Player feature was generally well received and has now spread to MLB 2K10. What can you tell us about My Player for NBA 2K11?
EB: Ours fans have really latched on to the My Player concept. The ability to play a singular role out on the court (as opposed to controlling every player with the ball) has really resonated with our fans for a number of reasons that we had previously anticipated. We intend to take those reasons and continue to expand on the mode in the direction that our fans want us to go with it. We rely so much on the feedback from our fans. This mode is really all about their careers and what they want to do within their careers. My Player 2K11 will grant users a little more depth in freedom in just how they define their careers.
GS: What were the major issues with NBA 2K10 that will be addressed this year?
EB: NBA 2K10 was very, very successful for us. With over 2 million units sold worldwide, we continued to lead the basketball market in both sales and ratings--a tough feat to accomplish. If anything, the online issues we saw with NBA 2K10 arose from our trying to do too much--trying to deliver too much to our fans. Visual Concepts pioneered online gameplay back in the Dreamcast days, and technology has changed so much since that time. Our infrastructure was in need of updating, and it took the success of NBA 2K10 before that became clear. With some of our top talent eager to make the necessary changes, we placed a major focus on laying the groundwork for a completely lag-free online experience. It doesn’t stop with online play either. Online was just a small piece in the efforts we are taking to ensure that NBA 2K11 is the best playing and most complete basketball product on the market.
GS: Last year saw the 10th anniversary of the NBA 2K series. Prediction time: How do you think the NBA 2K series will change in 10 years?
EB: That is such a tough question to even approach. Looking back at NBA 2K, you had a very fundamental game where every player ran the same, shot the same, and played the same. In hindsight, it all just seems very primitive. Flash forward 10 years to NBA 2K10, and you have every player modeled down to the last minutiae of their tattoos, mannerisms, various shot types, facial expressions. It’s really quite mind boggling when you take a step back and assess how accurately we have re-created the basketball culture. Where will we be in 10 years? We have so many things that we want to do with this game…things to take the 2K experience to the next level. The real question becomes: Can technology keep up with everything we want to do?
GS: Thanks for your time, guys.