EA on the Rebound
How EA can improve its next basketball sim by looking at its own franchises and the world of basketball.
After the sudden cancelation of NBA Elite 11 back in October 2010, fans of the National Basketball Association only had one franchise to choose from: 2K Sports' NBA 2K series. Thankfully, 2K's brand of basketball is viewed as one of the best sports franchises on the market, and that distinction probably won't change in the near future, unless EA takes some significant risks with its basketball franchise. Tiburon and EA Sports are under a lot of pressure to deliver a solid basketball game that will not only compete with 2K down the road, but also surpass it.
For the future EA NBA game to work and become the de facto basketball game on the market, it has to "borrow" elements from other sports games. Even though development shifted from its Vancouver studios to Tiburon in Florida, those working on EA NBA need to look at what has made both NHL and FIFA EA's marquee sports titles. Both games do a fantastic job of delivering an authentic presentation with excellent commentary, stadium design, player animations, and more. Those games not only make players feel as though they are playing a realistic-looking sports game, but they can also fool a bystander into thinking it's a real event by focusing on presentation.
Basketball broadcasts are flashy because, perhaps, the sport is fast paced and its athletes are celebrities. Even if you don't follow the sport regularly, you could probably identify a number of basketball players, current or retires. While 2K has recently focused on celebrating the past, EA should focus on the present by ensuring that players are properly replicated in the game. This means every aspect of a player's movements on and off the court should play out as they would in a real game. While 2K has done a great job of replicating player shooting animations, other aspects, such as off-the-ball reactions, movements (both on the court and on the bench), and other details, disconnect the gamer from the real experience. If a player has a particular running motion while playing, the same movements should be in game. EA needs to take advantage of this and make sure that it brings extra attention to these facets of the sport.
And EA shouldn't just focus on NBA players either. Basketball is a global sport and EA needs to embrace this fact. Previous NBA Live games have included national teams, but why not include full Euroleague support? There are a lot of great basketball players in Spain, Italy, Russia, and other European countries so giving fans extra teams and modes could be quite interesting. Basketball matches in Europe are mostly held in smaller arenas that give off an intimate but intimidating feel. Scores are usually close, and in basketball-centric countries, like Greece and Serbia, fans take the support of their teams and hatred of their opposition to a whole different level.
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Indeed, the Euroleague is an interesting concept where 24 of the continent's best basketball clubs play against each other. They start off in four groups of six and play against each other in a round-robin format. Then, the top four in each group are thrown into four additional groups of four, with the top two advancing to the play-offs. All are vying for a place in the Euroleague Final Four, which is held in a different European city every year. A lot of great European players make their mark in this league and the matches are almost always tightly contested. At the same time, this opens the door for EA to break into the European market, and the inclusion of European clubs would help it stand apart from NBA 2K.
Here's another reason to include foreign teams: Ultimate Team mode. EA has proven how popular this mode is during the past few years. It originally started as paid downloadable content, but now, every professional team sports game includes the mode from day one. FIFA has it. NHL has it. Even Madden has its own version. Because the NBA's roster of players is the smallest of the professional sports in North America, foreign leagues would help flesh it out. Again, this is something that no basketball game does, including 2K, which would give EA's version of the sport a much needed advantage.
Although we've pointed out some of the features that should be included in the upcoming EA NBA game, the most important thing that needs to be addressed is the actual gameplay. EA needs to ensure the game is authentic to the sport and simultaneously easy to pick up and play. Past Live games did a fine job with the right analog stick for dribbling, which gave players more control with crossovers, back steps, and other moves. If EA wants to incorporate the right analog stick for shooting, like NBA 2K, then EA needs to ensure that players have the ability to do both right-analog and button-pressing shooting without needing to go into a menu to change mid-game. In NBA JAM: On Fire Edition, a recently released EA arcade basketball game, shooting and controls worked extremely well and could be used to the same degree. Obviously, some adjustments need to be made to accommodate 360-degree movements, but in the right hands, this issue shouldn't be that difficult to overcome.
We don't know much regarding the next EA NBA game, other than the fact that one will eventually make its way onto store shelves. In any case, whatever EA decides to do with its basketball game, the most important thing is for EA not to rush to release a game just to have one to release. At the same time, it needs to accept that its basketball game won't immediately dethrone NBA 2K because EA is in catch-up mode. If EA does bring basketball fans something fresh and different, it will help set the foundation for future releases and give EA an opportunity to get back into the game.