Q&A: 2K Sports' gameplan for PS3

2K Sports director of marketing Erik Whiteford talks about getting PlayStation 3 launch titles ready, EA's cancellation of NBA Live 07 for PS3, and the EA/2K rivalry.

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In sports, there are established "old-time" franchises that have deep roots, a championship history, and a ridiculously loyal fan base. The same can be said about sports gaming, and without a doubt one can easily draw parallels between the New York Yankees and EA Sports. Both have a winning history, use their "brand" to fantastic results, and are willing to spend more than their competitors in order to dominate.

Times are changing however, and both the Yankees and EA Sports are seeing the competition catch up quickly.

2K Sports, the sports-centric arm of Take-Two Interactive, is elbowing its way into the market at EA's expense. With the next-generation of consoles almost in full swing there has never been a better opportunity for 2K Sports to make its move, and the company is taking advantage.

EA Sports recently confirmed that NBA Live 07 for the PlayStation 3 has been canceled, leaving the hoops market on Sony's next-gen console a one-on-one match between 2K Sports' NBA 2K7 and Sony's own NBA 07. 2K Sports is also shipping out the lone hockey game for the PS3's launch, as EA passed on making a version of NHL 07 for the platform.

In light of this recent turn of events and the impending Wii and PS3 launches, GameSpot caught up with 2K Sports' director of marketing, Erik Whiteford, to get his take on the next-gen sports-game war, the reason EA Sports shelved NBA Live 07, and the overall rivalry between the two companies.

NHL 2K7 faces off against no competition on the PS3.
NHL 2K7 faces off against no competition on the PS3.

GameSpot: How difficult was it to ensure that NHL 2K7 and NBA 2K7 made the PS3's launch day?

Erik Whiteford: It's always a challenge when you put a product on a new hardware system, especially on launch day. But the 2K Sports team is great and has experience with the Xbox 360 launch. It was difficult but not Herculean.

GS: With so few PS3s available at launch, what is the advantage of getting a PS3 2K Sports title out on day one? Why wouldn't you want to wait for more market penetration?

EW: The next gen is where the real opportunity lies for the 2K Sports franchise. It's important for any company to be at launch because though they might not sell a ton of units initially, it helps build market share, credibility, and awareness, especially for fans looking for the next killer app.

I always thought we made better games, but EA has a long brand legacy and consumers kind of follow the herd. We see next-gen is an opportunity for us to distinguish ourselves as the leader. Our NBA 2K7 sales are outpacing Live on Xbox 360 right now by almost 50 percent. Consumers are starting to see that and react. We need to win consumers with good products.

On the PS3 in particular, it's a watershed moment, because we've never been there for a PlayStation hardware launch before. We really think our titles will be a killer app for PS3, reaching to more than just sports gamers.

NBA 2K7 puts the Heat on NBA Live 07.
NBA 2K7 puts the Heat on NBA Live 07.

Also, because the development cycle for sports games is so short by nature of the industry, the sooner we finish NBA 2K7, the sooner we can start working on NBA 2K8.

GS: There have been nightmare stories about developing for the PS3. Anything to tell from 2K Sports' dev houses (Visual Concepts or Kush)? Do you think that the reported difficulties developers are having with the PS3 will last? Or is this just a new language that will take some getting used to?

EW: I'm on the marketing side, so I'm probably not the best person to ask. But for any new hardware there are new challenges, and this is fairly typical of any new hardware launch. We all heard rumors that PS3 was hard to develop for, but everything has positives and negatives and the key is to identify the positives and work with them.

GS: What are your initial reactions to EA canceling the PS3 edition of NBA Live 07, and why do you think your rival passed on it this year?

EW: I think it's a clear indication that NBA Live was not a quality product and it could not compete in the marketplace with a clearly superior title. Rather than suffer any further damage to the brand, they chose to kill the game and regroup for next year.

GS: With EA out of the PS3 basketball market for launch, you have only one other hoops competitor on the platform, Sony's NBA 07. What are your opinions of that franchise?

The BIGS looks to be the next major series for 2K Sports.
The BIGS looks to be the next major series for 2K Sports.

EW: It's sort of a wait-and-see franchise. Every new hardware platform presents a new opportunity for [a] company to establish a franchise. I haven't seen enough of what Sony's game looks like to have a strong opinion.

GS: With the MLB-licensed The BIGS, 2K Sports is heading into arcade-style sports gameplay. Any chance of a basketball game in that vein a la NBA Street?

EW: Right now we have a street mode in the NBA 2K7 game, which is our expression of street-style basketball.

GS: How bad does 2K Sports miss football? Any chance of a non-NFL licensed Blitz: The League-style game from you? It worked well for Midway...

2K Sports' NFL 2K series--R.I.P.?
2K Sports' NFL 2K series--R.I.P.?

EW: We miss our football, especially with the success of our last football game, ESPN Football 2K5. We're not announcing anything right now.

GS: Is this whole 2K Sports/EA Sports rivalry fabricated by the media? Or is it real?

EW: Yes, there's definitely a rivalry, as by nature sports is a competitive entity. Vying for marketshare in the sports video game market automatically makes it competitive. Just look at the recent ESPN, MLB, and NFL license deals. Having that competition out there makes 2K Sports better at what we do, and we force EA to be better than if they didn't have any rivals. We're essentially fighting for the same market, which naturally leads to a rivalry.

GS: Thanks, Erik.

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