DAR Games: The Rise And Fall Of NBA Live

By @Peagle05

In the 90's, the NBA was on fire. Michael Jordan was tearing the league apart, endorsements and other opportunities were everywhere for the league and the sports video game found its footing during this same era. It was during this time that EA, known then as Electronic Arts gave us the NBA Live series. Now for those of you raised on the 2K era, you're laughing right now. But that's because you know EA's flagship basketball franchise for its “Jesus Bynum” glitch and the incredibly crappy graphics, animation and gameplay the series has been known for over the last 10 years.

Back in 1994, EA gave us NBA Live 95 and basketball gaming was never the same again. The gameplay was great, the graphics for the time were great and playing through a season with your favorite teams and players was incredibly fun. They would face competition from Konami in the form of the decent but not great NBA In The Zone series as well as Kobe Bryant's NBA Courtside and its sequel. But in the 90's? EA was basketball king.

So what went wrong? Well, the truth is, and its been exposed for the last 10-12 years now outside of a few great Madden releases, EA isn't all that great with sports games and the competition brought by the 2K series in 2000 with the release of the Sega Dreamcast started to expose that. Visual Concepts' graphics and gameplay engines were superior to EA's Live engines from the beginning and it forced EA to atttempt to catch up to a Sports car in a burning bucket of a car (Yeah, Dom Torreto did it in F8 but that's with a great driver at the wheel). EA does not have great drivers at the wheel though I'll give them credit, they put up a good fight up until NBA Live 06 which was the last game in the series that was universally well received. 

In my opinion, NBA Live 05 is the last great game in the series. That's interesting in that the last great Madden for quite some time was Madden 05. Now the difference in the two is EA looked at what 2K was doing with their ESPN NFL franchise and knew they'd be getting their asses handed to them and made the deal with the NFL for exclusive rights to video game (TRASH but that's an article for another day). With the NBA games, however, EA decided to stand pat. Big mistake, for them at least, not us. EA dropped NBA Live 07 and 2K countered with the excellent 2K7 and it was here the momentum started to shift. 2K and Visual Concepts just kept getting better, graphically and gameplay wise. The mechanics got tighter, the presentation got better and two years later with the KG fronted NBA 2K9, 2K had blown the doors off and left EA in the dust. This knockout blow left EA reeling and even though NBA Live 10 was actually fairly well received the next year, the quality and sales just weren't there. It also doesn't help that 2K gave us another classic in 2K10.

2K was eating EA up and they were forced to regroup and retool. So they went quiet and re-branded the series NBA Elite...and it was here that the company's reputation from a basketball standpoint was damaged beyond repair. They started off well, got Kevin Durant for the cover, and this was a great move at the time. Use a great player to bring eyes back onto the product. The problem came when all eyes were on the product. EA released their NBA Elite 11 Demo and it was here that the infamous “Jesus Bynum” glitch was born. The static animation occurred when Andrew Bynum (of the Lakers at the time) would stand at center court with his arms outstretched frozen in what animators call the “bind” position. This glitch went viral and EA became a laughingstock in the basketball gaming community’s eyes. So what does 2K do? EMPTY THE GOTDAMN CLIP, THAT'S WHAT. With NBA 2K11, 2K brought back the G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan, featured him on the cover and gave us a single player mode specifically covering moments in his illustrious career while also improving the game yet again. It's funny to think that we aren't all that far removed from those games and yet it feels like a lifetime ago.

So now here we are, 2017 and 2K has an incredible stranglehold on the NBA gaming landscape with no exclusive deals (What a novel concept..just give us quality and we'll buy what's good). The NBA has a deal with 2K to run an E-Sports league and 2K has surpassed even Madden in popularity amongst sports gamers, while EA is releasing videos of its Live series at E3 and it's just sad at this point. A once great franchise that had a nice run for about 10 years is floundering and flopping with no end in sight. NBA Live 18 looks horrendous at this point. Where 2K is giving us the actual shooting animations of players like Steph Curry, EA is perfectly fine with its horribly proportioned character models putting up generic shooting animations. If they're going to find their way back to greatness, its gonna take a while. In the meantime, EA...stop wasting the ESPN license and give it to 2K so we can get dueling broadcasts in a future 2K game. I mean I know I just dedicated a whole article to you guys, but I just don't care about y'all anymore. And it honestly sucks to say that. Maybe you guys will come back around, but for now, I'll keep firing up this 2K.



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