With yesterday's somewhat surprising news of NBA Elite 11 being indefinitely delayed by EA Sports within a week of release, I think now's as good a time as any to look back on the always troubled marriage of EA Sports and NBA basketball. While 2K Sports has seemingly had no trouble redefining and retuning their NBA series, EA always seemed to make the wrong decisions at the wrong times. So what really went wrong and what separated the two franchises.
NBA Live never really was favored by anybody when it came to playing NBA games. While nearly every other EA Sports game had the label on the front showing the most sales of that sport, NBA Live constantly lost that battle to 2K Sports. NBA 2K always had both that and critics' awards showing on the cover of their game to demonstrate their superiority. NBA Live was always the little brother of EA. It was marketed second only to Madden in terms of ad space but never reached anywhere near those heights. I'll put it this way, if EA had bought the basketball rights instead of football, the firestorm would have been twice the size we've seen about NFL 2K simply because there was no competition in basketball games.
EA has tried many different things over the years. They've instituted things like the slam dunk contest, elaborate crossover dribbles and this year was supposed to be the Become Legendary mode. There was the DNA feature that always seemed to be ahead of 2K but that was really it. 2K has slowly redefined their game over the years, having little gimmick modes like 24/7 mode, but really focusing the heart of their game on the basketball itself.
It really seems as if EA Sports and 2K switched their usual roles in this situation. While EA did build Live from the ground up as 2K stuck to their guns, every other one of their ideals and reactions has been the opposite of what you'd expect. Usually EA was the company that would slowly redefine its games, not adding major modes. We saw this with Madden and MVP Baseball back in the day and now with NHL and FIFA. 2K was the company that would always try to add gimmicks and new features while never refining them. They'd just throw them in one year and forget about them. But basketball was the opposite.
EA threw in things like elaborate dribbling while 2K never really changed anything drastically. EA would seemingly redo the graphics every year but the players would always be skating. Maybe their initial rebuild was flawed, but they had problems back on the previous generation of consoles as well. Live has always been inferior to 2K in basketball, even as all the other EA Canada games, MVP and NHL, overtook their 2K counterparts. 2K just kept slightly adjusting and refining their already solid build and made the best basketball game we've seen (at least in terms of simulation style).
EA even then brought in the competition with a 2K Sports basketball developer, but he ended up clashing with NHL/new NBA developer David Littman and went back to the mothership at 2K. Things just were not going to go right for EA in the basketball universe.
Last year's game seemed to be going down the MVP/NHL landscape with the pseudo-reboot and then redefinition of features. That's precisely what Littman was there for. But they decided to redo everything this year and it just didn't pan out. We probably won't see Elite until next year but when we do, things had better be fixed (or at least better than the response to the demo), or it could be the last gasp for EA and basketball.