By John Gaudiosi
With the NBA starting off the 2007-08 season, Stacey Kerr, senior director of entertainment products and licensing for the NBA, took some time to talk about the growing role videogames play in the league. Unlike some other major sports, which focus all of the attention on the start of the season and the playoffs when it comes to gaming, the NBA works with its five licensing partners (Sony, Electronic Arts, 2K Sports, Atari and Midway Games) throughout the year.
"It's not just launch the game at the beginning of the season and that's it," said Kerr. "They work with us all year long. We did a season simulation on NBA Live 08 for the upcoming season. EA Sports also sponsored our recent six-city pre-season European tour, which featured gaming in each of the cities."
2K Sports is introducing a brand new virtual card game available exclusively on NBA.com in conjunction with the new season. NBA 2K8 Top Trumps Stats Challenge is a new variation of the classic card game, "War," which features in-game characters of NBA stars from NBA 2K8. Players can compete against the computer to win up to 20 percent of off merchandise at NBAStore.com or take on a friend. "As the season progresses, the player stats are updated to reflect each players' on-court achievements," said Kerr. "As a result, Kevin Garnett could start as an Ace but drop to a King or a Queen if he runs into a string of bad games on the real hardwoods."
2K Sports also promoted its new game with several press events featuring NBA 2K8 cover athlete Chris Paul during the summer, including the first-ever outdoor motion-capture session for an NBA game. 2K Sports will sponsor the 2008 NBA All-Star Game ballot program and they have a tie-in with Gamestop stores throughout the season for that.
At the NBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas this past February, videogames were front and centre at the NBA Fan Access at Mandalay Bay Casino. Kerr said that 2K Sports used that All-Star Game to work with Chris Paul.
"It was a great opportunity for them to work with players," said Kerr. "They had an opportunity to see how Chris would be as a spokesperson for them through some promotional appearances and that led to him being on the cover."
One of the reasons the NBA is so focused on games is because 75 percent of the league's players are avid videogamers. That explains why when the Philadelphia 76ers revealed their new uniforms screenshots of players in the new videogames were included with the press announcement. In addition, the NBA reveals the new All-Star Game uniforms during the season and releases codes to unlock them in the latest videogames.
"We're excited because the game publishers have focused on putting cover athletes on their games that are big gamers," said Kerr. "Chris Paul is a big gamer. Gilbert Arenas plays all kinds of games and talks about them on his blog. I think that helps spread the word about how authentic the videogames are and how passionate our players are about games. It's almost become a big criteria now for picking a cover athlete that are into games."
Back in March 2005, while leagues like the NFL, PGA TOUR, NASCAR and FIFA were cutting exclusive game licensing deals, the NBC decided to work with five game publishers.
"We like having the competition on the simulation side, which NBA Live 08, NBA 2K8 and NBA 08 offers us," said Kerr. "And then with our arcade, over-the-top style games with NBA Street and NBA Ballers rotating every other spring. Atari gives us a youth product offering with Backyard Basketball. That gives us a full portfolio for our NBA fans. We like all of these companies pushing each other to make great products year in and year out for the consumer."
Kerr said the NBA works closely with all five game publishers.
"It's very collaborative," said Kerr. "We're always talking with the game publishers, especially early in the development cycle to make sure the new features they're going to hone in and the improvements they're going to make, particularly on the simulation side, make sense, are authentic and go well with our game and will continue to push the bar of innovation with the product. We make sure they have access to photos, video and players for motion-capture sessions."
When it comes to what new features are in the latest NBA games, Kerr said the league tries to keep the three simulation games as close to real-life as possible.
"If it doesn't happen in the NBA, we probably won't approve it," said Kerr. "We want things to look and feel like the NBA. We feel like consumers who buy these games want the NBA experience. We do have some flexibility with one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three games with NBA Ballers and NBA Street, which ship every other spring. We allow showmanship and more over-the-top gameplay in those titles. With the kids titles, they have a nice approach to their business. They show NBA players as kids and it's set on playgrounds. They've really revamped that franchise and we let them take the lead in that game, although we work with them closely."