They're not haters, they say. They swear they aren't fanboys for the competition, either. But neither would they be EA Sports' favorite people right about now.
One is "Hard8Times," the guy whose 700,000-views video of a devastating glitch in the NBA Elite 11 demo became linked to the decision to indefinitely delay the game. The other is "BigBall12," who owns one of three known retail copies of the game, and whose video of NBA Jam for the PS3 and attempt to live-stream footage of it being played were squashed on a takedown notice from the publisher.
I spoke to both in the past week. Both are lifelong gamers now in their 20s, with extremely keen observations and expectations of the sports genre. Both asked that their real names not be used in this column; BigBall12 was particularly concerned by the copyright claim behind the Ustream takedown and neither want their personal information made public.
They're candid and forthright, but they recognize they've done and they own things that are embarrassing to a major publisher.
"I am quite sure that somebody high up saw that," Hard8Times speculates. He's got a comment log full of people declaring that he killed NBA Elite 11, but he shrugs it off as hyperbole. Still, "Seeing that video and the response to it, I think it had a little to do with [the delay]," he says.
Hard8Times, a Philadelphian who prefers football, basketball and action games, said he wasn't out to bury NBA Elite 11. The game's demo arrived first on the PlayStation Network the night of Sept. 20 and he wanted to be the first guy getting video impressions of it up to YouTube. His work isn't commercial in nature; he's largely doing it for YouTube notoriety.
Hard8Times began the video telling people he had to be quiet because others in the house were sleeping. But it quickly dissolved into exclamations as he battled inscrutable controls and player behavior. Halfway through it, Andrew Bynum famously became stuck in a T-pose at midcourt and was lost for the rest of the game. Hard8Times gave up with a flurry of swear words.
"I was going to Gamefly it and do a review of the full version," Hard8Times said. "I was still going to give EA the benefit of the doubt, because you had some people who were like, ‘Oh it's a demo, it's just a demo.' And I was like, OK, I'll still put one up for all the naysayers."
Hard8Times played the game much more than was shown in the four-minute Bynum glitch clip. He is an exceptionally tough review of sports games - he considers Madden to be more arcade than simulation quality, with very specific criticisms of the tackling animations.
He was particularly disappointed with NBA Elite 11's drab graphics and the indistinct quality of the player behavior, something for which the NBA 2K series is well known. But Hard8Times insisted he isn't a shill for that series either. "NBA 2K10 has some issues - morphing issues, some clipping and collision issues, guys not jumping high enough off the ground, bad defense," he said. "2K9's online problems ruined the game for me, almost being impossible to find a game."
BigBall12 was in fact a big fan of NBA Live, the nameplate preceding this year's change to NBA Elite. "I've played NBA Live since 1994; I did not play a single 2K game until NBA 2K9," he says. "I thought Live 10 was really good, I probably played it 10-to-1 over 2K10."
But he didn't pay $255 in an eBay auction with the expectation Elite was going to be as good as its predecessor. It's a collector's item. BigBall12 says he bought it from someone who, before the delay was announced, held three damaged-case copies out of a shipment bound for a retail destination. The disc BigBall12 received Monday was pristine; all of the materials were in mint condition. The game, however, was unacceptable.
"The players are pretty much just ratings," he says, rather than distinct performers. "They have maybe 20 to 25 of the real players' jump shots, compared to 325-plus [in NBA 2K11]." The real-time physics, a selling point in the game's run-up, are too touchy and set off too many collisions. "With 10 people on the court it's just a fiasco," he said.
"In the season mode, Steve Nash got traded for one of the worst players on the Raptors, plus a draft pick," BigBall12 said. "The game's AI is very limited as well. If you play against the Celtics you could see Shaquille O'Neal take a jumper from the free throw line. It's not the real NBA."
BigBall12, however, thinks there is hope for EA Sports this year: NBA Jam. Originally paired as a free download with NBA Elite, it's going to be broken out as a separate title. Astonishingly, BigBall12 discovered his download code worked. He plugged it in on Monday, expecting that if the title was on PSN it wouldn't be removed until the network's regular update at the middle of the week.
"I almost wanted to cry when I saw it downloading," he said. "It's much better than the Wii version. I'm a homer for NBA Jam and NBA Hangtime, but I think this would warrant a $60 or even a $70 purchase. The game is way more solid than a lot of the arcade sports games we're seeing."
That's a fat pricetag for something originally billed as a free game lacking the Wii's "Remix Tour" mode, which supplies mini-games and boss battles. BigBall12 says the PS3 and 360 versions will in fact get that content. "Remix Tour is in this game, but it's locked DLC," he said. "There's an item on the main screen, ‘Purchase New Content,' and on loading screens, it'll say ‘Want more NBA Jam action? Make sure to download the Remix pack, coming to you soon.'"
The game's creative director said recently that they're "trying to throw it all in there," for the 360 and PS3. BigBall12 wonders why that has to sound like it's hard to do. A beta of NBA Jam was leaked last month along with a very small file that appeared to be an unlock key for DLC already on the disc (in this case, NBA Elite's). "First they're forcing you to pay for a 15 kilobyte file; now they're going to put it in the game and make it seem like they added it," BigBall12 said. "It's a travesty."
That said, NBA Jam and NBA Elite 11 are truly prized possessions. BigBall12's gotten $1,000 offers for NBA Elite 11 and shot them all down. "I could be the only person in the world to have every single EA Sports NBA game," he said. "That's really exciting to me."
As for Jam, "I backed it up to a thumb drive," he said, "and I will never connect this PS3 again. Though I have been tempted to see if the online service (for NBA Jam) is up right now.
"Honestly, if they had marketed NBA Jam with NBA Elite as the add-on, it would have sold like wildfire," BigBall12 laughs. "It would have been an embarrassment, but I don't look at [NBA Jam] as an add-on."
Though BigBall12 sees NBA Jam as more than just a silver lining for EA Sports, neither he nor Hard8Times believe NBA Elite 11 is going to be released; they definitely don't think it should, not in this state.
"I don't think they can recover," Hard8Times said. "The reviews that 2K11 is getting are off the charts. It's considered the best sports game of this generation. I don't think Elite will be able to recover. If they do they've really got to come back and do something dramatic.
"2K, they bowed out with hockey (on the PS3 and 360) this year," Hard8Times said. "They said, ‘We have to go back to the drawing board.' Sometimes you've just got to take a loss and move on."
Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Saturdays at 2 p.m. U.S. Mountain time.