Jay-Z, the hip-hop mogul and entrepreneur, is indeed the executive producer of NBA 2K13, but what exactly that means as far as features within the game, 2K Sports isn't really saying yet.
"I don't want to get too into detail right now, because we've got a lot of stuff coming down the road," Jason Argent, the vice president of marketing for 2K Sports, told Kotaku. "But when we got into this, we really wanted everyone's expertise to lead us, so the things Jay-Z is an expert at are what we weighed the most."
Jay-Z, also a minority owner of the Brooklyn Nets, is aboard apparently because he's a big fan of the series. NBA 2K is rightly a big seller, year round, and has cultivated a strong portfolio of celebrity backers over the past couple of years, particularly through social media. Argent said 2K Sports reached out to Jay-Z about partnering up, but after initial meetings that explored a traditional endorsement or promotional arrangement, "neither of us really wanted that.
"One of the most important things to both of us is that this would be a true collaborative effort," Argent said.
NBA 2K13's Soundtrack:
• Ali in the Jungle-The Hours
• Blow the Whistle (Main)—Too Short
• I Ain't No Joke—Eric B. and Rakim
• Pump it Up (Freestyle)—Jay-Z
• Victory (feat. Notorious B.I.G. & Busta Rhymes)—Puff Daddy and the Family
• Around The World (Radio Edit)—Daft Punk
• Shove It (feat. Spank Rock)—Santigold
• Amazing—Kanye West
• Run This Town—Jay-Z
• Stillness is the Move—The Dirty Projectors
• The World is Yours—Nas
• Viva La Vida—Coldplay
• We Live in Brooklyn, Baby—Roy Ayers
• The Bounce—Jay-Z
• We Major (feat. Nas & Really Doe)—Kanye West
• Shook Ones, Pt. II—Mobb Deep
• Ima Boss – Instrumental—Meek Mill
• Mercy (feat. Big Sean, Pusha T, and 2 Chainz)—Kanye West
• On To The Next One—Jay-Z
• Public Service Announcement—Jay-Z
• H.A.M. (Instrumental)—Jay-Z
So Jay-Z didn't just curate the game's soundtrack (at right). "The level of detail he wanted to talk about—down the road, you'll find out about some of the ideas he had—was really surprising," Argent insisted. "Getting a phone call from Jay-Z in the middle of the day, with him saying 'You know, here's something I've been thinking about,' is a surreal experience."
Argent referred a couple of times to professional basketball as a sport where the intersection of lifestyle, competition and culture is more visible than in other sports. It would seem that Jay-Z coming aboard would help deepen NBA 2K's appeal as a broader lifestyle product, as opposed to a hardcore sports simulation.
I figured that a natural fit for Jay-Z's creativity would be in developing the storylines, contexts and role-playing features of NBA 2K's "My Player" mode, in which a player controls a single NBA star through his entire career. Argent acknowledged the point but wouldn't budge on what areas of the game are getting the Jay-Z treatment, nor when I asked if, as executive producer, Jay-Z had any override authority on gameplay features.
"If we took Jay-Z out of the equation here, 100 percent you'd see the gameplay has taken an incredible leap forward," Argent said. That suggested to me that the Visual Concepts team responsible for core gameplay features wasn't the unit most involved with Jay-Z.
But having the hip-hop superstar as a playable character in the game doesn't seem to be on the table either. "That didn't feel authentic to the game of basketball," Argent said. "We chose each other as partners on this to add to the presentation side of things." That would mean Jay-Z's influence will be seen in the introductions and epilogues bracketing games played in all of NBA 2K13's modes.
"We're looking on it as NBA 2K, but through the eyes of Jay-Z," Argent said.