The next six weeks will shine a bright light on a four-year question mark in sports video gaming: NBA Live. Every other team sport due for release this year has launched but this one. Like it or not, EA Sports will have the next month mostly to itself, and what it doesn't say will speak as loudly as what it does.
What have we seen so far of NBA Live? Very little. Admittedly, its contemporaries like FIFA, Madden and NBA 2K have not shown much of their next-gen offerings, either. The difference is FIFA, Madden and NBA 2K haven't been abruptly canceled once in the past four years, much less twice. And while there's a suspicion that what we've already seen from those series, on current consoles, has been held back, it at least creates an impression the next generation will be better. NBA Live doesn't get the same benefit of the doubt because it hasn't been seen on any console since 2010.
The only thing inspiring confidence NBA Live will release this year is the fact EA Sports has actually given it a launch date—Nov. 19, a strange day, as it's three days after the PlayStation 4's launch and three before the Xbox One's. It's not appearing on any other console. Retailers were taking pre-orders for a PS4 bundle with the game, releasing on launch date, back in June.
By showing very, very little to this point, the game must now start its drive against not only every next-gen sports title, but also everything competing for attention in video gaming's run-up to Black Friday.
The last we saw from NBA Live 14 was a 51-second trailer on Sept. 18, 20 seconds of which could be said to be "actual gameplay," none of which came from any true playable mode. It was, almost blatantly, a hype reel with zero substance. Three days before that came an arranged screenshot—just one—featuring cover star Kyrie Irving, pitch-man Damian Lillard, and the rear end of some guy from the 24-58 Cleveland Cavaliers.
We've seen a highly technical demonstration of dribbling, none of which was made applicable to actual gameplay, dating back to E3 in June. We've heard the game will have a career mode. There's the Ignite Engine, which as I have written sounds less like a specialized engine for sports video gaming and more like a set of best development practices for a large, publicly traded games publisher.
That's about it. No 5-on-5 gameplay, a rather basic showcase for a basketball video game, originally said to be revealed by the end of the summer.
This is insider stuff, but an event this past week—more of which you'll hear about tomorrow—showed off next-generation versions of Madden, FIFA, and even EA Sports' UFC title, which hasn't been dated and is due in March. Not NBA Live 14, now six weeks from its launch.
The layoffs that hit EA's Tiburon studio last week, in the wake of NCAA Football's cancellation, were site-wide. That means personnel from NBA Live were dismissed, before the game has gone to gold master. Still, it's in addition to the firings from the last shakeup in the spring, which claimed the previous creative director and executive producer.
For a second year, basketball fans come into the fall asked to show faith in a video game series by a publisher that itself shows very little. Conceivably the next month-and-a-half could flip the script. At this point, the best I would hope for is that it actually does launch as planned.
Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games.