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Volume 20 No. 46
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‘It is happening’: After four years, ‘NBA Live’ goes live

EA Sports on Tuesday will end a four-year absence from the basketball simulation gaming market with the release of its “NBA Live 14,” capping what had been one of the most troubled episodes in sports licensing.

The release of the game for Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4, two new video game consoles, arrives after two aborted releases, another whole season purposely absent from the market, a shift of the game’s development from Vancouver to Orlando and a near-complete staff overhaul.

“NBA Live 14” still has a mountain of challenges ahead of it, most notably from rival 2K Sports’ series “NBA 2K,” which in recent years has risen to become one of the most popular licensed sports games in the world. But EA Sports executives are greeting its release with a mix of relief, anticipation and humility.

“The game is releasing. It is happening, and this is very gratifying,” said Andrew Wilson, Electronic Arts chief executive and former head of EA Sports. “We did ourselves absolutely no favors [with the scrapped releases in 2010 and 2012], but it was still the right decision in both instances. We’ve now built a great game, shifting focus entirely to the next-generation consoles, and are looking forward to getting back out there and competing in the marketplace. But we also know it will be a multiyear process.”

EA Sports is seeking to differentiate “NBA Live 14” by putting an unprecedented emphasis on the “live” portion of the game with features that continually update during the real-life NBA season using the Internet connection in the game consoles.

The company already holds a partnership with Synergy Sports Technology to update real-life statistics and player ratings daily based on real-life events, but that effort will be expanded to incorporate the sport’s growing embrace of advanced metrics and analytics. One of the game modes will be a challenge component in which gamers can seek to re-create real-world exploits from the prior night’s NBA games.

Art rendering also will be regularly updated to reflect changes in player hairstyles, tattoos and sneakers. ESPN’s existing involvement in the game is similarly growing to include studio commentary from real-life analyst Jalen Rose, who will record new dialogue on a regular basis to be incorporated into “NBA Live 14.” And the game’s soundtrack is also a dynamic element, with New York-based DJ Mick overseeing a continually updated selection of tracks.

“We’re trying to have this game stay relevant through the entire year,” said Sean O’Brien, “NBA Live 14” executive producer. “What we want is for this game to be a reflection of what is happening in the NBA each day. It’s been a long, hard road to get to this point. But we’re very proud with how far we’ve come.”

The rebirth of the “NBA Live” franchise happens as EA Sports in recent months retrenched in other areas, walking away from its partnership with Tiger Woods and shutting down production of its NCAA college football game for at least a year.

“We’ve had a long partnership with EA and have supported their ongoing commitment to create a game that would meet the expectations of our fans,” said Vicky Picca, NBA senior vice president of licensing and business affairs. “The results of those efforts are evident in ‘NBA Live 14.’ We are pleased they are back.”