NBA Live 20 has been delayed to late 2019 as EA plans to take a “different approach.” Hopefully, that approach has them doubling down on The Streets.
As reported by Polygon, NBA Live 20 has been delayed to late 2019. Given that the game had no presence at this year’s EA Play this is not very surprising news: EA told Polygon that they plan to take “a different approach to NBA Live this year.” Hopefully, this means that they’re looking at options to better differentiate their game from NBA 2K20.
2K has owned the basketball sim market for years now. EA, on the other hand, has had difficulty finding a way to deliver a basketball product that people actually want. The series has slowly been picking up the pieces after canceling NBA Elite 11; however, the gap that 2K built over the years feels almost insurmountable. If you want to play an authentic simulation of the NBA, 2K is going to be the most obvious choice.
That said, EA has been doing a few interesting things to try and provide an alternative take on the sport. Last year they introduced a female create-a-player feature and gave a bigger priority to basketball played on the street. These moves demonstrate that EA isn’t afraid to take some chances as they search for the perfect recipe to compete against 2K’s juggernaut. However, if they really want to bring in gamers, they should consider getting even further away from what 2K excels at.
NBA Live can’t continue just being a decent alternative to 2K. When you do that, all you can hope for is that 2K makes a major misstep and their audience leaves for your product. Granted, 2K has made some questionable choices around microtransactions in the last few years. On the other hand, 2K19 still sold over 9 million copies. The publisher isn’t hurting for money.
Instead, NBA Live 20 needs to take a risk and provide basketball fans with an alternative product. Last year’s entry gave players a taste of what could be possible with the expanded The Streets World Tour. This mode let you play on iconic streetball courts around the world and pick up players to add to your squad after beating them. The mode’s core ideas are reminiscent of EA’s fan-favorite NBA Street franchise. If they want this year’s version to stand out, taking the game even further in that direction might be the way to go.
The stage is certainly set for a semi-return to that franchise. FIFA 20 is embracing the playgrounds where so many soccer games around the world happen with their new Volta mode. This five-a-side (or lower) mode features ridiculous skill moves that are only possible on the caged fields of the street. It will also feature tons of customization that lets you style your player as you see fit.
NBA Live 19 did this to some extent, but still featured a normal NBA season as a large part of the overall experience. In a world where EA knows it can’t compete straight up with the behemoth that is 2K’s series, it makes sense to stand out by being different. I’m not calling for a complete return to the arcade wackiness that was NBA Street (though I certainly wouldn’t mind it). However, I do think there is a market for a basketball game that doesn’t stick so close to 2K’s formula.
The NBA Live development team should take what EA has built across their various sports games and really blow it out. Give us a game that focuses only on improving The Streets World Tour mode. Take things like the X-Factor skills from Madden 20 and the upcoming Season mode in FIFA 20‘s Ultimate Team. All of that combined would make for a modern-day NBA Street-like game that’s different from everything else on the market.
It also opens the door for a flood of fun, new characters. Obviously, they’ll have a host of NBA legends. That said, one of my favorite parts of the Street games were the street legends that the team built. Heck, if they wanted to, they could even go get some actual streetball legends and put them in the game. The And1 mixtape tour isn’t as popular as it once was, but if I saw Skip to My Lou or The Professor on the cover, it’d be a day one purchase for me.
If done correctly, this could be a great games-as-a-service option for EA. We know how much the company loves to milk their Ultimate Team modes. This retooling of The Streets could provide a similar option in a new environment. Player acquisition is an obvious area that EA could monetize, though I would prefer if it was kept strictly cosmetic. I’d love to do away with monetization entirely, but we have to be realistic here. EA is going to try everything they can to make money. And, without the shackles of an NBA season, the art departments could go crazy creating gear, hairstyles, and more for your player to wear.
Am I basically asking for a modern-day NBA Street? Yes, but I don’t think the game needs to be arcadey to be successful. FIFA is bringing the flair of the street into their latest game. I think NBA Live is poised to do the same. What is clear is that EA needs to do more to distinguish its NBA offerings from 2K. If they continue down the path of middling upgrades to the basic modern NBA formula, they’re likely to stay in second place for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, the extra time will give EA an opportunity to create a worthy challenger to the 2K throne.