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NBA Live 20 canceled as EA Sports looks to next-gen consoles

Troubled hoops series fails to launch for a fourth time

NBA Live 19 - Ben Simmons passes to Joel Embiid
A scene from NBA Live 19 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
EA Tiburon/Electronic Arts
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

NBA Live is canceled. Again.

For the fourth time this decade, Electronic Arts has, at the last moment, put its basketball franchise on ice. EA chief executive Andrew Wilson told investors Tuesday that the company was again looking to a new console generation to retrench the series.

“We’re not launching a new NBA Live HD product this season,” Wilson said in prepared remarks. “Instead, we’re expanding our vision, leaning hard into the new leading-edge platforms, and taking the time to ensure we deliver against the opportunity for our players.”

An EA Sports representative told Polygon that the delay was not related to development. Despite the series’ checkered history through the first half of the decade, EA Tiburon delivered two on-time and enjoyable games in 2017 and 2018, centering on a single-player career suite that incorporated women for the first time in a basketball game.

But in EA’s last conference call with investors, in July, Wilson said the company had delayed NBA Live 20 into late 2019. Industry watchers later speculated that, after missing the usual early September window, EA would try for a release around next year’s NBA All-Star Game, which was the plan for the aborted NBA Live 17. The disastrous NBA Elite 11 was officially described as delayed in late 2010, with its demise confirmed months later. EA Sports likewise announced a delay, then a cancellation, for NBA Live 13. There was no NBA Live 12, as the series was taken from EA Vancouver and sent to Florida for a thorough remaking.

Wilson said EA Sports had the support of the NBA and its players’ association as it works to find some way to distinguish this series from Take-Two Interactive’s mammoth NBA 2K franchise, which last month clocked in as the year’s bestselling video game with NBA 2K20.

“We’re excited by what we’ve built so far, and yet we know the world is changing,” Wilson said. “New platforms are coming that will bring social connection, accessibility and player creativity to the fore. In a future of new possibilities, players shouldn’t be content with a game built for today’s realities and based on what we know to be possible, we feel we can go so much further with the new design.”

EA Sports has tried to regroup NBA Live on the promise of a new console generation before, launching NBA Live 14 alongside the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2013. That was both a critical and commercial flop, though it was followed with relentless post-release support that got the game into a playable state. Both the PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s next console, currently codenamed Project Scarlett, are set to debut in the 2020 holiday season.

NBA Live has never sold well since the NBA Elite 11 disaster, in which Electronic Arts tried to remake the whole game on a one-year development schedule and delivered a glitch-filled demo that tanked the game at the last minute. Since then, it has been only a nominal competitor to 2K Sports’ flagship. But the past two editions of NBA Live were legitimately distinct and enjoyable games, leaning heavily into a mode called The One that, like NBA 2K’s MyCareer, blended league play with pickup ball and competitive/cooperative multiplayer.

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