The CEO of Electronic Arts has, in an uncommonly candid manner, revealed why he chose to cancel production of NBA Elite at the eleventh hour.
“There aren't many decisions that are essentially squarely on my desk. This was one,” said John Riccitiello in a frank discussion with Kotaku.
He revealed that a wave of panic spread through the company as NBA Elite’s absolute production deadline neared, still with the final build of the game fraught with bugs.
“We were in the middle of a nail-biter,” he said.
“The demo goes out. We final the game. We do an internal review. We're not happy.
“Interaction between the label and sales organization says the game is likely to be a 60 or something along those lines essentially for the fact that it wasn't finished. What do you do?”
He said that a demo of the game, released to the public, had been the subject of repeated ridicule for its outstanding bugs. He said he was told those issues would be fixed “in the next 150 hours before it goes final”.
“EA Canada were still signalling to us that it was going to come in good, that they were going to get it,” he said. “So we knew that there was an issue, but they said we're going to get this solved.”
But the title, when it was being stamped, was said to be still rife with errors.
“In a way, EA Canada sort of bit off two years' worth of work that they could only get done in 18 months,” he said.
By this stage, another significant factor was playing on Riccitiello’s mind.
“At that point I didn't know how good [rival game NBA 2K11] would be but the rumours were it was going to be good.
“So we could have shipped a product we weren't proud of dead against their game that they are proud of and that we would have been proud of to ship ourselves.
“We would have probably lost 5-1 in the marketplace against that and firmly cemented a reputation for being one to ship secondary sports titles. We could have put the game back in production and showed up back in time for, say, the All-Star Break… but when you look at the data, typically somewhere between 85 and 90 per cent of basketball games ship between launch date and the All-Star game so we would have been competing for, what, half of the last 10 per cent?
“And the knock-on effect would have been that the team that would otherwise have been working on the following year's product would have three fewer months to build it.
“So there's the table: You can ship a product you're not proud of and compete for marginal share. You can delay the game to get a better product, but that's going to have a knock-on effect.
“And we made what I judged to be the best call given the circumstances.”
Electronic Arts went on to axe NBA Elite and made sweeping structural changes across its Sports game studios, with management positions in the firing line.
The publisher will now send all EA Sports projects through a new central team which will “oversee asset creation and sharing” to the firm’s Sports studios, according to reports.