Video game makers are bracing for an extended NBA lockout by focusing on former players who made the league popular in hopes of taking the attention away from the impact labor strife will have on their product.
In the upcoming "NBA 2K12," which goes on sale Oct. 4 despite the lockout, 2K Sports plans to introduce a new mode called, NBA's Greatest, that will feature the league's top 15 players of all-time and some of the most famous rivalries.
Hall of Famers such as Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving will be featured on the latest installment of the best-selling basketball video game franchise. Jordan, Johnson and Bird will appear on three separate covers on the front of the game.
"NBA basketball is about the history and the future of the game," said Jason Argent, vice president of marketing at Take-Two's 2K Sports. "We love the current game and are looking to optimize it."
But an extended lockout would eliminate daily updates.
The video game became popular through its in-depth mode, The Association. The mode includes 30 NBA teams with daily updates for rosters, injuries, a player progression system, new rookies, trades and free agency moves, and an NBA Development League.
Buyers of the game won't be able to make any updates in The Association mode until the lockout ends, when free agent moves are made and the regular season starts.
"Hopefully people will go out and purchase the game," said Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, an avid video game player who appeared in a commercial to promote "NBA 2K11" last year. "They're just as upset as us that there is a lockout. I don't know. They might put a strike on video games until the lockout is over."
Greg Miller, the executive editor of the gaming site IGN, doesn't expect the upcoming NBA 2K game to sell more than last year's game, which 2K Sports said it sold more than 5 million units. But with the addition of the former players, he believes the new mode can help the upcoming NBA 2K game continue to stay relevant during the lockout.
"Sales will dip, but not super drastic," Miller said. "Especially if they're able to push the milestone cover with Magic, Bird and Jordan. If they push that way, I don't see much of a dip."
Electronic Arts long-running video game series NBA Elite, formerly titled NBA Live, will not release a game for the second year in a row and expects to relaunch in 2012. But in October, EA will still offer "NBA Jam: On Fire Edition," a 2-on-2 basketball game that is highlighted by exaggerated high-flying dunks.
EA spokeswoman said the company announced in April that NBA Elite would be postponed before the lockout started in July. Since NBA Jam doesn't keep track of player movement through the season, she said the game shouldn't be affected by the NBA work stoppage.
In preparation for the lockout, 2K Sports has already created its own "skeleton" list of the 15 greatest players and rivalries. But the video game company won't come to a final decision on both until after they have gathered the opinions from fans through their own social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
Picture a possible matchup of Jordan in his prime against the 2010 version of Kobe Bryant; or pairing one of Los Angeles Lakers squads from the "Showtime" era against this year's champion the Dallas Mavericks.
"All these various scenarios are debated in bars and barbershops," Argent said. "People are debating about the outcome of these scenarios. Now, we're looking to end that debate. We feel very confident about it."
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