Interviews// NBA Jam: On Fire Edition

Posted 5 Oct 2011 16:17 by
Games: NBA Jam
SPOnG: I was wondering why this version of Jam is digital only. Do you feel that the future is in digital distribution or are fans not ? You mentioned that you see the game as an impulse purchase - is it a game now even worthy of a boxed product?

Trey Smith: I think it?s a combination of a bunch of different things. Digital is the future, I think we all kind of know that things are going that way. We saw an opportunity that NBA Jam was a good game with a foundation that we could build on. There was some more stuff that we wanted to do... but was it enough stuff to justify another packaged product? Probably not. I think that was part of the reason.

And I?m thankful for it, because a lot of the time you have to fill the disc with artificial fluff. We?ve all played the games where it felt like it was ?did you really need that second campaign mode?? or ?this a lot of the same thing over and over again.? It was refreshing for me, because we were able to ignore that and just focus on the meat and potatoes of the experience.

SPOnG: You must be in a unique position because of that fact, in comparison to all the other EA Sports franchises. FIFA for example is reliant on a lot of sponsors and teams, so probably are forced to make that same disc release every year. Would you say that?s a big reason why the other franchises aren?t keen to do what you guys are doing with NBA Jam?

Trey Smith: I started thinking this too before I started seeing how the iterative titles in Madden and FIFA were being made. Even people who feel that they are intimate with the game... like if you?re a FIFA 11 nut and you picked up 12, you might notice some subtle differences here and there, but under the hood it could be half the codebase that got swapped out.

The thing is, once you swap that out, you?ve got to tie it all back together. There are so many dependencies on a game that it takes a good chunk of our resources just to maintain it. And then when you factor in the inclusion of new features, the ripping out of other features and making sure the end product is a cohesive thing...

I can understand why the perception would be that they?re just tweaking a couple of knobs, updating a roster and putting it out again, but I can tell you that the team sizes for these things - they?re getting bigger. The amount of work that we?re doing, it?s not like we?re just sitting back and just relaxing. Even with NBA Jam, we brought in a brand new AI system which is twice the size of the old one. And it touches everything in the game. It?s not easy.

SPOnG: I?m not even sure online is really there yet, as the massmarket, average consumer is still going into brick and mortar stores for their games. Do you feel you?re in a unique position because you have an audience that?s more aware of the digital space?

Trey Smith: I think we are fortunate that NBA Jam is a franchise that spans past the sport, and it does hit the mainstream. The original Jam in 1993 made $1 billion, one quarter at a time. That?s mass. That?s everyone. That?s gamers. I?ve had all kinds of people come up and say that NBA Jam was their favourite game when they were growing up. I think that?s what allows us to do something special in this space, because it is such a broad thing.

We?ve put out Madden Arcade and NHL 3 on 3 Arcade in this space before. The hockey game was made in our studio up in Vancouver, and that was our first jump in. The Madden team in Florida did theirs, but as far as I know this is the third EA Sports title to hit XBLA and PSN, and we want to make more games in that space. A cricket, rugby or lacrosse game, perhaps... these are all games that we?re interested in.

Is the market big enough for us to do something like that in a boxed product? Probably not. Those are expensive games, especially if you build it up from scratch. But in XBLA and PSN, where you don?t have to have a full ?Dynasty? mode and have everything hook up online in this massive AAA experience, maybe it is a Jam experience where it?s 15 minutes for a quick match. It is just focused on just the fun part and quick-fix stuff.

There?s a better chance for us to take some risks there, and to truly innovate in sports outside of the simulation genre. It?s common for our fans to have that one simulation game that they love - they might dabble in another but really it?s about that one game. So it?s nice to bring everyone together and have them try out some different games. That?s really what we?re doing with the EA Sports Season Pass. I?m certainly stoked about what we have planned for that, it?s exciting things that allows people to come together and try out some of our other games.

Before I started work at EA Canada, I had heard NHL was good but I?m not much of a hockey guy. I?m still not a hockey guy, but I was able to play the game and man, is it smooth. FIFA too, is just great fun to play. Those are two games I would have never played - once you get the controller and try it, it?s highly impressive stuff. That?s what we?re trying to do with the Season Pass there.

SPOnG: Do you see yourselves going back to disc with NBA Jam in the future?

Trey Smith: As a gamer, I hope NBA Jam never goes away. I think this is a great space for it. I really do. I think NBA Jam could come back to the mainstream. Games in this space have a really long ?shelf life,? so to speak. A boxed product is like a movie - doesn?t have very long legs. It makes a third of its revenue in the first week and then it just tails off.

At the end of the day though, we listen to the fans, we?re watching the message boards. I mean, look at FIFA Street. People wanted that back. We?ve got a lot of exciting franchises and IPs, as well as ideas for some new stuff that we?d like to do too. So it?s really just us trying to figure out what games work best for the climate and platform, and going forward with that.

If NBA Jam doesn?t do really well in this space, then as a gamer and a developer I?m concerned. Because I think this is the ideal game for what you would find in this space. It?s priced perfectly, there?s a lot of value in it and it?s a really polished game. It?s not a AAA or blockbuster game, but I think it has some of the higher production value and replayability. And stacks of multiplayer. There aren?t a lot of games in that space that are multiplayer. A lot of them are single-player affairs that you?ll play for about six hours. And while they?re really fun, but you won?t pop back into them six months down the line.

I hope this opens the door - not just for EA Sports and some of the things we would like to make - but for other developers too. I was expecting this space to be more mature at this point. And I?m a little bit disappointed about that fact.

SPOnG: Thanks for your time.

Trey Smith: Thank you!

NBA Jam: On Fire Edition is out on XBLA and PSN this week.
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