EA CEO reveals story behind NBA Elite 11 cancellation

About a month ago when EA announced the cancellation of NBA Elite 11, little was known as to why one of the most venerable sports franchises was being benched for the 2011 season. In a candid interview with Kotaku, EA CEO John Riccitiello provides the backstory, explaining the decision process that led EA to can the game.

After releasing a demo with some notorious glitches, one in which caused Andrew Bynum to stand motionless at half court in a Jordan-esque pose, Riccitiello had a decision to make. EA wasn’t happy with the internal review of the final copy and, as he admits, “There aren’t many decisions that are essentially squarely on my desk. This was one.”

“I thought about it and I thought, alright, at that point I didn’t know how good [rival game NBA 2K11] would be but the rumors were [that 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% 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%? 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.”

Despite ceding sales and likely fans to 2K, Riccitiello is happy about the move. “To be honest with you, I don’t want to sound self-satisfied, but I’m pretty proud of our ability to make that decision. Because, I don’t think the consumer was served badly by buying 2K. It’s a good game. And I think we’re better served. We were originally going to put Jam in our package. By separating it out people got to see what a good game that is.”