Boomshakalaka! We’re heating it up NBA Jam style today. My holy grail of retro gaming was re-released for modern consoles just a few weeks ago, and it is nothing short of ON FIRE. My good buddy and I, who we’ll call “Joe,” have found endless enjoyment online with it. Who’d have thought all those years ago, pumping quarters into the arcade machines, that I’d be able to play that game with a friend who is miles away someday? It’s my nerdy dream come true. And it’s only a $15 download title! So that’s the end of the happy story right? What could possibly be better?
This is where the train goes off the rails. As much as I’m enjoying NBA Jam, I should have been enjoying it last year. But the maker of the game, EA Sports, had an unmitigated marketing disaster (again), and made that nearly impossible to do.
A little more than a year ago, EA Sports was preparing two basketball games, NBA Jam and NBA Elite 11 (their yearly basketball title). Their competition, 2k Sports, was at the same time preparing NBA 2k11 and announced that they signed His Airness himself, Michael Jordan, to be on the cover and were to build the game around his many accomplishments. Feeling the pressure that a good rival provides, EA Sports decided to go for broke and offer NBA Jam for FREE as a download with NBA Elite 11. This had all the makings of a battle royale for the ages.
There was one problem though: NBA Elite 11 sucked. Quite often it was in a hilarious, glitching fashion. After the pre-release demo revealed such problems to the public, EA Sports (sensing impending doom) canceled NBA Elite 11. But the unprecedented move left NBA Jam without a home. If EA had just decided to cut their losses, release it as a download for $15, and call it a day they would have had a hit on their hands. But, predictably, they got greedy. NBA Jam, a previously free downloadable pack-in game, now would be released on its own in disc-form for $50. I don’t think a marketing decision that awful needs much further explanation.
As you would expect, the game failed to sell very many copies. Even I, who pined for years for a remake, would not purchase it because of the ridiculous price. They learned their lesson, and this year they made a few tweaks to the game and gave it a great price. But the damage may have been done. Those hardcore fans who bought it for $50 last year probably feel jilted, and wouldn’t want to buy basically the same game this year. And more than anything, the brand name NBA Jam lost a lot of luster through the whole debacle. EA Sports missed their opportunity to introduce themselves in a meaningful way to a new generation that doesn’t exactly have patience for underperformers.
So what can we learn from this? It sounds almost too simple to even make a point out of, but you have to know the value of the product you’re selling. EA Sports, by offering the game as a free pack-in, created a relatively low value in the market for it. Then they tried to sell it for almost a full price game when plans changed. That is simply not going to work. Don’t make loyal customers pay more just to offset the costs of mistakes you’ve made!
It’s a shame too, because I wish more people didn’t look at me and “Joe” like we’re crazy people when we yell “boomshakalaka” to each other!
What else can we learn from EA Sports’ mistake and eventual solution? Were you one of the few willing to shell out more for the first NBA Jam re-release?