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NBA2K outgrows the shadow of the NBA ahead of the series’ next-generation launch

In less than a month, gamers bought more than 5 million copies of NBA2K21, an astonishing number even for a franchise that has seen solid growth for the past several years. Next week, it’s expected to be one of the top releases for next-generation consoles.

That’s quite a leap for a game that used to play second fiddle to Electronic Arts’ NBA Live. Having left that franchise in the dust, it’s now managing to stand apart even from its source material, says Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick, who added that the game’s success no longer depends on whether the league is doing well or not.

“NBA2K now stands alone as an entertainment experience,” he says. “Once upon a time, it was an adjunct to the experience, so if you go back to when there was a lockout [in 2011], that affected us. But we went into the pandemic and, obviously, no basketball was being played, and we did just fine. We did better than fine.”

Consumer love of the game will receive a test of sorts when the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions of the game are released. Unlike many other titles, 2K Sports opted to create separate versions of the game. There’s a risk with that, especially given the small install base of customers that come with a new system launch. But developers wanted to showcase exclusive features in those games.

“The team wanted to build a new title from the ground up,” says Zelnick. “We think it’s absolutely extraordinary. There’s a new experience called the City, which is The Park taken to another level. …  We hope to deliver the premier simulation experience and also the premiere cultural basketball engagement lifestyle experience. That’s what NBA2K has been known for.”

While Take-Two is willing to do that with NBA2K, it’s not moving so fast with its other crown jewels. Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption 2 will be playable via backward compatibility on both next-gen systems, while the updated version of GTA V, as well as the standalone version of GTA Online, won’t be out until the second half of next year.

And that’s directly because of the low number of next-gen systems that will be in people’s homes.

“I think it’s always an intersection of taking the time we need to make sure the title is incredible and also being mindful of what the installed base looks like,” says Zelnick. “The installed base will be a lot smaller next week than it will be toward the end of calendar 2021.”

Next-gen systems won’t be a notable part of the revenues for Take-Two or many other publishers anytime soon, not until their release schedules sync up more with the PS5 and Xbox Series X. But Zelnick is optimistic about what they bring to the gaming world.

Like a lot of gamers, though, he does note that the size of the hard drives on both systems could be lacking. And Take-Two, so far, has not shown a lot of enthusiasm for cloud gaming, so that is a potential pain point for the company and fans of its titles.

Zelnick, though, says he’s optimistic it won’t be a game stopper.

“I think we’ll figure it out over time,” he says. “It’s not a current [worry], but … storage has been a concern in the past.”

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Chris Morris
Chris Morris has covered consumer technology and the video game industry since 1996, offering analysis of news and trends and…
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