NBA2K Case STUDY
Basketball. Just the word itself is polarizing. It separates the players from the fans. The haters from the ballers. But in the video game world, basketball comes with an additional scarlet letter: that of a “sports game.” This genre had become lapped multiple times by the Call of Duty and Grand Theft Autos of the world. And that’s why most sports games are resigned to the dying “Sports Corner” at most retail chains. It was a sink-or-swim moment for NBA2K – a chance to break out of the sports game segment or be pushed into irrelevance as an anachronistic game of the past.
CONNECTING THE DOTS
Consumer and influence research pointed toward the importance of community among gamers in general. In it, gamers could talk smack, but also support each other. They could brag and be the center of attention, and they could also learn how to master the games and get better. They could discover new elements and secrets of the game, while having no qualms with the passage of time to fully appreciate the twists, turns, and new story points.
Here was our opportunity. NBA 2K15 had a new, immersive storyline, with lots of off-court action. This was the first time the game tracked a single character on a journey through the NBA – including getting drafted, finding an agent, evaluating sponsorships, girlfriends, rivalries with other players and coaches…all the way to the Hall of Fame. Additionally, the title had an experimental new feature called FaceScan. This allowed gamers to take pictures of their own face and use it as their avatar player within the game. They literally could get into the game and control a virtual version of themselves.
We saw this as a chance to give gamers a new way to think about NBA2K, repositioning the game and giving it a new category entirely. This could be the title to create a larger community of gamers all focused on a new form of adventure: where basketball played a role, but not the only role.
Borrowing from the vernacular of the category giants, we called it a “First-Person NBA Adventure.”
As a lifer in the Sports Corner, NBA2K had connected to a loyal following, and hardcore fans consistently bought the newest iteration of the game every year. But as the next-generation console moment revved up the entire industry, it became clear that NBA2K needed to reach a new group of gamers – the ones flocking to fields where nothing but CODs and GTAs are grown.
Research indicated that buyers of new consoles tended to buy 2-3 games along with their purchase. In order to gain a new audience, the franchise would need to connect with gamers buying First-Person Shooter, Role-Playing, and Adventure games. Unlike the competition, the 2K franchise couldn’t add new bad guys, create bigger explosions, throw in new mega-weapons, or set the game in outer space. What could a longtime denizen of the Sports Corner do to spark gamers to pay attention?
TWO FOUNDATIONAL INSIGHTS
So, what does a First-Person NBA Adventure look like? And how could we bring non-sports gamers into the fold? The brief sought to build on two critical insights to reposition the title and initiate a new type of gamer community.
The Kingdom of the NBA
The NBA isn’t a court with a game played on it – it’s a journey through a unique world, and every player is on one. It isn’t just about basketball – it’s about working hard, improving, making the right choices, handling the temptations of celebrity status, and making your way in a competitive world.
A Community of Rock Star Gamers.
In the most general sense, people crave communities. But they also crave recognition within them. They want to stand out, while fitting in. With something like FaceScan, gamers could see themselves on the floor alongside the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden, or LeBron James. And they could also play against other gamers across the globe. We needed to find a way to place each individual gamer at the center of a community. So we needed to build that community, show what was appealing about it, and demonstrate how a gamer could potentially become a rock star in that community. This didn’t need to be about the fantasy of stepping into someone else’s shoes – this was an opportunity to be a star yourself, living the NBA adventure.
BRINGING IT TO LIFE
To push into the competitive set of First-Person Shooters and Adventure games, we devised a platform that spoke directly to gamers, alerting them to the arrival of a whole new kind of play experience. The tagline was both an invitation and a challenge: “Your Time Has Come.” The second-person directness of the phrase was aimed at gamers who loved competition, desired adventure, and craved community.
“Your Time Has Come” took multiple forms. Starting with a TV launch spot that fused the MVP speech of Kevin Durant, our cover athlete, with several notable YouTube gamer influencers, Your Time Has Come brought gamers front and center in what promised to be a new adventure.
Social campaigns capitalize on people and moments that take place away from the basketball court: fashion, music, entertainment, technology. With these campaigns, we were trying to widen the community, to show that the Kingdom of the NBA stretched far away from just the basketball court.
NBA 2K15 was the highest selling game in the 15-year history of the 2K franchise. By shattering the sports game glass ceiling, we were able to cross over into the needs of adventure gamers who never knew a basketball game could fulfil their needs.