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Wednesday, July 10, 2013
The college basketball video game is dead

By Eamonn Brennan

In some sense, this has been true for years. After a 14-year run publishing "NCAA March Madness," EA Sports discontinued its college basketball title in 2009. Its only competition, 2K Sports' NCAA series, stopped publishing new college hoops titles in 2008. (Online servers stayed up until 2012, but even those are long gone now.)

These deaths were mostly the result of market forces. The audience for college basketball video games was always small, which in turn led to shoestring development budgets, which produced mostly unloved, buggy games dwarfed in popularity and polish by their NBA counterparts. Besides, even if you're a basketball fan and avid gamer (ahem), do you really want to spend $60 apiece for two nearly identical sports simulations? Probably not.

So for the past few years, those of us who miss the glory days of college hoops gaming -- like College Basketball Talk's Eric Angevine -- have had little to do but watch in intense jealousy as EA Sports rolls out spiffy new football titles each and every August. (Besides play other games, that is. FIFA remains a lifelong addiction.)

But wait! Is there hope on the horizon? At this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3, or the biggest and most influential gaming conference in the world) EA Sports executive Sean O'Brien refused to say "no" when asked whether there could one day be another college hoops video game:
"It's something always on our radar," O'Brien said. "I actually used to work on [NCAA Basketball] a number of years ago, so it's something personally I'm quite passionate about. I think there's a great fan base for it. ... "We're in the college football business - we've been in the college basketball business in the past - who knows. I mean, at this point, though, it's kind of hard to say."
So you're telling me there's a chance. Actually, no. There's no chance.

The fact that O'Brien didn't say "no" immediately could be read as a positive sign, I suppose, but it's obvious EA Sports doesn't have anything remotely concrete in the pipeline.

But the real issue lies neither with the publisher nor the market. Even if EA Sports wanted to make an NCAA basketball game again, and even if there was a market for the game (both of which are doubtful), there's is zero chance an NCAA basketball game gets made anytime soon for one simple reason: Ed O'Bannon. The massive lawsuit that could one day implode the NCAA's entire foundation actually began because O'Bannon saw his likeness being used in one of the games' classic teams modes and wondered why he hadn't received some compensation for the use.

Most of the focus of the O'Bannon analysis has been on what the case means for the NCAA, but EA Sports was an initial co-defendant in the suit, and O'Bannon's lawyers even submitted screen shots of former Georgetown center Roy Hibbert -- excuse me, "Georgetown Center No. 55" -- from one "NCAA March Madness" edition as evidence that the game was blatantly copying current players' likenesses. Similar arguments extend to the college football title, but at least those players wear helmets. In "NCAA March Madness," the relative likeness was as naked as basketball players themselves.

So, no, unless EA Sports and the NCAA decide to do something completely counterproductive and brazen for the sake of a game that very few people actually played -- and even fewer people enjoyed -- in the first place, there will not be another college basketball game anytime soon. Probably ever. Long live "FIFA 13."