Electronic Arts hopes to capitalize on the WNBA’s growing popularity by introducing women’s basketball into one of the top franchises it builds in Orlando.
The company announced Thursday that gamers will be able to play single games between WNBA teams loaded with actual players in NBA Live ’18, which is set for a September release.
The decision was as much a business move as a way to highlight the women’s game, Executive Producer Sean O’Brien said.
“In our jobs, we have personal opinions about what will resonate with us, but when you put that aside, there has to be a strong business reason to do this,” he said. “The WNBA is very much a healthy and growing brand.”
NBA Live, which is built in Maitland, has been considered one of the top basketball franchises since it debuted in 1994. However, it has faced stiff competition from California-based developer Visual Concepts’ NBA 2K series.
O’Brien hinted at future expansion of WNBA features.
For instance, he said, the game initially will only allow gamers to play single games with WNBA teams.
But future expansion could allow players to play full seasons with a team, a standard feature in other sports video games, depending on the feedback EA receives this year.
“The way we work is we throw something into the market and we see how the market reacts,” he said.
The game serves as a collaboration with the league.
Several players, including the first draft pick of the 2017 WNBA Draft, San Antonio Stars point guard Kelsey Plum, went through head scans and motion capture sessions.
“We are delighted to make history with EA,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a news release. “With EA’s expertise and ingenuity, the game will provide a terrific platform to showcase the players and the league, enabling fans to experience the WNBA in a new, exciting way.”
The game will be available worldwide in September for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. A demo that will be released Aug. 11 will not include the WNBA component, O’Brien said.
Game designers in Orlando say as big as Electronic Arts is, it will still be a challenge reaching the right audience.
“From a developers’ standpoint, I don’t know who they are going to market that to,” said Bethany Borden, a composer at Orlando-based Outhouse Games. “A lot of people, men or women, don’t play those NBA games anyway.”
Still, Borden thinks it could be a slick move by the league.
“It’s definitely a better strategy for the WNBA here to use that platform to reach more people,” she said.
Electronic Arts has considered working with the WNBA for roughly two years, O’Brien said.
“We are in a place, uniquely, where we are in a brand-building position,” he said. “We think the WNBA will be with us for quite some time.”