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EA to ride the NBA bench until 2012

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EA on the bench

In 2010, Electronic Arts waited until the last second to cancel its flagship NBA game. This year, it's bowing out long before the season
begins.

The leader in video game sports has quietly announced plans to bypass this season and release its next installment of NBA Elite (formerly called NBA Live) in the fall of 2012. That will create a three-year gap between
releases, a significant fall for what used to be the leading basketball sports simulation.

Following last year's debacle, EA Sports is returning development duties of the series to its Orlando-based Tiburon studio (which also works on the Madden franchise). The 2010 installment was delayed, then cancelled after internal play-testing and a bug-filled demo made the company realize it was on the verge of releasing a truly awful product. Rather than risk that happening again this year, EA decided to take some extra time to get
the game right.

"We have top talent on the game, and we're giving the
new development team time to deliver a superior experience," said Peter
Moore, president of EA Sports. "We're making great strides and looking
forward to launching a new game next year."

It's not a move without risk, though. Analysts estimate last
year's cancellation of NBA Elite cost the company roughly $90 million in lost
sales.

To keep its toes in the pro basketball waters, EA plans to
stick to arcade games carrying the NBA license. This fall, it will release NBA
Jam: On Fire Edition on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, a revamped,
downloadable update to last year's reboot of the classic NBA Jam.

That won't generate nearly as much income as an NBA Elite
release, but it does save the company some potential embarrassment. Last year's
NBA Jam underperformed at retail — something that's not too surprising if
Wedbush Securities Michael Pachter is right in his assessment that EA had
originally planned to include a slimmed-down version of that title as an extra
in NBA Elite 11.

By bypassing this year's NBA season, EA is also giving
Take-Two Interactive Software's NBA 2K franchise the opportunity to extend its
lead and convert fans who were previously loyal to EA's sports juggernaut.
That's doubly frustrating for the company as the 2K games have been soundly
beating NBA Live's sales since 2008.

Without any meaningful competition -- and with a little help
from cover athlete Michael Jordan -- NBA 2K11 went on to become last year's 10th
best selling game
and sold over 4 million copies.

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