As the Senate Commerce Committee begins to embark on a comprehensive examination of violent video games, one developer is offering a unique alternative to some of the more extreme forms of interactive mayhem on the market. But Majesco’s NBA Baller Beats heads into the holiday marketplace at a distinct disadvantage compared to its free-spending competition.
An officially licensed Xbox 360 Kinect-based game played with a regulation Spalding basketball, NBA Baller Beats is a bit like Guitar Hero for wannabe cagers. But instead of shredding along to Black Sabbath, Baller Beats challenges the user to keep up with a series of on-screen commands—vanilla one-handed dribbling, behind-the-back moves, crossovers and pump fakes.
Players are going to want to have plenty of open space and a hard, flat surface on which to dribble the ball; essentially, the idea is to find a floor that’s as close to a driveway or court surface as possible. (While kicking the tires on Baller Beats in a tiny Manhattan studio apartment, one of our more hapless attempts at the sort of ankle-breaking crossovers perfected by Tim Hardaway resulted in the destruction of a 70” halogen lamp.)
Along with following the on-screen prompts, players are charged with dribbling to the beat of a soundtrack woven from familiar old school hip-hop, rock and dubstep tunes, including Erik B. and Rakim’s “Don’t Sweat the Technique,” Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and Skrillex’s “Bangarang.”
On Tuesday, Majesco released a digital upgrade that adds a leaderboard, photo capture and Facebook sharing to the original set of Baller Beat features.
While the league has licensed its trademark to game developers since 1989, when Avalon Hill released NBA for the Apple II—the first generic basketball title for the Atari 2600 was notoriously crude—the only other new sanctioned title to be released this year is NBA 2K13.
That said, sales of the two NBA-branded products are as disparate as the performance gap between the Eastern Conference-leading New York Knicks (19-6) and the cellar-dwelling Washington Wizards (3-20). In its first month on the shelves, NBA Baller Beats shifted a mere 3,000 units, according to the NPD Group, whereas NBA 2K13 opened with 1.27 million sales in October.
Whereas NBA 2K13 launched behind a marketing blitz that included a 30-second national TV spot featuring Jay-Z’s “Dynasty” track, a Michael Jordan voiceover and clips of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin, NBA Baller Beats hasn’t been buttressed by a traditional activation. TNT hoops analyst Kenny Smith has been doing much of the heavy lifting for the title, talking up Baller Beats in interviews with the New York Times and appearing as its brand ambassador at the 2012 GameStop Expo.
Smith, who co-hosts the wildly popular TNT pre-game show NBA Tip-Off and the post-game wrap Inside the NBA, is also the voice of the Baller Beats’ in-game tutorial.
Along with Smith’s promotional efforts, Majesco is relying on social media to spread the word about the game. Baller Beats has 441,678 followers on Twitter and has garnered 11,238 “likes” on Facebook.
The video game business has been in decline since the end of 2011. Per the NPD, total game sales dropped 11 percent to $2.55 billion in November, as hardware sales fell 13 percent to $838.9 million and software declined 11 percent to $1.43 billion. Accessories last month were off 8 percent to $280.9 million.
“November had the smallest year-over-year decrease we have seen for dollar and unit sales so far this year,” NPD Group analyst Liam Callahan said. “This is a sign of momentum going into the holiday period.”
Unfortunately for the gaming industry, the first-person shooters and combat games that are to be scrutinized by Washington are responsible for roughly one-fifth of all software sales. Last month, the three top selling titles were Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Halo 4 and Assassin’s Creed III. (NBA 2K13 ranked eighth on the NPD’s list.)