If you go back and look at the earliest basketball video games, it’s stunning how far we’ve come in the 30 years since Basketball! arrived on the Magnavox Odyssey. The evolution of basketball video games seems like it’s largely about features: the ability to dunk, to call plays, to draw charges, to play as one player for the whole game. But the steps games have taken also reveal something about the game in the real world and how we think about it, from the over-the-top antics of NBA Jam to the struggles of game companies to keep some semblance of Michael Jordan in their games through the mid- to late-’90s when Jordan opted out of the National Basketball Players Association.
From dozens of franchises, we’ve been reduced—more or less—to just one: NBA 2K. But a new generation is promising to bring the return of NBA Live. It’s a tune we’ve heard called before by Electronic Arts, and they have a lot of catching up to do after sitting out the last several years. But if they can bring their own unique take on the game, we might just witness a renaissance of the kind of competition that drove basketball video games to become what they are today.