Video games as real-life scouting tools? It's not as far off as you might think. EA Sports has teamed with Synergy Sports Technology, an analytics provider used by over 25 NBA teams, to drive the data of NBA Live 09's artificial intelligence. Synergy's now the brain behind the game, rating everything from where a player is most accurate on the court, to how the group of ballers on the floor will play together as a unit. It's what EA calls Dynamic DNA, and to help add even more realism, this data is going to be updated every day throughout the season, adjusting player ratings and tendencies to accurately reflect what is happening in the Association.
"This is a long way from NBA Jam," Blazers G Brandon Roy says, after checking out the game for the first time. "Back when I was first playing games, I couldn't even imagine anything like this. All I wanted to do was dunk."
Roy's right, gaming has come a long way since "He's on fire!" was breakthrough technology. But this is only the beginning. EA has signed a multi-year deal with Synergy, and according to company president Garrick Barr, only about 60% of the analytics Synergy provides to NBA teams made it into Live this season.
"Now you have players who act like they really act, and you now have the ability to defend them based on their on-court personality," Barr says. "This is great for gamers but it is also a very viable tool to be used by coaches."
Roy has been playing NBA Live since Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton were dominating the cyber court, so I took a few minutes to ask him about the game, his tendencies and the upcoming season.
Mag.com: Your video game character is going to get updated every day, good games and bad. What are the ups and downs you go through on a day-to-day basis that the average fan doesn't realize?
Brandon Roy: The rigors of traveling on the road. Some nights you feel good, some nights you don't. The good thing about the game is it will show if a player is hot or if a player is cold, so you never know, you might be on the road and not shooting well. When you're a fan and you're playing the game, you don't want that. You don't expect that. You expect your players to be 100% every night. With this new DNA, you're going to need to adjust, because one night your favorite player might be in a slump, but you're still going to need to find a way to win. I think that's one of the coolest things about the game.
What don't you like about traveling?
Sometimes you're just tired. You might play five games in seven nights and that's a lot of basketball. The constant schedule can get tiring. It's not too bad, but it's definitely something you need to adjust to as a player.
For everyone out there who wants to play as you in Live, what are some of your tendencies we should be aware of to utilize your character to his fullest potential?
I make a lot of shots on the left side of the court. When I go left, I'm almost automatic. I think my set shot is pretty sweet, and pick and rolls work pretty well for me. I think if you look at my DNA, my pick and roll scoring is like 49%. Another strength of mine is isolation from the top of the key.
Did you learn anything about yourself by playing the game?
Actually, a couple of coaches have looked at my tendencies and told me how successful I am from the left side of the court. So when I saw that in the game, I thought that was pretty neat that that dynamic made it into Live. I was watching myself in the game—the way he dribbles, the way he shoots—it looks just like me. Knowing how accurately they got me in the game, I might want to use this if I'm playing against someone so I can scout them. You never know what you'll learn. They're letting out a lot of secrets.
How accurate were your ratings in previous games?
There are always a lot of complaints like "I'm faster than that" or "I can jump higher than that," but back then, it was just some guy's opinion who worked at EA. Now they are using the real scouting. They are getting a lot closer to fact. Numbers don't lie.
So if I'm playing as Portland in Live 09, give me some pointers on how to win with your team.
A lot of pick and rolls. Go inside to Greg [Oden] and LaMarcus [Aldridge]. That's a big strength of ours, posting up, and we play as a team. If you watch us play, we have a lot of ball movement, a lot of drive and kick. We play fast, but we play together, and that's winning basketball right there.
GAMER BUZZ: STREET BALL IS DEAD
I ran into EA Sports president Peter Moore at a recent game launch, and he confirmed the rumors that the NBA Street series is now officially on hiatus.
"We'll still do traditional sports, but we're going to do them a different way," he told me. "Street is a good example. We built a new Freestyle brand to do different things, and we also need to build our own intellectual properties. We rely on other people's IP for everything we do and we need to develop some new things. In the old days we had things like SSX that were our own intellectual property, but since then we've kind of moved away from that. We need a mixture of experiences that are not only for the hardcore, 'it's in the game' crowd. But if Wii Sports has taught us anything, it's that people will sit there and play big head tennis all day long. We need to be able to tap into that audience. We need to have something for that sports fan who might not necessarily be a sports gamer, but who wants that 15-minute experience without having to struggle on how to use the controller."
On a related note, it looks like Midway has also put a stop to any future products in the NBA Ballers franchise as, rumor has it, the struggling company is trying to buy its way out of the licensing deal it currently has with the NBA. Stay tuned.