2K Sports: an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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2K Sports
In the uber-competitive category of sports video games, how do you get gamers to part with $60 to buy your latest and greatest iteration when they're perfectly happy playing last year's release? If you're 2K Sports, maker of the National Basketball Association (NBA) 2K video game, you stoke passion and inspire competition amongst your base.

The game beats out similar titles by goliaths Electronic Arts and Sony, and last year sold a record two million units, 40% more than in 2008. For eight years running, the 10-year old basketball franchise has been the No. 1-rated NBA simulation game, according to Gamerankings, an aggregator of game review scores.

As it tries to outdo itself each year, 2K Sports' NBA game is about bringing players closer to their NBA heroes and diving deep into the league's competitive culture. Last year, players could enter a contest that gives them a shot to be drafted by real-life NBA stars in a fantasy league. For its latest release, 2K Sports is challenging players to do their best, rewarding top players of its current game by letting them enter a private, exclusive online area, enabling them to more easily find qualified, like-minded players for an online game.

The one thing gamers can count on is getting an experience that simulates real life: 2K Sports' NBA games bring a dose of uncanny realism to game play, where graphics and animation mimic in detail everything from Kobe Bryant's trademark scowl to the signature moves of an entire team.

"For the fans, it's all about fanatical realism," said Jason Argent, 2K Sports' VP-marketing. "What we do is bring incredible attention to detail, and that extreme realism multiplies the pleasure of the game for the true sports fan."

Jason Argent
Jason Argent, VP-marketing, 2K Sports
As 2K Sports taps into what makes NBA fans tick, it's also beating a different path to market to its youth audience, finding that it's more effective to provoke them than to sell to them, hence the series tagline, "take over."

"We're not really trying to shape their views," said Mr. Argent. "It's not about talking at our customers; it's challenging them and supporting them. We want to spur competition, so we ask: 'How will you take over this year?' It's not a selling tactic; we're showing how customers can enjoy the product."

How has the recession affected Y2K's NBA sales? With its latest iteration having shipped recently, Mr. Argent said if current sales of the game keep up, they will trounce last year's numbers. Video-game sales have been hit by the recession though there was a small uptick in September after six months of double-digit drops, according to NPD Group.

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