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NHL @K10
 

If you haven't heard, Take-Two has announced it will not be publishing a hockey game for either the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3.  Instead, they will focus all of their attention on the Nintendo Wii; a console of which they have no competition on the virtual ice.

If you look at the numbers provided by Vgchartz, this decision makes a lot of sense.  Sales of NHL2K10 on the Wii eclipsed sales for both the 360 and PS3 combined.

For those fearing 2K10 will be the last 2K hockey game you play on your beloved 360 or PS3, Take-Two Interactive CEO Ben Feder says not to worry, "We're doing that because we're so committed to competing that the team needs a breather," explained Feder during the Take-Two first quarter financial results conference call. " The following year we will come back a lot stronger. We have an intention to win and we're going to maximize the opportunity."

However, you would be wise to take that statement with a grain of salt. The hockey nut in me wants to believe Mr. Feder. Desperately. But with all the drama that has been swirling around Take-Two recently, you might be better off betting on the Atlanta Thrashers to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup by 2011.

Afterall, the proof is in the pudding. When's the last time you saw a commercial promoting a 2K hockey game for either the 360 or PS3?

I remember those clever commercials featuring three knitting, trash-talking, hockey moms. But that was for the Wii. Perhaps we all missed the foreshadowing of what Take-Two's ultimate plan was.

It's a shame really. Since Visual Concepts took the reigns from Kush in 2008, their hockey game has steadily improved. NHL2K9 wasn't received very well with critics or at the cash register, but it was a step in the right direction. Considering VC had a mere seven months to start over from scratch, it wasn't as bad as some reviews would have you believe.
With 2K10, a larger leap was made. Upgrades to presentation, controls, player models and AI made this season's hockey port a lot more tolerable. Among many of the hardcore hockey gamers, it even trumped EA's juggernaut, NHL10.

What some might find incredible is that at one time, 2K was the king of the rink. Not only did it routinely outsell EA's product, but many mainstream media outlets rated it higher as well.

I still consider NHL2K3 on the PS2 to be one of the greatest sports games ever produced.

So what happened? In my mind, you can point to three reasons why 2K is in the minors while EA is receiving the virtual Hart Trophy year after year.

- Skill Stick

EA capitalized on the power of next-gen consoles by creating a unique analog control set. Not only was this game visually and audibly gorgeous, it contained arguably the most intuitive control scheme ever seen in a sports game. Not only that, but it was [i]fun[/i]. The Skill Stick captured the same feeling many of us enjoyed when we first popped in 'NHL Hockey' for the Sega Genesis way back in 1991. To put it mildly, the skill stick is nearly as fun as making Gretzky's head bleed.

- Failure to utilize Next-Gen capabilities


By the time Take-Two realized it was being beaten like Tim Chevaldae on a Friday night, it was too late. It's true that 2K10 offered better graphics, excellent presentation and it's own version of Skill Stick. The problem was, by this time EA had introduced it's wildly popular 'Be-A-Pro' mode, EASports Online Hockey League and even more refined controls.

- Poor Marketing


I'm not sure there's enough space on this page to discuss Take-Two's reluctance to market it's hockey games better. EA has community day events, weekly blog updates, regular video and screenshot releases and their developers and producers seem to have more freedom to comment on Twitter and popular message boards. The consumer is carpet bombed with information months before release.

2K did a better job this past spring when they introduced Developer Insights and allowing 2K community leader RonnieK to twitter more information. But in the end, it was like a one-sided game between Canada and Norway.

If Mr. Feder is being truthful, then taking a year off could be a blessing in disguise and exactly what this series needs. The leap from 2K9 to 2K10 is encouraging. It showed that the developers and producers had a passion for the sport and what direction they wanted to take the series in.

The last time EA regrouped we were given the award-winning NHL07. Only time will tell if 2K is able to duplicate those results. It would be nice to hear a guarantee that VC will be given the chance to reclaim the crown they wore for almost the entire life span of the original Xbox.

If they do, then they would be wise to travel the same road EA used to get back on top of the mountain.

Until then, I'm going to call Vegas and put $100 large on the Thrashers. You never know, eh?

Henry Dyck
 

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