Video games play ball at All-Star event

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With the NBA All-Star festivities kicking off in Las Vegas Feb. 15, video game publishers are making the most of the global attention the weekend will attract.

Electronic Arts, Sony Computer Entertainment America, 2K Sports and Atari will have some type of presence, party, booth or competition at the NBA Jam Session (an interactive "theme park"), at all the competitions (like the dunk contest, skills challenge or Sunday's All-Star Game) or around Las Vegas during the weekend.

"All of our game partners really have stepped up and created great programs for each one of their franchises and a lot of these programs do involve the NBA All-Star Game," said Greg Lassen, vp entertainment products and licensing for the league.

Lassen said this year, several game publishers are partnering with other NBA licensors in an attempt to reach the same target audience -- the 18- to 34-year-old male gamer and sports fan.

"It's really important for the league to connect with this group of consumers and fans," Lassen said. "It speaks directly to them and that age group, but it also speaks to a very large group of our fans and consumers. Not only can they collect the trading cards, but with video games, they can become the players."

Sony will feature its "NBA 07" game for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2 and PSP at the Spaulding area of the Jam Session at the Mandalay Bay Casino. 2K Sports, which makes "NBA 2K7" for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, has teamed with Toyota at the Jam Session. In addition, Sony is sponsoring the NBA All-Star Skills Challenge for the fourth year, and 2K Sports will sponsor the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game for the second year.

"Electronic Arts has "NBA Street Homecourt" for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 launching during All-Star Week, so it gives them a great opportunity to get national media attention for the game because they are sponsoring NBA All-Star Saturday Night," Lassen said. "They'll be active throughout the week with a Tip-Off Party on Thursday night, when NBA players will be competing on the game and consumers will get an advance look at the game at the NBA Jam Session."

"Homecourt" will be the first NBA licensed video game to feature WNBA stars. Players will be able to choose Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Lauren Jackson to face off against NBA stars in the virtual court.

EA will also be promoting its "NBA Live 07" game for Xbox 360, PS2 and PSP. The publisher has teamed up with Microsoft Xbox Live and Adidas for the Adidas VIP All-Star Experience. NBA star Marcus Williams will play the winners in an Xbox 360 game at the Jam Session and take on other top gamers via Xbox Live.

Atari will be at the Jam Session with its kids' game, "NBA Backyard Basketball," which is targeted to 8- to 12-year-olds. Atari is partnering with the Junior NBA and Junior WNBA at the Jam Session.

One company sitting out this year's NBA All-Star Game is Midway Games, which publishes "NBA Ballers" every other spring, rotating with EA's "NBA Street" franchise.

Lassen said that 75% of the league's players are active video game players. He said the ages match up, as core gamers are 18- to 34-year-old males, and most of the NBA stars are in that age range.

"It speaks more to society than just our players," Lassen said. "They're really competitive on the court and they're also competitive in the video games. They really want to be the cover athlete of an NBA video game."

Unlike the majority of sports leagues, including the NFL, Major League Baseball, NASCAR, FIFA (soccer), the PGA Tour and Arena Football, the NBA (and the NHL) allows multiple partners to create licensed video games. While the NHL has two companies, Electronic Arts and 2K Sports, publishing games, the NBA has five publishers bringing new NBA products out on an annual or biannual basis.

"We made the decision in March 2005 that we wanted to have multiple offerings in the marketplace," Lassen said. "By having this, we would foster both competition and creativity amongst the publishing partners. Nothing makes a better game than having someone else try to make a better game. Over the course of the first two years, we've found that's the case. We have different games in the marketplace and companies are competing trying to make the best game they can."

Lassen said that in the game industry, there are a lot of sports and other properties that do sign exclusives.

"I can't comment on the NFL," Lassen said. "We'll give them credit that 'Madden' is so big and so great. We thought that giving consumers a choice was a better way to go."
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