In a first for team sports games, EA is introducing the ability to create female players in NBA Live 19. The move comes a year after all 12 WNBA teams, such as LA Sparks, New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream were added to the series for use in exhibition mode.
This time out you won’t only be limited to that single mode, says EA. Marquee mode The One enables you to carve out a career using created female players, with the same progression trees and unlockables (such as fresh gear) as those offered to male characters. Men and women can play on the same team in the mode, and Icon Abilities based on legendary female players such as Candace Parker are also included.
The move is an important one because it delivers a degree of equality that wasn’t going to come from the WNBA teams alone. While the women’s pro league is more than watchable, only four of its original eight franchises are still going, and live crowds for the 2017 finals peaked at 14,600. So the popularity numbers likely don’t justify a comprehensive WNBA franchise mode, at least for now. But that doesn’t mean that female gamers should be denied the opportunity to play as their own sex in more than one-off matches, and The One looks like finally fulfilling that ambition.
While this represents a first for team sports, solo ones have – quite rightly – featured equality in terms of created characters for some time. One exception was WWE 2K15, which received an almighty backlash upon release because there was no way to make females omitted from the roster, such as Alicia Fox and Layla. 2K learned its lesson the following year and offered equality in terms of creation options, much as EA has done with its UFC games during the same time frame.
Our only mild criticism: the social media hashtag EA has produced to commemorate the inclusion of female created players in NBA Live 19: #shesinthegame. I see what they’ve done there, but it’s a bit forced and smacks of marketing gimmickry, rather than letting the audience experience and/or praise the mode in an organic manner. Overall, though, this feels like a big step forward for sports games.
NBA 2K19 is released for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on 11 September.