Jeremy Lin’s explosive emergence on the basketball court has virtually turned the basketball world upside down. It’s also literally rocked the virtual basketball world.
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Video game fans have been clamoring for Lin’s avatar to reach the level of his oncourt skills — which is unusual in a world where players can often make outsized moves and gravity defying dunks.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this with our fans wanting to talk to us and interact and find out if Jeremy Lin is going to be in the game,” says Jason Argent, a vice president with Take-Two Interactive’s (NASDAQ:TTWO) 2K Sports division, which publishes the NBA 2K12 game. “The feedback about Lin’s player rating was tremendous, we’ve never seen volume like that before."
Fans were clamoring to play as Jeremy Lin the hoops phenom, not Jeremy Lin the fringe NBA player. 2K officials said they moved quickly to respond to satisfy fans’ demands and make the virtual Lin’s ability match up with his newly demonstrated abilities on the hardwoods. The 2K12 video game actually has a living roster feature, by which the game producers update rosters and player skill levels whenever trades are made or players break out, a la Lin. Video game users receive these personnel changes automatically when they connect their console with 2K’s online servers.
Lin’s in-game player rating was originally a lowly 56 out of 100. (2K officials say the lowest rated players are in the low to mid-40s, with the highest at 99.) Not surprisingly, Lin’s ratings have skied in tandem with his oncourt heroics.
“We bumped him up to a 69 (in the first update last week). That’s one of the biggest increases we’ve ever had,” explained 2K12 producer Erick Boenisch. “The size of the move is unusual. It’s not common for a player to go from ‘why’s this guy on my roster?’ to scoring 20 (points) and 10 (assists). It caught our attention just like everyone else.”
Boenisch adds, “Lin’s now a 75 and he’s up there with starters in the NBA.”
Don’t look for Lin to leap into Michael Jordan’s league just yet. Boenisch says it takes a track record to reach such rare air. “We don’t overreact to players who had a good week. We don’t think that’s the case here, but we don’t just hand out 85 or 90 ratings without someone earning it over a long period of time.”
NBA 2K12 was the top-selling physical sports video game in January, according to data from NPD Group. 2K’s Argent thinks a Lin–led surge may boost sales, though he said there are no plans for a fresh sales campaign,
“We want to support (Lin) and we are going to let it play out organically. We have no immediate plans to push the game, but we are looking at doing some fun stuff to continue the Linsanity.”
Despite the free upgrades, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter doesn’t think Lin will appreciably boost sales of this year's game.
“Lin is giving the NBA a spark, but I doubt many (people) will run out and buy the game because he’s playing so well lately,” he reasons, adding, “Next year, if they make him the cover athlete, that’s a different story.”
Some Knicks fans can’t wait for next year; they’ve already shown up courtside at the Garden with homemade, oversized mock versions of NBA 2K13 with Lin’s likeness adorning the cover.
2K officials say they can’t quantify a jump in sales of the current game in the New York region, but they can see the uptick in virtual court time for Lin and the Knicks.
2K12 game producer and self-professed hoops fan Boenisch says, “We’re seeing a lot more activity in the past week with people playing with the Knicks. They can finally be good with them now that the guy’s rated appropriately.”