Much is made about the enhanced graphics and gameplay of next-gen sports video games, but often lost in the shuffle are the tunes that underpin the experience. To ensure its basketball offerings aren't sonically senseless, 2K Sports tasked brand manager Ryan Hunt with assembling NBA-ready soundtracks. Shortly after 2K10's October 6 launch, Hunt discussed how he sets out to hype up the controller set.
ESPN: When planning the playlist, I assume you don't just string hype-up songs together.
Ryan Hunt: What I do is choose songs for three different buckets. First is the ambient music used during game boot-up, while navigating menus and in other out-of-game moments. The second bucket is for in-game use, like you'd find in a real NBA game: during pre-game introductions, time-outs, so forth. The third bucket is for promos, trailers and marketing. We choose the songs in the second bucket based on whether they'll add credibility and believability to real in-game play. It's about authenticity. We don't want people to boot up the game and feel the music doesn't fit with the NBA experience. They should never be turned off by a particular track.
ESPN: So your song choices are largely informed by actual NBA game music?
Hunt: To a point. Kanye's "It's Amazing" was the theme for the NBA Playoffs last year, so we made sure to get that. The problem is that we have to license songs 4-5 months before the season, so it's difficult to predict what songs will be getting played. Instead, we try to find similar-sounding ones, or our audio team will create music or chants that fit our needs. We all watch hundreds of games, and our development team works closely with the audio team to match the live experience. New this year is the "Everybody clap your hands" chant, complete with the fast crowd clapping.
We know we're catering to a predominantly hip-hop and rap crowd, but still want a good mix of artists. That's why we went with bands like MGMT and Ratatat in there alongside Kanye, The Game and Flo Rida. We also include emerging musicians, such as Duo Live and Al Kapone.
”-- "NBA 2K10" brand manager Ryan Hunt
ESPN: Do you have an overall sound in mind for the game?
Hunt: We know we're catering to a predominantly hip-hop and rap crowd, but still want a good mix of artists. That's why we went with bands like MGMT and Ratatat in there alongside Kanye, The Game and Flo Rida. We also include emerging musicians, such as Duo Live and Al Kapone. I spend a lot of time researching artists on MySpace, and in indie publications like The Fader. You'd be surprised how many good submissions we get right to our customer service email.
ESPN: For 2K10, you put out a call for original music. How'd that work out?
Hunt: The game has one original song — "Champion," by The Game. We received a lot of submissions, but got a lot of tracks that really focused on the basketball theme. We had a few named "Champion," some named "Ballin'", and a lot that got too literal with basketball-themed lyrics — "I'm driving down the lane," things like that. We wanted a few songs about ball, but too many and it gets cheesy.
ESPN: Is it tough getting big-name artists to contribute?
Hunt: No, and yes. We often hear from top-tier musicians who love the game and want to be a part of it. The Game is the No. 2-ranked player in the online PS3 leaderboards. He plays religiously. He approached us about contributing to 2K10, and wrote his song for us, and said, "I don't need to be paid. Just take care of my producer." But The Game is signed to Universal, who owns all his masters. Anything he writes, they own, and we have to go through the licensing channels. The same thing happened with Snoop, and a number of other artists.
ESPN: I'm just asking: Anyone think it's "selling out" to contribute to a video game?
Hunt: Occasionally we encounter artists who have concerns about being in a mainstream product. We approached the Kings of Leon about having "Use Somebody" and some of their other songs in the game, but they didn't want to do it. They're very protective about their music and branding. But that's only happened once or twice. We have the top-rated basketball game. Most artists want to be a part of that.