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Monday Tip-Off: Basketball Gaming Questions for 2018

James Harden Drives in NBA Live 18

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Start your week here at the NLSC with a feature that’s dedicated to opinions, commentary, and other fun stuff related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games. This week, I’m tipping things off with some basketball gaming questions that are going to be answered over the course of 2018.

It’s the beginning of a new year, which means we’re heading towards the halfway point of the NBA season, and we’re also a few months into the lifecycle of the most recently released basketball games. By the end of 2018, we’ll have at least two new releases – NBA Live 19 and NBA 2K19 – but we’ve still got several months of basketball gaming before then. Needless to say, as we compile our Wishlists for the development teams at EA Sports and Visual Concepts, we’re naturally hoping to see our most desired improvements in the new games come September.

However, it’s also fair to wonder about the current basketball games, and hope that they’ll hold up until their successors are released. Personally, I do feel a sense of optimism about the future of basketball gaming, but at the same time, I also have a few concerns. I’m sure that I’m not alone in that regard, and with that in mind, it’s crucial that we speak up when we have the opportunity to provide constructive feedback. The questions I’m posing here, I feel, cover some of the most pressing issues regarding NBA Live, NBA 2K, and NBA Playgrounds. Whatever the future holds, we’re sure to get an answer to some of these questions by the end of 2018.

NBA Live

Kevin Durant dunks the basketball in NBA Live 18

Will the series continue to move in the right direction with NBA Live 19?

EA Sports hasn’t won over all basketball gamers with NBA Live 18, but the general feeling is that the game is headed in the right direction. I would certainly agree with that assessment; there’s definitely still room for improvement, but the game has taken some big steps forward since NBA Live 16.  Reiterating comments I’ve made in previous articles and on the NLSC Podcast, while there are aspects of the game that I want to see improve, I have enjoyed my time with NBA Live 18. My hope is that NBA Live 19 will see another big leap, with further polish to animations and control fluidity, enhanced AI, and of course, deeper game modes across the board.

What else will be added to NBA Live 18?

When 3v3 was added to NBA Live 18, I was quite impressed. It reminded me a little of when Online Team Play was added to NBA Live 08 post-launch, all those years ago. When roster editing was added in December, I was blown away. I did not expect to see that functionality in the game until NBA Live 19, so the fact that EA managed to add it in a patch was both impressive and a tremendous show of goodwill. At this point, pre-production is obviously underway on NBA Live 19, but I do wonder if EA will manage to add anything else to NBA Live 18. I’m not expecting anything too big, but after the addition of roster editing, who knows?

Can NBA Live 18 hold basketball gamers’ interest until September?

The reason I’m always stressing the importance of game modes is that they’re where the replay value is. No one wants to play a game that doesn’t feel good on the sticks, so of course gameplay is paramount. Modes are what keep us hooked though, and that could be a problem with NBA Live 18. Modes like Franchise and Ultimate Team are still a bit shallow, though as long as new LUT content is being pushed through, it will retain some appeal. The same goes for the LIVE Events that are part of the experience of The One. Without the depth found in some of NBA 2K’s modes, it’s vital that as much new content as possible is pushed through for NBA Live 18.

Are gamers going to give NBA Live a chance?

In addition to the improvement that has been demonstrated by NBA Live 18, the lower price point and promotional discounts seem to have encouraged gamers to give the game a second look. There’s a sense of optimism that is quite promising for the future of the series, but can NBA Live keep showing enough improvement to keep winning over a significant portion of the basketball gaming fanbase? It should be noted that there are gamers who feel too burned by EA, or in our corner of the community in particular, are only interested in playing the game if it comes to PC. I do hope that people give NBA Live a chance though, and that it has further success.

NBA 2K

Kyrie Irving dribbles the basketball in NBA 2K18

Will the backlash to NBA 2K18 have any effect on NBA 2K19?

Basketball gamers have not been shy about letting Visual Concepts know their feelings about NBA 2K18. Beyond complaints about issues with gameplay and modes, the big controversy is of course the lack of goodwill in regards to Virtual Currency and microtransactions. Whether it’s the user scores on Metacritic, or replies to NBA 2K’s official social media accounts, the displeasure is apparent. However, will it ultimately have an effect on NBA 2K19? Will we see a drop in sales and VC purchases? Will 2K adopt a fairer approach and display more goodwill? Will key issues be addressed? It all depends how seriously 2K are taking the backlash.

How serious are basketball gamers when it comes to boycotting NBA 2K?

I’ve said it in previous articles, but I couldn’t fault anyone for going back on their declaration to boycott NBA 2K19. I’m sure that there will be basketball gamers who elect to skip the 2018 release, but I expect the game will still have some great sales figures, owing to the brand’s enduring popularity and overall quality. It depends on the continued improvement of NBA Live, of course, but it may be tough for gamers who want a new game for the 2019 season to boycott the next 2K release. Fair enough, too; we all reserve the right to change our minds, after all. The backlash has been significant though, so maybe the impact will be larger than one might expect.

How do basketball gamers really feel about VC and microtransactions?

On the surface, that might seem like a silly question. After all, the aforementioned backlash should demonstrate that basketball gamers are not happy with 2K regarding their aggressive approach to encouraging the purchase of VC. At the same time, 2K has reported a huge increase in what they’re calling “recurrent revenue” with NBA 2K18. That kind of sends a mixed message, but the question is, are most gamers actually fine with microtransactions, or are they simply spending extra money out of necessity in NBA 2K18, and only because they’ve picked up the game and are now trying to make the most of it? I think we’ll get an answer come NBA 2K19.

Will there be any significant gameplay tweaks to NBA 2K18?

It’s been a goal of the NBA 2K development team to avoid tinkering with NBA 2K18 too much post-release. In some respects, that’s come as good news. The constant changes to the gameplay in NBA 2K17 were frustrating, so for better or worse, the experience in NBA 2K18 has felt consistent. Of course, there are issues with tuning and balance that could stand to be fixed, and aside from one of the patches nerfing zigzag cheese, they haven’t really been addressed. It may be a case of being careful what you wish for, but I for one wouldn’t be opposed to some minor adjustments here and there to improve the gameplay experience, both online and offline.

Is the concept of The Neighborhood here to stay?

NBA 2K18 took MyCAREER in a new direction with an attempt at an open world experience in the form of The Neighborhood. It’s hard to gauge the response so far. As with microtransactions, are basketball gamers simply putting up with it, or do they genuinely like it? I’ve seen quite a few people express annoyance with it, and I’m certainly in that camp. Having said that, is this open world approach something that 2K is committed to moving forward, or might they change direction based on gamer feedback? I’d like to see them focus more on improving the core experience, which I feel took a step backwards in NBA 2K18. In short: more substance, less flash.

NBA Playgrounds

Arcade Basketball in NBA Playgrounds

How much new content can we expect?

I’ve heard through the grapevine that there’ll be some kind of announcement related to NBA Playgrounds around January 4th. It remains to be seen whether it’ll simply be the updated version for the Nintendo Switch, or perhaps news of further updates for all the platforms. To be blunt, this is an area where Saber Interactive has dropped the ball. The game launched with minimal single player content, added some new tournaments along with new players for free, and then placed the Class of 2017 rookies and three new tournaments behind a DLC paywall. A lot of the goodwill that Saber built up has evaporated in recent months, and it’s unfortunate to see.

Has the damage been done?

NBA Playgrounds has been a moderately successful arcade basketball game. Plenty of gamers have enjoyed playing it, it’s sold over half a million copies, and it’s definitely demonstrated that there’s a market for the arcade hoops experience alongside the sim-oriented titles. With that being said, interest in the game has declined. More than a couple of people have expressed disappointment in changes made by its patches, or the lack of content updates. The issue with the paid DLC rubbed gamers the wrong way, and the once-bustling Facebook group is very quiet these days. With all the issues the Switch version has endured, the brand has taken some damage.

Will we see a brand new game?

Various comments from Matthew Karch seem to suggest that NBA Playgrounds won’t be updated indefinitely, but will instead tip off a series of titles, much as NBA Jam and NBA Street received multiple sequels. Arcade titles traditionally haven’t seen annual releases, though there are examples of games coming out in back-to-back years. If there isn’t much more Saber can do with NBA Playgrounds through patches and content updates, perhaps they will look to build upon the game with a deeper sequel. If that’s the case, I would strongly advise them to ensure the single player mode is deep, and take on board the most common criticisms regarding gameplay.

These are just some of the basketball gaming questions that we can ask ourselves as we get ready to tip off another year on the virtual hardwood. There’ll be no shortage of topics to discuss and constructive suggestions to make, but with any luck, there’ll be a lot of fun to be had as well. While I certainly won’t shy away from critique and constructive feedback, I’m looking forward to talking about those fun experiences throughout 2018. With last year’s releases, this year’s new games, and a mix of our old favourites, hopefully we’ll get a satisfactory fix of virtual hoops over the next twelve months.

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Long read! Just scrolled down, now it’s time to read. ^^
UPD. I’d expect this year an arcade title whether Shaq Kung-Fu or an EA one. What about Live – unsure about Live 19, maybe they’ll put something digitally, based on a subscription model. My presumption is based on a low Live 18 price point and variety of discounts on it. Saber is a black hole with blowing out initially given respect for all that lies (we will release it, for example a Switch patch, next week, next week… Silent. What about 2K I hope on the backlash. 😉