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 a few thoughts on how my basketball gaming habits have changed over the years.
I’ve been playing basketball games for quite a while now. It’s an interest that began as I was entering my teenage years, intensified in my mid-to-late teens when I created the NBA Live Domain and then subsequently took over running the NLSC, and has since continued into adulthood. Now that I’m in my early thirties, I’m finding that I’m approaching the hobby differently. I’m still passionate about it, but with different priorities and responsibilities, I’ve had to ration my time and make a few adjustments to the way that I play. Of course, there have been gradual changes to my habits ever since the very beginning of my interest in basketball gaming.
The evolution of basketball gaming, as well as my own changing tastes, have both played a role here. Picking up two annual releases rather than just the one is a major factor as well. With NBA Live 18 and NBA 2K18 coming out next month, I’ll once again be faced with the prospect of dividing my time between two current games. Just how much I enjoy those games will also depend on my expectations and tolerance for legacy issues, which have been shaped by all my years of basketball gaming. As I prepare for the next batch of previews, and the new games themselves, I thought that I’d reflect on how my habits have changed over time.
First of all, there’s the interest in and enthusiasm for seeing as much realism as possible. Although I’ve long desired to see basketball games become more authentic, my approach and my standards were definitely far more casual when I was younger. In fact, when I first started playing NBA Live 95 on Super Nintendo, I was quite content to have Scottie Pippen average around 44 points and eight steals per game! Over time, I became more invested in playing a more realistic game in a more realistic style, though at times I have stretched reality here and there to keep things interesting. I also do like to mix things up with arcade-oriented titles.
As I’ve grown older and played more basketball games, I’ve come to approach them with a more critical eye. The ability to properly critique the games we play and other media that we consume is something that comes with age and experience. It allows us to set standards and expectations, and constructively criticise accordingly. We also seek out new experiences. When I first started playing basketball games, a single season was enough. When Franchise Mode came to NBA Live 2000, I was gladly hooked in by it. In time, I desired a deeper franchise experience, and also outgrew the habit of trying to trade for all the best players and create stacked teams.
When I reflect upon how my basketball gaming habits have changed, my drift away from franchise modes is probably the strangest. Up until NBA 2K13, I was a staunch franchise mode gamer. I still want to see those modes continue to improve of course, and to that end, I’ve been extremely impressed by what NBA 2K has done with MyLEAGUE and MyGM. However, I’ve come to spend more time with the career modes – primarily MyCAREER – despite once considering them very important to have for other basketball gamers, but not something for me. They did end up piquing my interest though, ultimately leading me to gravitate towards them.
There are a few reasons for this, of course. As a dedicated franchise gamer, I preferred playing full 82 game seasons, on twelve minute quarters. This becomes a little difficult as you get older and need to ration your gaming time accordingly, especially when there are other modes you want to spend time with. Even with regulation quarter lengths, you’re not playing the full game in career modes, as your player will spend some of that time on the bench. This means that the season progresses more quickly, in a gameplay experience that is somewhat streamlined, since you’re not managing and controlling the entire team as in franchise modes.
It’s also a refreshing change of pace, not to mention important for the connected modes such as 2K Pro-Am, MyPARK, and now The One. Grinding is a tough but vital process, in order to upgrade your player’s ratings and earn special abilities. This means that even if your intent is to play those online modes, you’ll still want to spend at least a little time playing through the career mode. Those connected experiences can be quite time-consuming, which doesn’t leave as much time to spend in modes such as MyLEAGUE, MyTEAM, or Ultimate Team. I would like to try and play more of those modes this year though, in addition to online co-op.
That in itself is another significant change to my basketball gaming habits. As I’ve noted in recent episodes of the NLSC Podcast, I’m finding it difficult to say that I’m not an online gamer. I’ve played too much 2K Pro-Am over the past twelve months to say that I’m not also invested in the online experience. The development of fun co-operative online modes such as 2K Pro-Am and MyPARK is a factor in these new habits. It doesn’t hurt that I have a faster Internet connection at my disposal than I once did, which makes online play a more appealing prospect. The games are also shorter, which means you can cram a lot more basketball gaming into a single session.
I must also say that I’ve enjoyed the team building modes – MyTEAM and Ultimate Team – a lot more than I ever thought that I would. The content and evolving features of those modes have undoubtedly contributed to their appeal, as have the nostalgic comparisons to my fond memories of collecting basketball cards and creating custom teams in basketball games back in the 90s. They’ve provided an enjoyable change of pace with games that are quicker, more casual in style, and based in fantasy. I must also admit that between the team building and career modes, I’ve spent a little real money on microtransactions, which I once thought that I’d never do.
The notion of taking some time out from other modes to have some fun with fantasy lineups, and messing around with a more casual basketball gaming endeavour, has been on my mind lately. Listening to Arcane talk about playing a few exhibition games with his fantasy all-time Miami Heat team in recent podcasts, I began thinking that I should give something similar a try. Furthermore, I probably don’t make enough use of the classic teams, even though I think that it’s fantastic that they’re still in the game (and that more are coming). On top of getting back to my roots as a franchise gamer, I’d also like to get back to trying out fun and creative ideas like that.
I touched on it in my introduction, but a big change in recent years is that I’ve picked up and tried to spend time with both NBA Live and NBA 2K; at least in the years where EA Sports has released a new game. Although I often played and even owned other games back in the day, NBA Live was the one that I played the most, and the one that I bought each year without fail. It took some time to get accustomed to NBA 2K, but I’ve since become a huge fan of the series as well, especially with it becoming the dominant brand and premiere experience in basketball gaming. After a year of dedicating most of my time to NBA 2K17, I’ll now have to ration it out again.
Even though improvements and additions to basketball games have led me to try different things and adopt new ways of playing them, one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that I really enjoy them. I may not create as many mods as I once did, and I may lean towards certain experiences more than I did before, but the bottom line is that I’m still very interested in the games and ultimately desire to enjoy them as much as I possibly can. I certainly have every intention of making the most out of both NBA Live 18 and NBA 2K18, perhaps getting back to my roots a little, and creating what I hope will be some engaging content for them along the way.
Whichever game or mode that I end up spending the most time with, it’s my intention to play it to the fullest. I do still have the time and the opportunities to indulge in basketball gaming, and as long as that’s the case, I want the time spent doing so to feel worthwhile. Even as our tastes and habits change, even though we have our valid criticisms, we ultimately keep playing basketball games because we’re passionate about them, and we want to have fun with them. Some of my preferences may be a little different now, but my underlying desire to enjoy basketball gaming and seek out the most fun experience is a habit that remains unchanged.