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 my take on the future of MyCAREER stories, which is basically that it’s time for them to end.
I know, I know. I’ve talked about MyCAREER stories a lot. I’ve made my position on them very clear since they made their debut in NBA 2K14. However, we’re now five years into the story-driven approach in MyCAREER. Not only can we rank the stories in a Top 5, at this point we’ve also had ample time to evaluate the approach so far, and consider how it should be handled moving forward. It’s fair to ask whether or not a story is necessary or wanted in MyCAREER, and if it is, what can be done to continue to innovate in future iterations of NBA 2K.
As you might expect, my suggestion is that a new approach is needed, but I’d like to explain my reasons beyond a simple distaste for the narratives we’ve experienced so far. This is intended to be a constructive piece that offers ideas and solutions, rather than just bashing an aspect of NBA 2K that I don’t particularly like. My dislike of the stories themselves is a factor, but if the goal is to innovate and offer new experiences, then MyCAREER stories could actually be getting in the way of that. While it would be possible to steer them in a new and more innovative direction, I do believe that it’s time to close the book on MyCAREER stories.
Even though it isn’t the sole factor and I know I’ve discussed it before, we do need to begin with the quality of the MyCAREER stories so far. To say that they’ve been hit and miss is being quite kind. We’ve had two well-written stories – “Livin’ Da Dream” in NBA 2K16 and the story of Pres in NBA 2K17 – but the former had a terrible cutscene to gameplay ratio and inflexible characters, while the latter was still very linear with a scripted event halfway through. The other stories have ranged from awful to mediocre, and they’ve all been intrusive to the gameplay experience, with predetermined moments and story beats that don’t match your on-court performance.
Following NBA 2K18’s story, I really believe it’s time for the approach to end. I know I placed it in the middle at the number three slot when I ranked all of the MyCAREER stories in my Friday Five column, but that was mostly because NBA 2K16 and NBA 2K15’s stories cut short your rookie season. In terms of the writing and the characters, NBA 2K18 is absolutely the worst one yet, and a huge step down after NBA 2K17. I don’t want to be nasty about it, but I don’t want to mince words, either: NBA 2K18’s story is horrible. From the back story of DJ to the very personification of annoying in B Fresh, to lengthy cutscenes with other irritating characters, it’s all around bad.
Even if the story were better written, the characters more enjoyable, I believe that the approach has run its course. It basically guarantees that everyone will have the same basic experience, with very little story branching. There’s also the ridiculousness of your player being rated like a scrub, yet hailed as something special. These issues could be addressed by beefing up the starting ratings, adding some more meaningful decisions that affect the story and branch it off into different arcs, and maybe even cutting down on the introduction and allowing you to save your game before you’ve made it to the NBA. I don’t think that addresses the underlying problems, though.
Although they haven’t prevented gamers from enjoying the mode, the MyCAREER stories have introduced something of an identity crisis. On one hand, we’re invited to put ourselves in the mode, which is advertised as a basketball RPG. At the same time, the stories lock us into a character and back story that we may not like, which hurts the role play aspect. Cutscenes depict us as rookies trying to find our feet and often deferring to fictional veterans like Shammy Wells, even if we’re putting up record numbers. Add that to the aforementioned weak ratings, and there’s often a noticeable disconnect between the story and gameplay experience.
For those reasons, I believe that MyCAREER stories are played out, and that it’s time for the mode to innovate in different ways. I would suggest a less story-driven version of my earlier idea of multiple starting points and career paths. Rather than an in-depth narrative that continues throughout your rookie season, most of the story would be told on the virtual hardwood. However, you would be able to choose from multiple back stories for your MyPLAYER, which would determine your starting point and the types of challenges you’d face as you play through MyCAREER. Essentially, it’d be like picking a character type or class, or customising your build in true RPG fashion.
Using the examples from my previous article, choosing to be a Star Player would grant higher starting ratings, but levelling up would be more of a grind. A Summer League Success Story or G-League Call-Up would be tougher roads to the NBA with lower starting ratings, but upgrades would be cheaper. Options like Veteran Rookie or Comeback King would place some caps on your ratings, with a fair balance between your starting attributes and the price of upgrades. A few cutscenes and role-playing moments could still pop up to enhance the presentation and tell a bit of a story, but mostly it’d be all about how you perform on the court from each starting point.
Those are just some of the ideas for back stories that would create optional starting points and differing experiences in MyCAREER. The goal would be to offer a few scenarios – probably no less than three and no more than five – that have their own trade-off of benefits and drawbacks, resulting in each having their own appeal and challenge. This would also add some replay value to MyCAREER, as there’d be incentive to try out the different starting points for a change of pace, with no need to replay the exact same story with a new player. There’d still be VC so that 2K can make their recurrent revenue, but ideally there’d be less grinding and gouging.
Furthermore, with gameplay driving the narrative and not a linear, pre-determined set of cutscenes and story beats, the scenes you see would match up with the story that you’re telling on the court. Some basic dialogue options, similar to interviews and the old post-game press conferences, could assist in role-playing and liven up the mode the way that MyCAREER stories were supposed to. It’d be a new way of approaching storytelling in MyCAREER: give us a variety of scenes, and let us put them together starting from the back story of our choosing. Best of all, it’d bring the experience back to the gameplay, keeping it about basketball.
Of course, if MyCAREER stories remain in NBA 2K, then another alternative would be to simply offer the option to play without the story. That’s apparently possible if you start MyCAREER offline, but that obviously has its own drawbacks, especially if you do want to play the connected modes but just don’t want the story mixed in with your NBA experience. An option for a streamlined experience that’s completely about playing with your MyPLAYER avatar would be a fair compromise, and could also encourage the creation of additional players. It might even be an avenue for bringing back the Creating a Legend mode, which hasn’t been featured in some time.
If I had to guess, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of MyCAREER stories just yet. That’s unfortunate, as there are much more appealing and innovative things that could be done with the MyCAREER experience. Should the stories remain, then I at least hope their quality can improve. Better plot and characters, more integration between cutscenes and gameplay results, and meaningful decisions with branching arcs would all go a long way. After five years though, I strongly feel it’s time for a new direction, as MyCAREER stories have seen too many variations on the same theme. Ironically, it took a character named B Fresh to highlight just how stale the formula has become.