Monday Tip-Off: C’mon Take-Two…CTC

Monday Tip-Off: C'mon Take-Two...CTC

We’re at midcourt, and the ball is about to go up…it’s Monday Tip-Off! Join me as I begin the week here at the NLSC with my opinions and commentary on basketball gaming topics, as well as tales of the fun I’ve been having on the virtual hardwood. This week, I’m tipping things off with a clear message for Take-Two: when it comes to historical players, CTC; cut the cheque!

Browse the classic teams or the lineups in MyNBA Eras, and you’ll be able to compile a lengthy list of players who are missing. Now, getting everyone into the historical rosters in NBA 2K is easier said than done, and it’s unlikely we’ll ever see complete lineups outside of community-made projects. It should also be noted that 2K has made significant strides here, working diligently with Kenny Gattison – former NBA player and now Vice President of membership and Player Programming for the NBRPA – to get more alumni onto the virtual hardwood.

Even with his assistance, it’s not an easy task. Some players are difficult to track down, while others may not be interested in participating. If they’ve passed away, their family may be understandably reluctant to sign over their likeness rights. And of course, other players may simply be unimpressed by the offer Take-Two has made to them. In fact, three of the biggest names who remain absent – Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller, and Rasheed Wallace – have been pretty clear that they’re dissatisfied with 2K’s pitch to be in the games. Indeed, when Sheed was asked about his absence, his response was CTC; cut the cheque! As such, I believe Take-Two should cough up.

After all, if Take-Two are going to profit off of the likenesses of these past players – and they absolutely do, from the sale of VC for packs in MyTEAM to the appeal of classic teams and MyNBA Eras encouraging sales of the games – then it’s only fair that the players themselves (or their estates) are adequately compensated. Clearly, many players are satisfied with the money, but that doesn’t mean everyone must be. Bigger names are obviously in a better position to ask for a larger sum, and I can’t blame them for valuing their likenesses; again, likenesses that Take-Two will make a ton of recurrent revenue from. Those retired players deserve to ask for their fair share.

Rasheed Wallace Wants Take-Two to CTC

Indeed, the fact that players are holding out on agreeing to the use of their likenesses does call into question the fairness of the compensation that NBA alumni receive to appear in NBA 2K. I mean, it goes without saying that Michael Jordan is getting a big payday, and rightfully so given the strength of his brand, and appeal of including him in a video game. However, the rank and file NBA alumni – and even some of the big names from yesteryear – probably could stand to be paid better. I’d suggest Reggie’s continued refusal to appear, and Sheed’s blunt response of “CTC”, is evidence that the fees aren’t very generous or enticing for any players who are in a position to negotiate.

Chuck’s reason for declining to appear provides even more compelling evidence that most NBA alumni are not making bank off of their virtual hardwood appearances. Barkley has made it clear to Take-Two that he’s not interested in a big fee for himself, but would like them to contribute to the NBRPA, thus offering better compensation and helping out the players who didn’t make as much money as he did as a prominent star. Chuck clearly wants 2K to CTC as well, but in his case, he’s asking on behalf of the players he feels he needs to look out for. It’s not about his bank account, nor is it distaste for video games in the wake of Shut Up and Jam, as was so often rumoured.

While it’s easy to laud Chuck’s stance as being more altruistic than Reggie or Sheed asking for more money to appear, it doesn’t make their request unreasonable. As much as I’d love to see complete rosters and all of the big names in particular available by default – after all, I grew up with games in the era of Roster Players – I don’t begrudge them the choice not to appear. Any player who is able to maintain control over their likeness, and declines to be included in video games because they’re unhappy with the compensation on offer, is well within their rights. Again, it comes back to the players being entitled – and not in the pejorative sense – to fair payment for those appearances.

Charles Barkley in NBA 2K6

So, that brings us to Take-Two, the billion dollar company that’s not only refusing to CTC for Sheed and meet Reggie’s price, but also turning down Chuck’s offer to grant the use of his likeness if they instead give his requested sum to other retired players. The reason is admittedly so obvious that it’s almost patronising to state, but it’s also worth calling out. Quite simply, if Take-Two doesn’t meet those terms, that’s more money that they get to keep. Fewer expenses mean more profits for the suits. They don’t have to spend that money to secure those likeness rights in order for NBA 2K to be successful, so unfortunately for us, it falls under the category of unnecessary cost.

To play devil’s advocate for a moment, outside of Sheed’s mention of $10,000, we don’t know the exact figures here. Reggie hasn’t ever given a ballpark figure of what he expects to be paid, and Chuck has likewise kept mum about the amount he believes would be a fair donation to the NBRPA. I respect the professionalism of that, keeping the specifics of their negotiations between themselves and Take-Two. At the same time, they might be particularly large sums that the suits and shareholders wouldn’t be too thrilled to have to pay every year. It’s possible that unreasonable figures are being demanded, but I do have my doubts here. They’re probably not asking for MJ money!

Besides, it can’t be understated just how much money Take-Two is raking in from the recurrent revenue mechanics in all of their games, and in particular NBA 2K. Sure, we don’t know what figures need to be on the cheques in order to get Barkley, Miller, and Wallace all back on the virtual hardwood, but I just can’t imagine that it would eat into their profits in a way that wouldn’t make it a worthwhile investment. On top of the billions of dollars the game already generates, having those players in MyTEAM is only going to help boost revenue. I’m not a fan of that of course, but in looking at the situation from their perspective, it seems to me that it’s ultimately worth it to CTC.

CTC For NBA Alumni, Not Bad Bunny

Mind you, even though I understand that video game development is a business as much as an artistic endeavour, I’m hardly sympathetic to the idea that the suits might receive a slightly smaller bonus if the company cuts the cheques to get Chuck, Sheed, and Reggie into NBA 2K. As Dee has aptly put it on our podcast, they’re reaching into the pockets of gamers – of children, of recovering gambling addicts, of everyone – with ever increasing greed. It’s a business, as I’ve freely acknowledged before, but that doesn’t justify shady practices, or disappointing releases for that matter. It doesn’t mean that pursuit of profits hasn’t hurt the game, or stood in the way of more content.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to sympathise with any budgetary concerns with bringing in former NBA players that we want to see, when Take-Two are striking deals to include far less important bonus content. On one hand, it’s kind of cool to see celebrities make cameos courtside at the virtual hardwood; over the years, people have made mods that do just that. There’s a certain novelty in seeing recording artist Bad Bunny featured in MyTEAM, especially since his card is earned through a challenge rather than buying packs. Putting celebrities on the court is something else we’ve done through modding, so it would be a lie to say that no one at all is interested in that kind of bonus content.

Still, the optics of including celebrities, influencers, and other such figures, while also refusing to CTC for two Hall of Famers and a multi-time All-Star from squads that are perennially featured as classic teams, is not a great look to say the least. It does little to dispel notions that NBA 2K is hopping on trends and vying for mainstream popularity at the expense of the deep basketball sim that made it so successful in the first place. Back in NBA 2K11, the game was striving for authenticity, not only with the current league, but also NBA history with the Jordan Challenge. Now we have a Bad Bunny MyTEAM card that’s more desirable to use than many of the real players.

Reggie Miller in NBA 2K6

It’s impossible to point that out without sounding jaded, bitter…old. To care about the NBA players of the past, to desire a semblance of realism in MyTEAM, to complain about the inclusion of celebrities that are popular with the key demographic, is to be out of touch. Except, NBA 2K makes a point of including Legends, so it’s logical to feature complete historical rosters if possible. Bonus content such as celebrities can be fun – and it’s hardly unprecedented – but it’s less important than securing the rights to former greats who have been absent for years. As for MyTEAM…well, as I’ve said, if the cards are unrealistically OP, then there’s little point in collecting specific players.

Also, let’s put our own fun aside from a moment, and go back to the issue of players being fairly compensated. It’s fantastic that we have all of this historical content in NBA 2K and I wouldn’t want to lose it, but I do think that former players – many of whom didn’t make nearly as much as even the role players are paid these days – are entitled to a fair share of the revenue that comes from content bearing their likenesses. Those thousands of dollars that people spend just to rip open packs in the vain hope of pulling a rare, souped-up version of a player are going to the suits, not the player on the card. Sure, they signed off on that appearance, but that still honestly disgusts me.

Therefore, I reiterate: Take-Two, CTC; cut the cheque! Don’t make Reggie Miller and Rasheed Wallace out to be the bad guys because they want to be paid an agreeable sum to appear in a game that’s loaded with microtransactions. Definitely don’t make Charles Barkley the villain for his philanthropic attitude in caring for retired players who didn’t make as much money as he did, whose likenesses are part of an effort to generate literally billions of dollars in recurrent revenue. Yes, it’s a business, and they deserve their slice of the pie. Yes, it’s a product, and we consumers deserve quality. Ball don’t lie, and neither does Sheed. Want him and others in the game? Then CTC!

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