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 what basketball gaming nostalgia is going to look like in the not too distant future.
In recent episodes of the NLSC Podcast, we’ve been discussing old basketball games and reflecting on our nostalgia. We’ve talked about the different nostalgic phases that we go through, as well as some of the games that influenced the way we approach the virtual hardwood. We also recorded a big two part episode for the 25th Anniversary of NBA Live, which was a lot of fun. As much as I enjoy playing the latest game and other recent releases, I also like to revisit old favourites and reflect on the history of the genre. It’s one of the reasons I do Wayback Wednesday every week.
However, I’ve recently been wondering what basketball gaming nostalgia is going to be like for recent titles as they get older. Will they inspire the same kind of fondness that we older gamers have for an NBA Jam or NBA Live 95, or will they be discarded and dismissed? Will we, and especially the younger gamers who are growing up with these titles, see fit to revisit them the same way we like to dust off the old titles that we love? Perhaps most importantly, will it even be viable to revisit those games and their experiences that captivated us for hours on end? My feeling is that nostalgia for basketball games is going to look and play out somewhat differently moving forward.
Of course, it’s probably still too early to tell for sure. I’d suggest that a majority of the core demographic isn’t quite old enough to truly feel nostalgic yet. If you look at someone like me in their mid thirties and think we’re too preoccupied with a past that wasn’t anywhere good as we think it was, then nostalgia isn’t for you; not yet, anyway. And you know what, perhaps it won’t ever be. Not everyone indulges in nostalgia, and there’s a common perception these days that new is always better. I’d suggest that it’s because everything is constantly being updated and replaced. Older software and firmware? Obsolete. Last year’s phone? Obsolete. At least five years old? Obsolete.
Mind you, it’s not as though my generation didn’t see rapid changes in technology, and feel a desire to have the latest and greatest gadgets and toys. However, we also saw our share of flops that reiterated that new and supposedly revolutionary ideas weren’t always as good as advertised. It’s not like every game is seen as great these days, but from a hardware standpoint, it seems like there are fewer flops. The only one that comes to mind is the Wii U, and even it didn’t fare too badly. Nintendo also bounced back in a big way with the Switch, making everyone forget about that. We had the Virtual Boy, Atari Jaguar, and a bunch of other next gen disappointments.
All of that aside though, feeling nostalgic is very much an age thing, and I have seen some of it starting to appear in the younger demographic. The gamers who want to see the servers for NBA 2K15 and NBA 2K16 reactivated come to mind. Not all of them are much younger than me of course, but I’d suggest that many of them are. I’m also seeing fondness for the days before microtransactions, with gamers who got into NBA 2K earlier last decade reminiscing about those titles the way someone my age would reflect on the days when NBA Live was king. It suggests that nostalgia is coming for the next generation, but it’s interesting to see what those fond memories actually are.
For example, much of my basketball gaming nostalgia revolves around the franchise experience, seeing Legends in the game for the first time, and discovering mods for the PC version. It’s about revolutionary new controls such as right stick dribbling, and seeing proper 3D faces instead of generic features with a couple of pixels for eyes. For basketball gamers who are just starting to feel nostalgic, their fondness seems to be more about career modes, and connected online experiences such as Park and 2K Pro-Am. They’re more likely to reminisce about MyPLAYER Archetypes than Freestyle Superstars, or great MyTEAM pulls rather than Decade All-Stars.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. It’s only natural that we reflect on the games that we grew up with, and the things that made them special to us. Different generations of gamers are going to fondly recall different modes and features that shaped their interest in the genre. However, there’s also a stark difference in how we can revisit those memories. I can dust off the games I grew up with, and be able to enjoy them as I did all those years ago. Some of them may not hold up as well as I remember them, but nevertheless, they’re more or less intact. If I play NBA Live 2000, I can jump into a Franchise more or less as easily as I did twenty years ago.
That isn’t the case if you’re nostalgic for MyCAREER, the connected online team play modes, or MyTEAM. With the servers for older games being shut down, you can no longer play with the cards you collected in MyTEAM, or team up with friends and randoms alike for Park or Pro-Am games. MyCAREER is still available, but without VC, it’s actually even more of a grind using the offline Skill Points system. Online saves can no longer be converted to offline as of NBA 2K18, meaning you can’t even play an existing online save in a more limited way. Gamers want to see those old servers switched back on because without them, big chunks of the game are gone.
With that being the case, the only way to indulge in nostalgia with recent games is to wistfully reminisce, and wish those modes were still available to go back to. If I still had my original save files for NBA Live 95 and NBA Live 96 PC – and I wish that I did – I’d be able to go back to them anytime I want. Conversely, I can’t go back and play Pro-Am in NBA 2K16 or NBA 2K17. Of course, even if the servers were still up, it would be very difficult to get a game. A vast majority of the userbase moves on every year, which means modes based on multiplayer engagement, online access, and an annual grind, aren’t meant to be revisited. They’re intended to be disposable.
Any video game that we greatly enjoy is capable of becoming part of our nostalgia when we start to feel that way about things, but unfortunately, modern basketball games aren’t being made with nostalgia in mind. Oh sure, there are historical teams and players, and not everything becomes inaccessible once servers are shutdown. However, the current flagship modes aren’t designed to be revisited years down the line on a nostalgic whim. It’s better for recurrent revenue and engagement figures if we’re playing the latest game, and an effective incentive to get us to retire an old game is to retire the modes we’re spending the most time with. That’s gaming in 2020.
Once again, maybe this won’t be an issue for the younger generation of virtual hoops enthusiasts. Maybe they’ll be able to discard games as readily as developers want them to, and won’t feel the same fondness for an old favourite because they’re used to moving on and leaving the past behind. I’m not convinced of that, though. Every generation feels nostalgic sooner or later, and as I said, I’m already seeing comments praising games from a few years ago, along with the desire to see the servers turned back on. That seems very unlikely to happen, although there is one prominent figure at Visual Concepts who has advocated for old games to receive online support again.
Unfortunately, unless you’re a franchise gamer or playing one of the games where an online career save can be converted into an offline file, I think it’s going to be very difficult to indulge in any nostalgia for more recent basketball video games. To that end, you might want to get as much footage and as many screenshots as you can, so that you’ve at least got something to revisit if you’re ever in the mood to reminisce. Apart from that, it’s looking as though the future will offer fewer windows to glance into the past. That likely won’t bother everyone, but I expect that there will be gamers that miss those modes when they’re no longer around to create new memories.
After all, that’s one of the main reasons why we revisit video games of any genre. Whether it’s to set our memory straight on a game being as good as we remember, take care of some unfinished business, replace a newer but less satisfying game in our rotation, or just enjoy those nostalgic feelings when we see those old menus and hear those old soundtracks once more, we’re seeking further enjoyment from the familiar. I believe that appeal will always be there, though each generation will have their own titles and specific memories they seek to revisit. With key attractions closed down however, those trips down memory lane won’t feel as special as they once did.