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 reflections on going digital with basketball games, and making that move before I needed to.
These days, the PC version of NBA 2K is exclusively available as a digital release. Even if you happen to find a physical copy – and they do exist in some regions – it just amounts to a card with a Steam key. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. On the plus side, digital games save shelf space, and because developers don’t need to press discs, distribution is quicker and cheaper. In a niche demographic such as PC basketball gaming, that’s an important factor in companies seeing the platform as viable and less of a hassle to release on.
The downside is that we need to download everything when we want to install the game. Depending on the quality of our connection and the size of any data limits on our Internet plan, that may not be an ideal scenario. Digital releases are also at risk of being removed from platforms like Steam, whereas physical copies obviously remain in circulation. Beyond convenience and availability, there’s just something satisfying about having a physical copy that you can hold in your hands or display on a shelf. We don’t always have a lot of choice, especially on PC these days, but I actually found myself going digital with basketball games before it was necessary.
Back in 2013, when we were waiting for NBA 2K14 to be released – on PC and on the new generation of consoles that were about to launch – I still preferred to buy games on disc wherever possible. It wasn’t just a matter of being stuck in my ways, though that was part of it. As I said, I enjoyed the satisfaction of being able to hold a game in my hands, either after buying it at a store or receiving it in order through the mail; I still do! However, the main sticking point was my connection. Between the speed and the data limit, buying digital meant a long wait and a significant chunk of the monthly allotment of gigabytes to get a major Triple-A release installed on my PC.
I’d do it from time to time of course, especially when games were on sale, but I was still opting for physical copies of basketball games. NBA Live was console-only anyway, and NBA 2K wasn’t yet exclusive to Steam. And so, I put in my pre-order for the PC version of NBA 2K14 from an online retailer I’d used quite a bit. I’d never had to wait too long to receive pre-orders from them in the past, their prices were fair, and it meant getting something exciting in the mail. However, as the launch day for NBA 2K14 came and went, and a week passed without my copy arriving, I grew concerned. I contacted the store, and discovered that my pre-order wasn’t on its way after all.
They offered a refund which I accepted, and it was unofficially the end of me buying from that retailer. When the company did something rather distasteful earlier this year on their social media, I decided I was definitely done dealing with them, and deleted my account. Going back to the mix-up with my NBA 2K14 pre-order back in 2013 though, I decided that buying the game through Steam would be the quickest and most convenient method of doing so, and that’s what I did. I’d already picked up the Steam version of NBA 2K13 cheap on sale, so that I didn’t have to keep putting in the disc whenever I felt like firing it up again. It seemed like the right direction to go.
I discovered another benefit to the Steam releases, namely the ability to reinstall the games without running into issues with keys. I’d previously had to reinstall the disc version of NBA 2K13, only to have the CD key rejected. After jumping through the usual hoops with 2K Support to be issued a new key, I didn’t fancy having to do that again. The Steam version was the preferable solution, and it’s not as though I’d have to reinstall the game that often. Still, I missed not having a physical copy of NBA 2K14 PC to display on the shelf along with its predecessors. I feel the same way about NBA 2K15 onwards. I’m saving shelf space, but I miss having those boxes all in a row.
With NBA Live on the current generation, I’ve also come to own digital copies. I picked up the disc version of NBA Live 14 when I collected my PlayStation 4 at the midnight launch event, along with a copy of NBA 2K14. Even though games needed to be installed on the PS4’s hard drive anyway, I was willing to get the discs every year. It was still the best option given my Internet plan’s speed and data limit, and it appealed to me as a collector. However, the former community manager for NBA Live did send me a digital copy of NBA Live 16, though I later added the disc version to my collection to satisfy my inner completionist, and save time on reinstallation.
I also went digital with NBA Live 18, though once again I sought out a physical copy as a backup, and to keep the collection complete. Unfortunately, NBA Live 19 was digital-only in Australia, and while I’d like to double-dip with a physical copy for the purposes of my collection, I haven’t been able to source one that’s readily available at a reasonable price. It’s not vital that I get one at this stage, and I expect that since I own the digital version I’ll be able to download it again for years to come if need be, but I’d still feel safer and more satisfied if I had the disc version as well. As with the PC versions of NBA 2K, I miss being able to see the game alongside its brethren.
My connection is no longer an issue when it comes to digital games. With unlimited data and good speed – well, good by Australian standards, anyway – I no longer have to worry about using up my allotted gigabytes, or having to wait at least a day to download a new game. Digital has its benefits, and because it’s something that I was moved to adopt before I absolutely had to, I’ve had time to grow used to it and see the upside. It’s largely the nostalgia that comes from growing up in an era where physical copies were all we had, and remained more viable for some time after that, that drives my desire to have games on disc whenever it’s actually possible.
Of course, availability is also a concern. NBA 2K17 is the oldest PC release that’s still available on Steam, which is surprising given that the servers have been offline for well over a year now. I imagine it will be gone soon, and likely take NBA 2K18 with it. The first NBA Playgrounds is no longer available on Steam, which seems to be a result of its sequel coming under the 2K umbrella. Just in case NBA 2K Playgrounds 2 also disappears from the Steam store, I made sure to pick it up while it was on sale. Looking back, I wish that I’d double-dipped with the Steam version of NBA 2K10, 2K11, and 2K12 while they were still available, so that I could avoid swapping discs.
The unavailability of those older PC versions of NBA 2K is, funnily enough, starting to become a problem. With the release of new mods for NBA 2K11 and nostalgia for those games from the early 2010s starting to kick in for a lot of gamers, there’s more interest in revisiting them, similar to the interest in revisiting and updating NBA Live games from the early to mid 2000s some years back. It used to be possible to get to the store pages for those games in a roundabout way through Google, but now all the links redirect to the store’s index. There are discs in circulation, but early adopters of digital, and those who’ve grown up with it, aren’t always keen on hunting them down.
To that end, apart from missing out on picking up a few games for convenience, I feel as though I got on board with digital releases at the right time. Circumstances steered me towards that route before it was absolutely necessary, but given that I did still have a choice, I was open to seeing the benefits after deciding upon that path. I still have an affinity for physical copies, and my inner collector does compel me to seek them out whenever I can. Nevertheless, I’ve been able to make the transition to digital copies wherever necessary, without too much grumpy old man griping. That online retailer messing up my NBA 2K14 pre-order unquestionably had a silver lining.