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Monday Tip-Off: I Bought VC For The First Time In Years (And I Hate That)

Monday Tip-Off: I Bought VC For The First Time In Years (And I Hate That)

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 some reflections on buying VC for the first time in years, and how it bummed me out to do it.

The first time I spent real money on VC was in the PlayStation 4 version of NBA 2K14. Intrigued by my first look at MyTEAM, I figured I’d drop a few bucks on it and try my luck. I had one very lucky pull – a 1993 Michael Jordan card – but it was quite clear that generally speaking, it’d be a poor investment. I also splurged on some VC in NBA 2K16, 2K17, and 2K18 in order to upgrade my MyPLAYER to be ready for the online scene sooner. Beginning with NBA 2K19 however, I began adhering to a strict No Money Spent policy. I found great satisfaction in not giving in to the pressure.

I continued that approach in future games, while encouraging my fellow gamers to do the same. That hasn’t changed: I despise the pushiness of microtransactions in NBA 2K, and how the quality of the on-court experience suffers if you want to take the long road. However, I must admit that as far as buying VC myself, after abstaining for several years, I gave in. While it isn’t one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done in my life – I’ll keep those stories to myself, thank you very much! – I certainly wasn’t pleased that I did it. There was a reason for it, but even so, I do regret my lack of patience, and participation in a practice that continues to ruin the NBA 2K series.

Now, before you scold me for being a part of the problem, allow me to explain the situation. First of all, I didn’t spend much; just enough to make some minor upgrades to my NBA 2K24 MyPLAYER. Second, I did this for the purpose of not being a 60 Overall player, in order to get into some online games. Third, I only did that because I wanted to get some screenshots and footage for features, as well as quickly check in on the online scene and see for myself the state that it’s in. Since the alternative was playing a game that I don’t really enjoy, and my copy of NBA 2K24 for PlayStation 5 was actually an early birthday present last year, I made peace with buying some VC.

Buying VC in NBA 2K24

Also, NBA 2K24 has a habit of crashing my PlayStation 5, much as NBA 2K23 did last year. No other PS4 or PS5 game causes such a crash, nor have I encountered any issues with media apps. I’m still troubleshooting that problem – lackadaisically I’ll admit, since I’m not particularly motivated to play NBA 2K24 – but the point is that until I resolve the issue, grinding isn’t really an option either. Even without that issue – which honestly basically renders the game a zero out of ten for me, if I had to rate it – I don’t relish the prospect of grinding to get to a point where my player with his low Overall Rating and black plate stands an outside chance of getting an online game.

And so, for the price of a couple of meals at the big fast food franchises, I managed to upgrade to a 74 Overall. Mercifully, four other gamers in the No Squad Rec took pity on my low-rated, newbie-looking player, and stuck around to play a game. It actually wasn’t that bad as I didn’t try to do more than I was capable of, and everyone else was unselfish and team-oriented. It only made the crash during the second quarter even more frustrating, especially as I’d just received a pass on the break with a wide open path for a dunk. On the bright side, at least my investment was able to get me into a game, allowing me to capture the screenshots and gameplay clips that I wanted.

Still, that doesn’t make me feel great about breaking my rule and buying VC after all these years. Sure, if I can sort out the crashing issue and feel like jumping into a few online games every now and again – and there is still a lingering appeal to that – then it’s a head start on having a MyPLAYER that isn’t complete garbage. I didn’t spend more than I was willing to throw away, and I captured the media that I was after, so in that sense, it was a successful “mission”. Nevertheless, that doesn’t make buying VC money well spent. Even if I had my reasons and it’s a rarity for me, I still participated in a problematic system. It’s a drop in the bucket, but Take-Two still got my money.

Upgrading from 74 to 85 Overall in NBA 2K24 MyCAREER

Of course, biting the bullet and making a once-off VC purchase served as reminder as to why I’m so against the practice in the first place. Since it’s an issue that I do discuss when critiquing NBA 2K, it’s also important to compare the value of VC to previous titles when I was slightly more comfortable paying for a small boost so that I could jump into some gamers with the NLSC squad sooner. You won’t be shocked to hear that 75,000 VC can’t be stretched nearly as far as it used to! Obviously the build and progression systems have both changed over the years, and unsurprisingly, neither has become any fairer as far as the affordability and swiftness of MyPLAYER upgrades.

Now, it wouldn’t be right to pin this all on gamers (and hey, who am I to talk?). The greed begins with the suits, and essentially having a virtual monopoly over basketball gaming has put Take-Two in a position to do whatever it pleases with NBA 2K. As a community however, as a fanbase, we’ve collectively made some complacent excuses over the years. “Oh, it’s not that much, and besides, it’s optional”. “Most of us are only paying, like, twenty bucks for a quick boost at the start, and even then, it’s optional”. “I’m willing to pay a little more for a game that I enjoy so much, and I am enjoying NBA 2K. Anyway, it’s totally optional.” You may have noticed a pattern emerging.

Again, I’m not going to blame my fellow gamers for Take-Two’s greed, but adopting a stance of “It’s not that much, so it’s OK” or “I’m fine with paying extra, so that’s what matters to me” has played a role in shouting down valid criticism of greedy practices. It’s allowed 2K to keep pressing their luck, nerfing or outright removing methods of earning VC while making MyPLAYER upgrades and cosmetic items more expensive. These increases have been gradual but consistent, so unless you go back and compare – as Agent 00 did – you don’t notice. It becomes normalised, or even a status symbol. Consider all the classist accusations of being “broke” if you don’t want to buy VC.

Game On in The Rec (NBA 2K24)

As for the perpetual and perpetually tiresome justification of “it’s optional”, the fact that I needed to pay the equivalent of a couple of takeaway meals just to get to a point where my MyPLAYER is barely good enough for other gamers to want to jump into a game with me, speaks volumes. Annoying technical woes aside, I could slog through a few weeks in MyCAREER and seek out quests and other extracurricular activities to scrape together the necessary VC, but it wouldn’t be a fun journey. After all, it’s not designed to be one! To stand a chance of catching a glimpse of the online scene, I either needed to mindlessly grind, or reluctantly pay. I paid, but I sure hate that I did!

The only consolation – aside from getting the screenshots I wanted, plus a couple of gameplay clips – is that it proved a point the apologists don’t want to hear. There was no way I was going to get a game as a 60 Overall black plate, and understandably so. Even during launch week, other gamers would be dodging such a low-rated player, and I can’t blame them. It’s sucked the fun out what was once a far more enjoyable experience, though. Without robust matchmaking, without fair progression, and with such expensive upgrades and pitiful payouts, NBA 2K’s online scene is in terrible shape. I’ve said this many times before, but nothing has changed, so it bears repeating.

So hey, after about six years, Take-Two finally squeezed some added revenue out of me, though I guarantee it won’t be recurrent. Even if I do end up spending some more time with NBA 2K24 to further comment on the game (and to see if the pleasant time I briefly had in The Rec was a fluke), I’ll be upgrading at my own pace, No (More) Money Spent. I’m not pleased that I gave in to the shortcut to suit my needs, and that it’s made a hypocrite out of me. Granted, that doesn’t undermine or disprove my point, but it does mean the clock resets on how long it’s been since I paid for VC. It was a small amount and for content creation purposes besides, but nevertheless, I caved.

Later, Ronnie! (The City in NBA 2K24)

To that point though, as much as I hate that I bought VC, I don’t have to buy any more of it. It can be a once-off for me – a means to an end on this occasion – because I’m not eager to play NBA 2K24 MyCAREER and its connected modes, and I know how to grind if I was. For others, it’s not so easy. For kids whose friends are playing the game and have made it part of their socialisation, the FOMO is strong. Indeed, anyone of any age who plays MyCAREER can get frustrated into spending to upgrade faster, whether they can afford it or not. Meanwhile, MyTEAM preys on the same fears and frustrations, as well as people with gambling addictions and poor impulse control.

Sure, you can argue that everyone is ultimately responsible for their own finances, vices, and choices; we certainly are. I could easily say that I went some six years without buying any VC until doing so with gritted teeth to suit my purposes this one time, so everyone else should be able to abstain as well. Personally though, I care more about my fellow human beings than that. The same way aggressively pushing a drink on a recovering alcoholic is lacking empathy and class, designing games to take advantage of people who are susceptible to that pressure – such as gambling addicts, who often try to replace betting with video games – is a greedy, scummy practice.

If a staunchly No Money Spent gamer like me can cave and buy a little VC for the sake of content creation, then more impulsive spenders are going to be milked for all they’re worth. Even if their spending doesn’t drive them to ruin, it still means they’ve had to overspend just to make the game enjoyable. As I’ve said before, whenever it’s preferable to pay rather than play, that is not a game that’s designed to be fun. I hate that I broke my own rule about buying VC, but I hate what’s happened to the NBA 2K series, and what it’s doing to my fellow gamers even more. I’m not proud of caving, but it’s been a clear reminder of why I’ll always advocate for going No Money Spent.

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