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 simple but important message: imperfections in basketball games don’t need imperfect solutions.
There’s a running gag when it comes to Bethesda’s Fallout games: “it just works”. This sarcastic jab at bugs and other imperfections in the series is a reference to Executive Producer Todd Howard’s declaration that Fallout 4’s “dynamic game engine” would ensure that everything about it “just works”. And, to be fair, while I didn’t enjoy Fallout 4 as much as I did Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas, the game does indeed work. Does everything work as well as it should? Not exactly, and that’s why Todd Howard’s utterance of those words has become a meme.
In all fairness to Todd Howard and Bethesda though, they’re not alone in that regard. To be completely fair to the Triple-A gaming industry at large, achieving perfection is easier said than done, and the scope of their products is going to result in issues such as bugs and oversights. As gamers, consumers, whatever we want to call ourselves, we do understand that. However, some things are just poorly planned, designed, and implemented. Although we do criticise these issues and suggest solutions, I’ve also seen many gamers defend these imperfections. Not because of the difficulty of game design, mind you, but the notion that imperfect solutions cancel out valid complaints.
Now, there are a lot of reasons gamers are willing to overlook imperfections, and be satisfied – or at the very least, suggest others should be satisfied – with any imperfect solutions we may have as far as working around those issues. Brand loyalty fosters an unwillingness to tolerate any negative feedback. The self-centred viewpoint of “not my problem, therefore not a real problem” is an adjacent stance, indeed often being the result of myopic fanaticism. If nothing else, we tend to have double standards when it comes to criticism. We’ll always see our own critique as correct, justified, and righteous, while dismissing other people’s complaints as “whining” and “crying”.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that when someone points out imperfections in MyCAREER, they’ll be told that they can always play MyLEAGUE using the player lock option to simulate the career experience. And yes, that is a viable solution one might consider, but it’s an imperfect one. It foregoes the depth of a dedicated career mode, the bells and whistles that make MyCAREER immersive, because of problems that are worth fixing. Once again, it’s something to consider in lieu of those issues being resolved to our satisfaction, but the problem is that the presence of a feasible but imperfect solution is used as a means of invalidating or downplaying criticism.
Another prime example is the current situation with team Pro-Am and The Rec. The inability to play team Pro-Am games without five users is a divisive issue, with two reasonable sides. It’s reasonable that many gamers want the mode to act as the home version of the NBA 2K League and avoid the use of AI players. It’s also reasonable that many other gamers that were fine with the old system – and would prefer it to not being able to play the mode at all – advocate for a return to the three user minimum. The latter group is often told “go play in The Rec if you don’t have a squad”, but The Rec is a poor alternative. Walk-On has always been that way, owing to the toxicity.
Much like the MyLEAGUE alternative for disgruntled MyCAREER gamers, The Rec is a way of getting some semblance of the experience people want, but both are imperfect solutions. When someone says “just play MyLEAGUE with player lock” in response to valid criticisms of MyCAREER, they’re justifying those problems and shouting down potential solutions. The same goes for Pro-Am elitists who sneeringly suggest playing in The Rec, rather than supporting the idea of deeper matchmaking options that could cater to everyone’s preferences regarding AI players. It’s one thing to point out an option, another entirely to state “just be happy with what you’ve got.”
Again, that comes down to a selfish stance of “I’m happy, so who cares about you”, or as I said before, “not my problem, therefore not a real problem”. This myopic focus, this tunnel vision when it comes to aspects of the game we’re not interested in, allows us to justify and defend features that are good and functional ideas, but still sloppily implemented. Going back to the “it just works” meme, the words are as apt for NBA 2K as they were for Fallout 4, especially if we change the intonation on the word “just”. It just works; as in, it works, but only just. It works in the way putting a bucket down helps with a leaking roof, but doesn’t actually solve the problem satisfactorily.
There are quite a few features in NBA 2K that definitely “just work” in this way, but are stopgaps or have problems that make them imperfect solutions. The Neighborhood does work as a hub for MyCAREER, but it has many tedious elements. Got Next does work as far as simulating going down to the park to play pick-up games, but it also invites toxicity, elitism, and a lot of standing around, with no sense of matchmaking. The Auction House is perfectly functional, but there are no safeguards against cards being sold at exorbitant and indeed exploitative prices, or third party selling of MT. MyREP works, but it still falls well short as both a ranking and rewards system.
In short, a lot of these things work, just not well as they could and should. It’s not that they make the game unplayable, but the quality of the experience is affected by their various shortcomings. In this regard, they’re well ahead of NBA Live in many aspects, since NBA Live lacks the depth, consistency, and quality of NBA 2K that’s made it so successful, and far and away the brand leader. However, as I’ve pointed out on many occasions, NBA Live’s problems are immaterial. They don’t justify problems in NBA 2K, any more than NBA 2K’s issues justify NBA Live’s struggles. The imperfections in each game don’t erase each other, nor justify their respective imperfect solutions.
As far as NBA 2K is concerned, its ambition has been one of the driving forces in its success, but also one of its biggest drawbacks. The series has tried to innovate, while growing to the point where it’s competing with more mainstream titles such as Call of Duty and Fortnite. While this does cause some problems in focus and direction, the real issue is that a lot of things make it into the game before they’re truly ready, or properly thought out. MyREP is a perfect example. It was a replacement for the Road to 99, but it’s really more of a re-skinning of the concept. As such, rewards are placed at inappropriate levels, and are repetitive rehashes of things we unlocked last year.
It’s the same story with the Auction House, Got Next in The Playground, team Pro-Am restrictions and matchmaking, MyCAREER issues, and so on. They work, but they have some pressing legacy issues and room for improvement. The workarounds for their issues are basically to suck it up and get used to it, or to opt for an inferior experience that does work, but has problems of its own; again, imperfect solutions. “Go play in The Rec” is not a good solution to team Pro-Am’s issues. It might be if it was a better experience, but it’s not. “Play MyLEAGUE with player lock” is not a true alternative to MyCAREER, because there’s a reason MyCAREER was created.
And yes, we can extend this line of thinking to microtransactions as well. “Just ignore them, buying VC is optional” downplays how invasive VC has become, and how the choice is between a painful grind and paying, just to have viable players for online play; imperfect solutions, and to a problem that NBA 2K creates for itself no less. As I said, it’s fine to point out how we can best grind for VC, or possible alternatives such as a different mode of play and makeshift experiences, or even that MyREP rewards aren’t essential. If we’re justifying imperfections and features that don’t work nearly as well as they should, however, we’re shooting down valid (and valuable) feedback.
I’d agree that in the short term, our options are limited to making the best of things with what we’ve got, or don’t play the game. That goes without saying. In the long run though, imperfect solutions are not the answers to aspects of the game that are far from perfect, and could be better designed. From modes to gameplay mechanics, there are still too many bandaid fixes, and systems that work well enough but still let a lot of issues slip through the cracks. We can’t expect or demand perfection, but we can ask for and suggest ways to make things better so that problems aren’t just covered up, or indeed made worse by imperfect solutions that don’t get to the heart of the matter.
From our perspective, that means well thought out suggestions that would improve the game, and less dismissing of each other’s complaints as nothing but whining. From the developers’ perspective, it means listening to those ideas, and perhaps taking a moment to consider some of the drawbacks of specific design choices, as well as holding off on certain ideas and tech until they can be properly implemented. We all need to accept that perfection is a lofty goal, but certain imperfections can at least be made less problematic. Features should “just work” in the way that Todd Howard actually meant, and not in the cynical context that those words now carry.