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 look at the in-universe value of VC in NBA 2K20’s MyCAREER, and some of the issues that it underscores.
Even though I’ve decided to move away from MyCAREER this year – a decision that I feel even more comfortable with having played a few games – my long tenure with the mode means that I still have some residual interest in what goes on with it. At the very least, I want MyCAREER, its connected modes, and The Neighborhood, all to be as good as they can be for the people who are interested in them. To that end, VC is still one of the most troubling issues: how much you earn, the prices of upgrades and cosmetic items, and the discrepancy between in-universe and real world value of VC.
The last couple of years, I’ve calculated the in-universe value of Virtual Currency in NBA 2K18 and NBA 2K19‘s Neighborhoods. Last year’s “exchange rate” was simply ridiculous, as 1 VC was equivalent to at least $105 in-universe, based on a salary of 500 VC representing a dollar amount of $4.29 million per year (and thus $52,317 per game). The exchange rate wasn’t consistent, as 1000 VC equated to an annual salary of $25.23 million ($307,682 per game), placing the value of 1 VC at around $308 in-universe. Needless to say, this made the in-universe price tags on clothing items truly insane. What’s the situation like this year? Let’s take a look and find out.
Once again, let’s make sure we’re clear on the maths and the sources. The VC that is earned game-to-game in MyCAREER is clearly displayed. The dollar value of your salary appears on the Contract tab of your player card and counts against your team’s salary cap. If you skip the story, you’ll have a starting salary of 750 VC no matter where you end up. According to the Contract tab, that’s $910,000 a year in-universe; divide that by 82, and we get around $11,097.56 per game. If that’s equivalent to 750 VC, then 1 VC is worth about $14.80 rounded up (11,097.56 / 750). Now that we know the value of 1 VC in-universe, we can put some virtual price tags on items.
Let’s go right to the top shelf in the NBA Store, and check out one of the throwback jerseys. The most expensive throwbacks – those that belonged to Hall of Famers – cost 25,000 VC. Using the figure we worked out above, we can see that the in-universe price tag for a premium throwback jersey is a whopping $370,000! Current jerseys will set you back upwards of $74,000 at 5000 VC, while it’ll cost you $14,800 to sport headbands (1000 VC) in NBA games. Other accessories are comparatively cheaper at 150 VC or $2,220 per item. The cheapest shirts and pants at Swag’s are 600 VC, or $8,880, with one pair of grey basketball shorts being free, the same as last year.
Speaking of last year, and the year before that, how do these prices compare? Well, as ridiculous as they are, they’re actually better. $14.80 per 1 VC is lower than the rate of $29 in NBA 2K18, and significantly less than $105 and $308 in NBA 2K19. It’s still a case of completely unrealistic price tags, but it’s the least ridiculous yet; not that that’s saying much! Accessories such as arm bands and sleeves are the same price as NBA 2K19 (150 VC), but were more expensive back in NBA 2K18 (300 VC). Most other prices, such as 1000 VC for headbands and between 5000 and 25,000 VC for jerseys, have remained fairly consistent, albeit rather inflated in-universe and in general.
Before we get any further, let’s check to see if the in-universe value of VC scales differently, as in NBA 2K19. The save in which I played through the story has a salary of 1000 VC, which equates to $2.06 million on the year or $25,121.95 per game. That makes 1 VC equivalent to around $25.12; more than it’s worth with a 750 VC salary, but still less than NBA 2K18 and NBA 2K19. Naturally it pumps up the price tags of clothing and accessories, pushing an expensive item like a throwback jersey up to $628,000. Unless it’s a very rare collectible, I’d suggest that’s a wildly unrealistic price. It also wouldn’t be a regular purchase from the NBA Store.
As I noted last year, if nothing else, it underscores the disparity between the earnings and item prices. Even when we take away the dollar amount we’ve calculated, we’re in a scenario where NBA apparel costs the equivalent of almost half a season’s salary, or at best, around a quarter of our annual earnings. The bottom line is that items are far too expensive given our salary, and the added context of in-universe dollar amounts simply highlights the absurdity. MyCAREER does hand you some free duds here and there, and the Daily Spin now lets you choose from a range of items when you win clothes, but for the most part you’ll be paying dearly for the most desirable items.
This all encourages the purchase of VC with real money, and that’s the bigger issue here: the real world value of VC. 15,000 VC costs $7.55 AUS while a 35,000 VC bundle is $14.95 AUS, so in essence, a 25,000 VC item or upgrade in NBA 2K20 costs between $8 and $15. It also means that $15 AUS is worth over half a million dollars in-universe; not that it stretches all that far in an expensive Neighborhood! Of course, there are plenty of ways to earn VC in-game, so you can end up swimming in it without ever spending a cent if you’re willing to grind as I did last year. A premium item is still quite expensive in real terms though, even in USD ($9.99 for 35,000 VC).
Ultimately, the push to get gamers to spend real money is far more insidious than the in-universe value of Virtual Currency. Yes, you can grind for it, win it, and spend it wisely. You don’t need to spend real money, but the game is designed to at least make you consider it. And yes, you don’t have to buy clothing items for your MyPLAYER, but there’s incentive for online gamers to do so. I used to subscribe to the notion that “it’s OK if it’s just cosmetic”, but Jim Sterling – who I’m sure needs no introduction – has changed my mind on the matter. In particular, he’s pointed out kids getting bullied for not having premium Fortnite skins, thereby encouraging microtransactions.
We can see a similar phenomenon in The Neighborhood with Playground gamers. There’s already enough elitism with gamers checking each other’s 2K cards and then backing out of games if the ratings, Badges, and win-loss records fail to impress, but if someone is sporting the “classic” brown shirt and grey sweatpants ensemble, they’re probably not going to get a lot of games. Pre-order clothes, and a general lack of crazy outfits, tattoos, and accessories, are almost as bad. The toxicity may not be intended like the push towards spending is, but it’s the atmosphere that has been cultivated. I don’t know if anyone’s being bullied over their outfits, but they are being snubbed.
In that sense, the price of cosmetic items in The Neighborhood – the VC price tag, the in-universe dollar value, and the real world dollar value – are very important. Throw in the fact you also need to put aside a lot of VC to level up your ratings quickly, to say nothing of grinding all your Badges, and you’ve got to invest a lot of time, effort, and possibly even money to ensure that online is viable in NBA 2K20. Even if you’re playing offline, a lot of the purchases don’t make sense conceptually. A team provides players with their accessories and shoes, and they also tend to get a lot of free stuff from sponsors. If realism is the aim, then frankly, a lot of purchases aren’t realistic.
Unfortunately, both the business model and the culture of the online scene in NBA 2K attempt to strong arm you into making those purchases. No matter how you look at it – spending all the VC you earn, buying VC to reduce the grind, or your player spending tens of thousands of in-universe dollars on clothes – the prices are simply extortionate, and gamers are being encouraged to pay up. You can make the system work for you, but it takes a lot of time, and the value for money – real or virtual – isn’t favourable. Personally, I’m tired of it. I’d like to see it change, but I doubt it will. In the meantime, I’m opting for the MyTEAM grind. If nothing else, the experience feels fresher.