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 my thoughts on mobile basketball gaming, and why I’m not a fan of it myself.
NBA Live is not dead. I don’t say that because I believe that the series is poised to make a big comeback – though every so often, there are hints that it might be a slim possibility – but rather because the name does technically live on through NBA Live Mobile. I do actually have NBA Live Mobile installed on my phone, but it’s not part of my basketball gaming rotation. Although I’ve seen fit to continue installing it as I’ve upgraded to a couple of new phones over the years, I’ve barely touched it except to get screenshots.
The same goes for the mobile version of NBA Jam. I posted a brief but positive review of the Android release over a decade ago, but it hasn’t been a regular in my rotation either. As for the mobile versions of NBA 2K, I haven’t ever bothered to buy and play them. Indeed, since I gave up on getting the face scan to work, I no longer even install the companion app for the console/PC releases! I’m not here to bash mobile gaming, basketball or otherwise. I’m all for developers exploring different platforms, and if you enjoy those releases, more power to you! However, I do have an aversion to mobile basketball gaming, and frankly, I don’t think it’ll ever win me over.
I’m not a platform snob; at least, not since I was a kid in the 90s, and the Nintendo vs. Sega Console War was the big thing in video game fandom. These days, I’m of the belief that “gamers game”: give me a platform and a game, and I’ll give it a go. Even back in the 90s – an era in which “computer games” and “video games” were not necessarily interchangeable terms – I played on PC and console alike. It’s why I’ve never had any regard for the PC vs. Console War, because I’ve enjoyed gaming on both throughout the years. As I’ve said many times before, I despise gatekeeping and elitism, so I’m not about to scoff at anyone for the platform they play virtual hoops on.
To that end, it’s not a case of believing that basketball gaming has no place on mobile devices, or any nonsense like that. In short, I just don’t enjoy playing those games. It’s not that I don’t use my phone for any type of gaming, though it’s usually time-killing fare such as crosswords and other word/puzzle games, rather than action-oriented titles. It’s not that mobile basketball games have absolutely no merit or appeal, either. Once again, my impressions of NBA Jam for Android were generally favourable, especially for the price point. From what I’ve seen, the mobile versions of NBA 2K are likewise respectable efforts, especially given the limitations of those platforms.
However, at the end of the day, I’d rather be playing those games on PC or console. Beyond the depth of those releases compared to their mobile equivalents, I don’t want to be hunched over my phone, using on-screen touch controls instead of a gamepad. Again, that’s not due to any “True Basketball Gamer™” snobbery, or a belief that that can’t possibly be fun for anyone. I just don’t personally enjoy it all that much, at least for any extended period of time. I might appreciate it more if I had a long commute as it could help pass the time, but if my PC and consoles are right there – which they usually are when I’m in the mood and ready to game – I’m not reaching for my phone.
Obviously, mobile versions of Triple-A basketball titles are watered down somewhat in order to be viable for their platforms. You won’t find deep franchise and career modes, and the gameplay and graphics naturally won’t be cutting edge. Seeing as how I’m a retro basketball gamer on top of playing the latest releases, such shortcomings aren’t necessarily a deal-breaker for me. It’s not what I expect of a brand new title though, particularly if the price point is comparable to a Triple-A release. Of course, titles such as NBA Live Mobile and NBA 2K Mobile are actually free, though this leads to an issue that is the bane of modern gaming, be it basketball or another genre.
This is the part where I grumble about the “freemium” model. These titles are free-to-play, but they do have recurrent revenue mechanics, and ways of giving gamers a firm push towards partaking in them. This also means that as far as the experience on offer is concerned, they’re basically stripped-down versions of MyTEAM and Ultimate Team. As with their Triple-A equivalents, you don’t have to spend, but you’ve got a higher chance of getting the best players if you do (and do so often). One could argue that at least it’s free-to-play here whereas in MyTEAM it’s coming in a fully-priced Triple-A game, but it’s still predatory, not to mention the only mode we have to play.
Even if we put aside the gross, predatory aspect of this – which we really shouldn’t – it just doesn’t appeal to me, even with a No Money Spent approach. I’d much rather play the full version of MyTEAM, or elect to play MyCAREER or MyNBA, or even Play Now instead. While I’ll never champion freemium mechanics in Triple-A games, at least there’s more to them than a loot box-based fantasy mode. They’re simply better games on the sticks as well, in large part because you are on the sticks and not a touch screen. Mobile games do their best, and have experimented with gimmicks such as tilting the device as part of their controls, but it’s an inferior on-court experience.
That doesn’t make them irredeemably terrible or unworthy. As mobile devices have improved, there’s been an effort to replicate Triple-A releases as best as possible. In that regard, it’s not unlike more traditional handheld gaming, particularly the early days. While handheld consoles such as Nintendo’s Gameboy and Sega’s Game Gear were revolutionary and popular with some great titles, they were still inferior to the Super Nintendo and Genesis. The Switch’s hybrid approach has obviously been a game-changer, though it’s not looked upon as the ideal platform as far as basketball gaming is concerned. NBA 2K’s Always Online approach is naturally a factor here.
I’ll admit to never being that into handheld gaming as a kid, even though that was the era of the Gameboy. I didn’t own one, though. As I said, I had consoles and PCs to play on growing up, but as far as handhelds, I only had a couple of those infamous Tiger Electronics games, and other cheap generic devices that featured Tetris clones and the like. As such, I’ve never had much interest in or passion for handheld gaming, and that’s definitely carried over to mobile gaming as well. Perhaps if I’d been a Gameboy aficionado when I was a younger, or again if I had a longer commute now where I wasn’t driving, then I might be more interested in mobile basketball gaming.
Mind you, there have been situations where I’ve been travelling and still opted not to play mobile hoops titles that I have installed, such as NBA Jam for Android. For me, I think the problem with games like that is that they’re too simple compared to the PC and console basketball titles that I enjoy, yet too sophisticated compared to crossword and puzzle games that I can put down as quickly as I picked them up in order to kill some time. In addition to playing in shorter bursts, when the method of input is a touch screen, I much prefer a slower-paced game that tests the mind rather than one that involves twitch gameplay. Without a gamepad, it just doesn’t feel as satisfying.
Therefore, my aversion to mobile basketball gaming isn’t just about how well those titles portray the sport. It’s an aversion that carries over to basically every genre that I also play on PC and/or console. Fallout Shelter was a bit of fun while I was waiting for Fallout 4, and I also added it on Steam because it’s free, but I wouldn’t choose it over any Triple-A Fallout title (well, maybe Brotherhood of Steel!). At the same time, if Bethesda did find a way to shrink one of the main Fallout games down to a mobile version, I don’t think I’d find it as appealing. Wrestling games, racing games, RPGs, Grand Theft Auto…I don’t want to play any of those titles on a mobile device.
Since I’ve broached the topic of companion apps, some of them feature mini-games that provide a means of earning in-game currency. A few years back – when I was still bothering to download the NBA 2K companion app and attempt face scans – I would sometimes play those mini-games to boost my VC balance. However, the ratio of fun to earning potential led to me souring on them rather quickly. Even as the grind has grown steadily worse, I’ve not felt compelled to use those apps and their mini-games to maximise my efforts. I play basketball video games to have fun with a virtual representation of the sport, not to find efficient ways of earning virtual currency.
Every so often, I’ve received a suggestion to discuss mobile basketball games in an article, or on the NLSC Podcast. I’ve avoided the topic until now because I don’t play or enjoy them, and thus can’t offer much insight. Still, I felt as though I should say something about mobile basketball gaming at some point, as it’s a topic that I haven’t discussed at length, and I do know that some people really enjoy it. To that point, if you do enjoy mobile basketball gaming, as I said, more power to you! I do think that there’s value in having mobile basketball titles that you can play on the go, and the companion apps have their place as second screen and supplementary experiences.
I won’t be joining you in playing those games, however. There’s just not the depth, and while I don’t mind that while I’m retro gaming, it’s not what I want from a new release. I don’t enjoy the freemium mechanics in MyTEAM as it is, so I’m not inclined to repeat that experience on my phone. I appreciate NBA Jam for Android for what it is (and would recommend it, if it were still available), but I’d still rather play On Fire Edition on console. Glancing at Google Play and the Apple App Store, there are some well-received and popular hoops titles. You may want to check them out if you’re into mobile basketball gaming, but personally, I’ll stick with a bigger screen and gamepad.
Hi Andrew, my wife just got a 3-month free trial on Apple Arcade. So we were able to download and play NBA 2K23 Arcade Edition there. It’s so different from NBA 2K Mobile, as it can be played fully offline and includes Play Now, MyCareer, Challenges (like the Greatest in 2K12), and Association mode.
The best part: completely no microtransactions!
Interesting! Sounds like that version is pretty comprehensive. The lack of microtransactions truly is surprising! It probably still isn’t for me given that I prefer to have a gamepad in my hands, but I’d be interested to hear how well it plays. Even if they’re not for me, mobile games absolutely have come a long way!