Monday Tip-Off: Revenge of the Nerfs

Monday Tip-Off: Revenge of the Nerfs

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 thoughts on the recent nerfs to VC rewards in NBA 2K20, and the underlying issues with transparency that they represent.

By now, you’ve probably heard that a recent update for NBA 2K20 has nerfed the amount of VC for starting salaries and endorsements in MyCAREER. While the nerfs to salaries only apply to new games, several NBA 2K20 gamers have reported that the amount of VC they’ve already negotiated for endorsement deals has been retroactively reduced. On top of that, it’s now far more difficult to negotiate with teams and brands, as there’s very little wiggle room in the counteroffers that they will accept. In short, VC can no longer be earned as quickly as it could be at launch.

Nerfs to VC, Badge progression, and other aspects of NBA 2K games are nothing new. Changes like this are always going to be controversial and anger a portion of the userbase, but the main point of contention for most gamers is that we didn’t receive any notice. The nerfs weren’t listed among the laughably short list of patch notes for the most recent update, nor were they announced or explained via the game’s official social media accounts. While this particular issue only affects MyCAREER, it’s emblematic of a much bigger and recurring problem with NBA 2K, that being an overall lack of transparency, communication, and goodwill.

In case you haven’t seen the findings that have been compiled over on Reddit, the top starting salary that can be earned after playing through the story in MyCAREER has been reduced from 1000 VC to 750 VC. Similarly, if you elect to skip the story and go straight to the NBA, the salary across the board has been reduced from 750 VC to 500 VC. Fortunately, existing saves are not affected by these nerfs, though it’s a blow to anyone who wants or needs to start over. Conversely, VC amounts for incentives in endorsement deals have generally been reduced by around 50% or more. In the case of the per dunk VC payouts from Beats, the reduction is a whopping 80%.

VC Nerfs (The Simpsons)

Let’s not beat around the bush. Nerfs to VC rewards are an effective way of getting gamers to buy more VC, and although it may sound cynical, it’s logical to assume that that’s a major reason for these post-release adjustments. In all fairness, it probably has also been done in an attempt to balance the game, as quite a few MyCAREER gamers have already reached 99 Overall within the first two months of release. If so, then that is at least somewhat understandable, though the faster progression was a nice change of pace after the long grind of the past few years. Given that there’s a greater emphasis on Badges and MyREP in NBA 2K20, hitting 99 Overall early isn’t as big of a deal.

The problem with attempting such a balance six weeks after launch – and at a point when a lot of gamers have already levelled up their players – is that late adopters are effectively punished. If you haven’t been playing MyCAREER since launch – or if you need to start over with a new build – it’s going to be a lot harder to catch up, at least without shelling out real money for VC. Nerfing the endorsement earnings removes the advantage that would otherwise be grandfathered in for existing saves, but simultaneously makes new games a longer grind. There may be good intentions behind the balancing, but the encouragement of microtransactions is no accident.

As such, these VC nerfs were never going to be a popular move. 2K clearly knows that there’d be undesirable backlash, which is why they tried to handle the situation quietly. Here’s the problem with that approach: it’s not going to go unnoticed, and by trying to sweep it under the rug, it becomes a much bigger controversy than if they were upfront about the changes. Sure, gamers would’ve grumbled and scoffed if 2K had come out and said “Hey, we’re nerfing VC because progression is more rapid than we anticipated, and endorsement negotiations are easier than we intended.” However, the openness about the changes and why they were being made would be appreciated.

Pink Diamond LeBron James Card (NBA 2K19 MyTEAM)

It evokes memories of the controversy surrounding the Pink Diamond LeBron James card in NBA 2K19’s MyTEAM. A Locker Code that wasn’t meant to be unlimited use and available to everyone did become public knowledge, and many MyTEAM gamers snagged a Pink Diamond LeBron card. Instead of acknowledging the error, putting an end to the code, and saying “You weren’t meant to get it, but if you got it, keep it, this one’s on us, Merry Christmas”, 2K quietly removed the cards and hoped there’d be no controversy. Since they weren’t upfront about the situation, it became controversial anyway, especially as gamers had applied their Diamond consumables to the card.

By not addressing these issues, 2K ends up creating more controversy and a bigger backlash than they would’ve if they were more transparent about what they’re doing with the game. Look, you can argue that we were never meant to get that LeBron card, or that VC can still be earned fairly easily and it’s important to balance earnings, and those are fair points. The problem is that there’s no acknowledgement of fault, no explanation for important changes. With that in mind, we can’t be blamed for being cynical about the reasons undocumented changes and nerfs are made, because there’s no communication and transparency. It feels shady, and so we assume the worst.

If the game is being changed in significant ways, then those changes need to be listed in the patch notes. It hasn’t escaped the community’s attention that the patch notes for NBA 2K20 have been half-hearted, to put it extremely kindly. “Many more fixes” is a conveniently vague term that can be used to cover up potentially unpopular changes. On this occasion it’s nerfs to VC, but it could also be major adjustments to shooting or speed, AI teammate logic, pack odds, Badge points, MyTEAM challenge rewards or difficulty, and so on. This time the nerfs affect a specific aspect of MyCAREER and that may not concern you, but next time it might be gameplay, or a mode you like.

NBA 2K20 Server Error

I’ve said it before, but communication is one of 2K’s weaknesses. They don’t like to deliver bad news, or take responsibility. As I’ve noted, NBA 2K has some of the most passive-aggressive error messages I’ve ever seen, worded in a way that tries to shift blame onto the user. It’s always a problem with our connection to the server. When a face scan doesn’t upload properly, we need to try again and “pay close attention to the instructions”, even though there’s no feedback on what we apparently did wrong. As for news they know won’t be popular, or post-releases tweaks that might prove to be controversial, they simply don’t address it and hope we won’t notice, or that we forget.

It’s the reason that, for all their financial and critical success, their image has taken so much damage over the past few years. As EA Sports stumbled with NBA Live, and made other unpopular business decisions, 2K Sports and NBA 2K became impeccable darlings among basketball gamers. Pushing their luck with their “recurrent revenue” mechanics – often at the expense of the overall quality of the gaming experience – has seen them lose face and the trust of their audience. People are still buying the games and enjoying them, but only the staunchest of apologists are continuing to defend the practices that are lacking in goodwill and transparency.

Of course, right now, 2K is in a very safe position due to the lack of competition from NBA Live. They can weather review bombing and outrage from the userbase, because they are the dominant brand. They can even have Ronnie 2K laugh off the whole “Fire Ronnie” movement and brazenly call it “awesome”, bewilderingly spinning it as a positive sign that people care about the game. I’ll stop short of saying he should’ve been fired, but in the normal case, you’d think he’d be pulled aside and told “Look, this isn’t appropriate for the brand’s image, you can’t behave like that”. Instead, they’re content to let him continue to behave poorly in his ill-defined role of pseudo-celebrity.

Get a load of the Nerf!

In any event, these VC nerfs are another example of 2K’s shaky track record with goodwill and a fair approach to their microtransaction-driven mechanics over the past few years. Nerfing VC rewards and pushing gamers towards buying VC instead will always be controversial and a sore point, but had the change been acknowledged, and balance and appropriate difficulty cited as the reason, the situation would’ve been less contentious. There’d still be scepticism and disagreement about the fairness and need for change, but there wouldn’t be outrage over sneakiness and a lack of transparency. The nerfs themselves would be the issue, rather than that they were made quietly.

After all, it’s often less about your actions, but how you went about them. People may disagree with your decision or actions, but understand your reasons and appreciate the honesty. Transparency is risky of course, and by itself, it’s not always going to please or appease if your actions have a downside. It’s a lot easier if you’ve been able to bank some goodwill, and that requires fair dealings and clear communication. That hasn’t been the case with these nerfs. Whatever good intentions they may have had as far as balance is concerned have been outweighed by an obvious push for recurrent revenue, and an attempt to implement clearly unpopular changes without drawing attention.

You may not see the problem or care too much if you’re not a MyCAREER player, and I get that. With my willingness to move away from MyCAREER in NBA 2K20, I can avoid the ramifications of these nerfs. I still want my fellow gamers who are into MyCAREER and its connected experiences to have the best experience they possibly can however, and once again, the issue is an underlying problem that affects the entire game. It’s not the first time 2K hasn’t been upfront about making adjustments, and it’s highly unlikely to be the last. Transparency, honesty, and much better communication is something we should all want to see as changes are made, pre and post-release.

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October 24, 2019 12:35 am

Thank you, Andrew! As always, great wording, an actual issue. By default, we expect improvements with patches, but these 20–40 GB ones are ridiculous with no serious breakdowns from 2K itself.