Monday Tip-Off: Should NBA Live Be More Like NBA 2K?

James Harden shoots in NBA Live 19

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 an interesting and important question that continues to be hotly debated: should NBA Live be more like NBA 2K?

As NBA Live continues to rebuild and re-establish itself in the face of NBA 2K’s dominance, there is a debate among basketball gamers as to the best direction for the game. There are gamers who would prefer that NBA Live remains distinctly different to NBA 2K in focus, style, and approach, and generally reject any suggestions that Live should borrow ideas from 2K. Conversely, as noted here on Reddit, there are others who would prefer that NBA Live essentially copy NBA 2K, but for a few details here and there (such as avoiding 2K’s approach to microtransactions).

Naturally, between those two extremes are more nuanced suggestions about NBA Live doing its own thing, while also borrowing some of NBA 2K’s best ideas (and in some cases, putting its own spin on them). To that end, of course, there’s still debate as to which ideas should be borrowed, how closely NBA Live should mimic what NBA 2K is doing, and to what extent any 2K concepts should be reworked. It leaves us with the question of whether or not NBA Live should be more like NBA 2K, or as the thread over on Reddit put it, “NBA 2K re-skinned” rather than NBA Live. For me, the answer is yes…and no.

Yes, because NBA 2K is the brand leader, and you don’t achieve the dominance that it has without doing something right and bringing good ideas to the table. Sure, NBA Live’s struggles have played a role in NBA 2K becoming a juggernaut in the genre, but the tide turned in 2008 when NBA 2K9 surpassed NBA Live 09 in sales. NBA 2K has made its own mistakes and a few changes that I don’t like – and I’ll get to those in time – but it’s also provided some of the best NBA sim experiences in the history of basketball gaming, as well as some of the most innovative modes. There are concepts that NBA Live should absolutely be looking to borrow and implement their way.

Damian Lillard Celebrates in NBA Live 19

No, because NBA Live has – and has always had – great ideas of its own. Remember, it was NBA Live that was innovating with right stick dribbling controls, while NBA 2K continued to utilise the clunky original Isomotion controls right up until 2012. Let’s also not forget that Franchise mode debuted in NBA Live 2000, and that there hasn’t been a better representation of the Dunk Contest and Three-Point Shootout than the ones found in All-Star Weekend mode from NBA Live 2005 through 09. Dynamic DNA, BIG Moments, three team trades; not all of these features are currently in the game, but they’re nevertheless ideas that EA developers devised and implemented.

Yes, because there are things that a 5v5, sim-oriented NBA game must have, and NBA 2K features them while NBA Live does not. I’m talking about depth of modes, which remains a weakness for EA’s game. NBA 2K’s modes aren’t flawless, and in particular MyCAREER (along with its connected experiences) has aspects that have taken it in a questionable direction, but for the most part, NBA 2K does a great job of appealing to everyone. MyLEAGUE stands as a fantastic template for a franchise mode, while MyTEAM’s different challenges and submodes are something Ultimate Team needs. The One could benefit from some of MyCAREER’s bells and whistles.

No, because there are certain aspects of NBA 2K’s modes that NBA Live doesn’t need to copy, especially considering they’re problematic in NBA 2K. We don’t need to see a free roam, open world environment in The One. The loading times, the complete lack of matchmaking and the elitism that it inevitably fosters, the waiting around, the crazy outfits…none of that would make NBA Live any better. Avoiding those features is a way that it can set itself apart as a preferable alternative for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with all of that nonsense. We also don’t need to see microtransactions in The One, throwing off the competitive balance of the connected online modes.

Ben Simmons dribbles the basketball in NBA 2K19

Yes, because even though NBA 2K’s single player gameplay has faltered somewhat with the increased focus on the online experience, it still delivers a more sim style of play than NBA Live currently does. All of the finer details such as playcalling, ball movement, the right players taking the most shots and playing like their real life counterparts, are still done better in 2K. Besides, it’s not a matter of copying NBA 2K’s gameplay down to the last mechanic, but rather aiming to do what it has been doing for years: providing a realistic depiction of NBA basketball. It’s not like that’s never been a goal for Live, but there’s been too much focus on The Streets recently.

No, because there are elements of NBA 2K’s gameplay that NBA Live shouldn’t be copying, and frankly, NBA 2K should be steering away from. Arguably, the new Takeover mechanic that was introduced in NBA 2K19 is more overpowered than Freestyle Superstars was in NBA Live 06. Frustratingly, the zigzag cheese is both addressed and put back into the game on an annual basis, and although there are several sim elements still present, online play has become more about mastering gameplay tricks rather than basketball strategy, as well as min-maxing a handful of viable builds and equipping the right animations. Online in NBA 2K is not sim.

Yes, because NBA 2K’s level of innovation over the past decade plus has been a long way ahead of NBA Live’s. Consider the use of historical players, compared to NBA Live restricting their presence to Ultimate Team. Consider the variety and quality of animations, compared to the stiffness that’s still an issue in Live. Consider the depth of the presentation and commentary even without real branding, compared to NBA Live’s drier rendition of an ESPN broadcast (and big step back by getting rid of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy). Consider how barebones NBA Live feels compared to the more complete package that NBA 2K provides from year to year.

LeBron James Dunks in NBA Live 19

No, because NBA 2K doesn’t have everything right, either. The motion system that’s been used in NBA 2K18 and NBA 2K19 has brought back skating, an issue that was largely toned down on the previous generation. There are unquestionably canned moments, and that’s something that both games need to get away from as much as possible. The lengthy anecdotes in NBA 2K’s commentary are a great detail at first, but become terribly repetitive once you’ve been playing the game for a few months. There’s also still a frustrating amount of unskippable overlays during gameplay, and MyCAREER stories are something that I for one would much rather The One avoid.

Yes, because NBA 2K’s customisation options are far superior. The roster editing interface is more intuitive, and the menus don’t take as long to load. There are more options as far as face morphing, custom Draft Class creation, and player editing. On top of all that, we can easily share custom content with the rest of the community, saving each other time on edits and allowing for the creation of cool projects. The gameplay sliders in NBA 2K are also more detailed, both in the aspects that we can tinker with and the scale of the sliders. Roster and slider edits don’t solve every issue with NBA 2K, but they do allow us to adjust the experience for ourselves and others.

No, because a lot of the changes in NBA 2K in recent years have been anti-consumer, pandering to the elite upper echelon of the userbase and those who are willing to drop real money on the recurrent revenue mechanics. We’ve seen NBA 2K cut down on its onboarding, implement pay-to-win mechanics and lengthy grinding, and avoid the deeper matchmaking systems that would make the game welcoming and fun for newcomers and elite veterans alike. NBA Live has an opportunity to avoid all of that by providing a more inviting atmosphere in online play alongside a solid simulation experience offline, and above all, not treating gamers like ATMs.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Pre-Game in NBA 2K19

The bottom line is that there are definitely aspects of NBA 2K that NBA Live should be taking inspiration from. It should be striving to achieve a high level of realism in terms of NBA gameplay, as 2K has done over the years. Providing a selection of deep modes and an adequate amount of bonus content is a must, though Live needn’t match 2K down to the last detail. Improving the quality and quantity of animations should be a priority, and more lively presentation would be welcome. Implementing further customisation options including roster sharing is a necessity in 2019. Specific ideas such as Pro-Am squads for LIVE Run are definitely worth borrowing as well.

On the other hand, NBA Live definitely shouldn’t go down the road NBA 2K has in terms of microtransactions, cheesy mechanics, and elitism. While 2K provides some great ideas as far as MyLEAGUE, Challenges in MyTEAM, and the ability to squad up in MyCAREER’s connected modes, The Neighborhood, a lack of matchmaking, and stingier pack rewards in MyTEAM, are drawbacks or design choices that NBA Live wouldn’t benefit from copying. Duplicating everything that NBA 2K has done and rejecting their own good ideas and preferable alternatives wouldn’t be the right move for the developers at EA Tiburon. Their game still needs to have its own style.

In summary, NBA Live doesn’t need to be, nor should it be, a simple re-skin of NBA 2K, copying it down to the last detail. It’s better to have a viable alternative, and that means offering some different experiences and approaches to certain NBA sim title staples. At the same time, it does need to provide some of the same experiences as far as a realistic game of basketball, deep modes, and customisation, and in that respect, it could stand to take a few cues from the brand leader. Does NBA Live need to be more like NBA 2K? In terms of its depth and quality, and some specific ideas, yes. In terms of having the exact approach across the board and being a complete carbon copy, no.

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