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 some thoughts on blaming the entire basketball gaming community for changes and additions that only a vocal minority asked for.
Even though everyone in the basketball gaming community shares a common passion, we’re not always on the same page. We’re divided along several lines: mode of choice, online or offline gaming, ideal controls and mechanics, how much realism the games should have, and so on. This makes it impossible for anyone to speak on behalf of the entire community, and no one person’s vision alone is right for basketball gaming. In turn, developers have many voices to listen to – some offering up conflicting feedback – and so are guaranteed to disappoint a contingent of the fanbase with certain choices.
While we collectively understand that, in our disappointment and indeed our outrage, it’s difficult to accept. When we’re disappointed and angry – whether it’s about video games or anything in life – we want to lay blame. We point the finger at developers, the suits, and even ourselves. In all three cases, that blame isn’t entirely misplaced. However, when it comes to blaming ourselves, we’re talking about a much larger group; a group that has less control than the other two, and is less likely to be wholly in agreement. As such, when we blame what we see as an undesirable aspect of NBA 2K on the community, we’re often pointing the finger at the wrong parts of it.
The Twitter account Video Game Takes posted a thread disagreeing with the notion that the NBA 2K developers don’t listen to the community. He noted that several content creators have expressed this sentiment, and then let loose with the receipts. Throughout the thread, he demonstrates how a number of things that supposedly “no one asked for” were in fact requested by various content creators. As always, it must be noted that it’s fair to suggest an idea, yet dislike how it’s subsequently executed. “We didn’t ask for this” can also mean “this isn’t the concept as we suggested it”. With that being said, the receipts speak for themselves. There is hypocrisy to call out here.
I’ll admit that my first reaction to that Tweet was to disagree, as I don’t like to lay the blame for poorly or greedily designed mechanics at the feet of consumers. The buck ultimately has to stop with the people developing and publishing the game; especially the suits when it comes to greedy aspects. When I read the Tweet and the following thread again, however – and noted the mention of content creators specifically – I feel as though we’re actually on the same page here. In fact, the thread is getting at a key problem with NBA 2K, and the feedback that is taken from the community. We can’t fairly blame problems on the entire community, but parts of it do bear responsibility.
Again, the basketball gaming community isn’t a monolith. There are competing ideas and philosophies as to what NBA 2K should be like, and the loudest voices don’t always have the most reasonable, nuanced, or selfless takes. The loudest of those loud voices belong to content creators who have an “in” with 2K, and frequently champion the interests that they and their ardent followers hold. A streamer who plays Park is going to advocate for improvements to their favourite mode. The YouTuber that opens MyTEAM packs will care about different things, and their feedback will reflect that. Ideally, their collective feedback will be useful, and both will be listened to.
Unfortunately, feedback from different demographics within the basketball gaming community can be contradictory. This is particularly true of suggestions related to gameplay mechanics, as not all concepts are ideal across every mode. Furthermore, some ideas are elitist, facilitating gatekeeping and a lack of options. We’re not always good at big picture thinking, especially if we’re focused solely on our mode of choice. Good ideas can also be ruined once the suits see dollar signs, and they’re implemented in a way that prioritises recurrent revenue over enjoyment. If nothing else, ideas may not be perfectly executed on the first attempt, but they could yet be improved upon.
This is the larger point that I believe Video Game Takes’ Twitter thread is getting at. On first glance, it may seem that he’s accused the entire community of having asked for features and then claimed to have never wanted them, after discovering them to be undesirable. It’s more calling out specific personalities though, and noting that they aren’t always the right voices to listen to. This means the influencers who represent only a part of the demographic – even if they do have a large following – who seek clout and status. They’re the content creators that are building brands and making a living off of NBA 2K, and are far more interested in the gravy train than advocating.
Or perhaps more accurately, they’re disinterested in advocating for gamers who play a different mode, or aren’t in their audience. To that point though, this is something that 2K themselves have fostered. The company wants to work with a very specific kind of content creator, which is to say big names that will help them promote the games. It’s understandable from a business perspective, but it also means that smaller creators with valuable feedback are pushed aside in favour of people willing to jump through hoops for logos and other perks. It’s not that 2K isn’t listening; it’s that they’re only (or mostly) listening to gamers that they can have a mutually beneficial partnership with.
They’re not alone in that regard, either. The same thing happened with NBA Live a few years back, following a change in community managers. Now, changeover in community managers always necessitated building a rapport with the new person, and some of the former NBA Live CMs were better than others. Sadly, the most recent one came in with the mindset that the old guard was out, and they were bringing in their own people. I rather got the impression that they wanted to be EA’s answer to Ronnie 2K – not something to aspire to, if you ask me – and that meant giving loyal, knowledgeable gamers the cold shoulder. I think the results speak for themselves.
As for NBA 2K, that has obviously been their approach for some time now. While it hasn’t hurt their bottom line, it has absolutely been a factor in a drop in quality, as well as moving in a direction that often seems as though being a basketball sim is not a top priority. It’s not all on the influencers and the contingent of basketball gamers that they represent. NBA 2K is following industry trends when it comes to recurrent revenue mechanics, grinding, and cosmetics. To suggest that the suits were all about the art of game design and user satisfaction until someone suggested ideas that could be monetised is to give them far too much credit, and the community undue blame.
Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if the suits’ eyes light up whenever they see anyone make a suggestion that lends itself to monetisation. Sure, not everyone is asking for those things, but as Video Game Takes’ thread bluntly reveals, some people definitely are. We can’t fall back on “nobody asked for this”, because somebody clearly did! Again, I’m not saying they’re completely to blame. I tend to favour my fellow gamers over publishers, even if we have different visions for the games. Nevertheless, in their role acting as voices for the community, they floated those ideas, and in some cases shot down valid concerns. They represented their interests, not the community as a whole.
If nothing else, they’ve given 2K license to justify design choices under the pretence that “the community wanted it”. Whenever someone with influence advocates for season passes, tries to normalise spending above recommended retail price to have an optimal experience, or suggests any idea that amounts to elitist gatekeeping, it gives 2K a built-in excuse. “See, we’re listening; you begged us for this stuff!” Never mind everyone who spoke out against it. Of course, there’s a disappointing tendency for such objections to get shouted down with all manner of thought-terminating cliches, ironically often by people who go on to complain after those ideas are implemented.
Ideally, 2K should be listening to the right voices from the start. The problem with saying that is that it seemingly implies an unspoken “and the right voices are the ones that agree with me about NBA 2K”. Essentially it’s the same arrogance and myopic point of view, just from the other perspective. I’m not suggesting that the current crop of influencers be ignored, or that they don’t have good ideas and valid feedback. If they are the only voices that have sway however, large parts of the community are going to be misrepresented. To that end, it won’t be accurate to say “you asked for this”, because gamers with dissenting views and other interests didn’t get a say.
The obvious solution here is to gather feedback from a good cross-section of NBA 2K gamers, and try to give every contingent of the fanbase a voice. This is much easier said than done. It would require an unlikely change of heart for influencers, many of whom are a product of the culture and community that 2K has fostered. It’s unlikely, because 2K would need to influence that change themselves, and the current approach has been effective marketing for over a decade. Why change when dissenting views and criticism are effortlessly dismissed with accusations of “hating” or the “whining” of “spoiled brats” who just need to “get good”? They’re better off catering to shills!
Well, in the short term, at any rate. NBA 2K is in an incredibly comfortable position. As a former EVE Online developer pointed out in a brilliant critique of NBA 2K18, no one is too big to fail, but that’s unlikely to happen to 2K anytime soon. Frankly, I don’t want that to happen, and I doubt many other basketball gamers want it either. What we do want is to be listened to, without needing a blue tick on Twitter, in-game logo, or huge subscriber count. 2K is listening to the community, but not necessarily its best advocates. With that in mind, it’s only fair to pull out the receipts when any influencers try to backpedal, and distance themselves from their own bad suggestions.