Monday Tip-Off: The Economics of MyTEAM

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 by looking into the problematic economics of MyTEAM.

Although I’ve spent a lot of time with MyCAREER over the past generation, I’ve also dabbled with MyTEAM. After making MyTEAM my mode of choice in NBA 2K21, I’ve had more firsthand experience with its troubling economics. For once, I’m not talking about microtransactions and Virtual Currency. While there is pushiness to the recurrent revenue mechanics in MyTEAM and I remain critical of those practices, I’ve covered that issue in previous articles. Besides, I can attest to the viability of sticking to a “No Money Spent” philosophy, and still greatly enjoying MyTEAM.

Ironically, the more pressing issue with MyTEAM’s economics concerns MT: an in-game currency that can’t be purchased (at least, not from 2K). It does tie into issues with VC to a certain extent – they’re ultimately part of the same economy, after all – but even if you eliminate microtransactions from the discussion, there are still some major problems with MT. These issues affect everything from budgeting for packs and contracts, to the Auction House and the handling of pulling cards you already own. Some of these issues are unfortunately by design, but I believe that 2K should address problems affecting the mode’s economics, as soon as in NBA 2K22.

The issue with the economics of MyTEAM is very similar to one of the major issues in MyCAREER: inflation, without any rise in income. In short, while the cost of MyPLAYER upgrades, animations, and clothing items has increased or at least held steady, VC earnings have stagnated, or even been reduced. To put it another way, the “cost of living” in MyCAREER has gone up but salaries have not; in fact, they’ve even dropped! The same can be said of MT earnings in MyTEAM. Payouts are pitiful compared to the prices of packs and the top bids in the Auction House. As I said, part of that is by design, but I believe it’s also invited a problem for Take Two as well.

Michael Jordan Cards in the Auction House (NBA 2K21 MyTEAM)

I know I said I wasn’t going to focus on VC and microtransactions, but I do need to touch on them briefly here. MyTEAM utilises three currencies: VC, MT, and Tokens. Only the latter two can be earned in MyTEAM, and only MT can be gifted to another account (albeit indirectly). It is entirely possible to play MyTEAM while only earning and spending MT and Tokens, and any VC that’s been earned through playing other modes. Low MT payouts, as well as certain card packs and boxes only being available to purchase with VC, are a means of pushing gamers towards buying VC, though. It’s a design practice that I’m critical of, as it sacrifices enjoyment for recurrent revenue.

What isn’t part of 2K’s design, however, is the ability to purchase MT. Again, there’s no facility to do so within the game, because it isn’t meant to be a paid currency. As I noted, there’s also no way to directly transfer MT to someone else’s account. It can be passed through the Auction House, though. For example, if a friend wanted to gift you 50,000 MT, you could place a cheap and common card on the auction block for that amount (or slightly more, if you wanted to account for the auction fee and receive a round 50,000). They would then buy the card, effectively transferring the MT to you. Such trades are common in any card collecting modes featuring an Auction House.

It’s not something that the developers condone, but in the absence of an official means of trading with friends or gifting them MT, it’s going to happen. Developers are aware of that, which is one of the main reasons why there’s an auction fee to begin with. It’s not like a portion of the MT goes towards server maintenance or any other costs, after all. The occasional “donation” between friends probably doesn’t concern 2K all that much in the grand scheme of things, but a much bigger issue affecting the economics of MyTEAM is the ability to buy MT from third parties. They operate in the same way, agreeing to buy a card for the amount of MT that you’ve purchased from them.

Packs in MyTEAM (NBA 2K21 Next Gen)

Needless to say, it’s a much quicker way to get MT. It’s also cheaper than spending real money on VC to buy the same amount of packs. Obviously, there’s great appeal in skipping the grind, and saving some money in the process. The drawback is that the practice is against 2K’s Terms of Service, which means that they are at liberty to ban anyone they suspect of buying MT. It doesn’t seem to be that common, especially if one is careful in their transactions. Nevertheless, if you’re asking whether buying MT is strictly on the level and allowed, then the answer is no. Gifting MT may be frowned upon, but 2K’s stance on outright buying and selling MT is very clear: don’t do it.

At this point, you may say “So what? It’s sticking it to a Triple-A developer and their greedy recurrent revenue practices, and grindy mechanics.” While I understand the sentiment, and as such I’m hesitant to wag a scolding finger, it’s worth noting that two wrongs don’t make a right, and it’s a ban-worthy practice that you undertake at your own risk. Besides, when it comes down to it, you’re still spending money; it’s just not going to 2K. It’s not really taking a stand, or saving your cash. Additionally, not all MT sellers are trustworthy, and you have little recourse if you end up being ripped off. Even the resellers that are trustworthy can still end up being very expensive.

Furthermore, it’s interfering with and driving the economics of MyTEAM as much as the people that are simply buying VC from 2K. You’re still essentially paying for an advantage – with currency that isn’t meant to be paid for, no less – which ultimately affects the competitive balance (or lack thereof). You’re sticking it to 2K, sure, but you’re also undoubtedly screwing over your fellow gamers who are unwilling or unable to spend, whether it’s 2K or a third party MT reseller. I’m not going to shed a tear for Take Two’s lost recurrent revenue profits, especially since they go to the suits and not the people working on the games. I do care about gamers suffering, though.

Problematic Economics of the Auction House (NBA 2K21)

Now, we could certainly justify purchasing MT to buy packs by suggesting that it’s no worse than the whales that are giving their money to 2K to do the same thing, thereby setting the competitive balance. The problem with MT is that it’s the currency of the Auction House, and buying a stack of it allows one to be a major player when bidding on cards. In previous games, at a certain point even some of the best cards would be affordable at auction. Indeed, in NBA 2K19, I snagged a bunch of Galaxy Opal cards with MT I’d won through Locker Codes. Over the past couple of years, prices in the Auction House have soared, even on cheap cards because of their completionist value.

Although the maximum starting bid and selling price is 100,000 MT, it’s common to see top cards being sold for much higher amounts. On PC, I’ve seen cards sold for several million MT, though hacking is also an issue on that platform. In any event, what used to be affordable cards now have prices that demand a long grind, giving in and purchasing MT, or risking a ban. The influx of MT via the third party resellers (and hacking on PC) has ruined the economy for anyone who doesn’t want to pay (or cheat). Even if you’re not buying MT, you’ll be trying to sell your cards at a premium in order to get the best return, and thus have any chance at all of winning auctions.

With all that being said, while I don’t condone the use of MT resellers or hacking – hence why I haven’t linked to any sites or guides – 2K’s approach to the economics of MyTEAM has contributed to the problem. By failing to account for inflation in MT payouts, and even nerfing them as the case may be, they’ve encouraged farming and hackers. The pittance we receive for playing games compared to pack and Auction House prices, combined with the lack of goodwill that comes with trying to push us towards buying VC, encourages illicit means of earning MT. It’s not just an issue with the amount of MT that’s earned through MyTEAM’s various modes of play, either.

Low MT Payouts Affect the Economics of MyTEAM (NBA 2K21)

The amounts of MT on offer in the Daily Login Bonus, Weekly Spin, and Prize Board in the Season Agenda, are sometimes downright insulting. When packs cost several thousand MT and players are going for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of MT in the Auction House, a prize of 250 MT or even less is basically worthless. Sure, it all adds up, but it takes a long time. The cash-in prices on cards also don’t account for inflation. Most egregiously, some cards can’t be auctioned, meaning you have to settle for the cash-in price. In the case of Free Agent cards, that amounts to 1 MT! Adding The Exchange has helped in dealing with doubles, but its fairness is quesitonable, too.

It’d be naive to suggest that MT resellers and hacking wouldn’t exist if MT payouts were somewhat fairer, but supply and demand is basic economics. The lack of supply from sanctioned means – i.e. in-game earning potential – creates a demand for other sources of MT. The lack of any regulation in the Auction House invites gamers to use ill-gotten MT for a chance at getting the best cards. Again, a fairer system wouldn’t eliminate these problems, and not everyone would be on board with regulating the Auction House with maximum final bids. An overall stingy approach to MT has nevertheless exacerbated these issues, and probably cost 2K some profits as well.

Of course, whales still make MyTEAM very profitable for 2K, and those of us who stick to “No Money Spent” still pump up those engagement numbers. While I’m sure 2K isn’t happy about the MT resellers and hacking, it mustn’t be eating into VC sales enough to be a huge concern. Still, they do need to find a way to fix the economy and discourage hacking. Purchased MT places anyone unwilling to spend at a distinct disadvantage in the Auction House; a feature intended to avoid microtransactions. I can’t blame gamers for going that route when the economics of MyTEAM force their hand. I’m far less forgiving of hacking, but given the economic issues, I do get it.

Triple Threat Rewards in NBA 2K21 MyTEAM

Again, I don’t think 2K can feasibly prevent farming and reselling. It’s too easy to errantly ban gamers who aren’t engaging in the practice, which is ironic when the same security measures fail to stop hackers. Still, I do believe that making the payouts fairer and more in line with pack and Auction House prices, as well as raising the cash-in value of cards and considering measures to regulate bids, will cut down on the incentive to buy or hack for MT. Indeed, even without the resellers and hackers, there would still be issues with the economics of MyTEAM that need to be addressed. It’s vital that 2K acts sooner rather than later, and fixes MyTEAM’s broken economy.

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