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 a frank discussion of how the cost of upgrading your MyPLAYER has been steadily rising in MyCAREER.
Virtual Currency in NBA 2K is nothing new. Since NBA 2K13 on consoles and NBA 2K15 on PC, gamers have been able to purchase 2K’s in-game currency and spend it on MyPLAYER upgrades and MyTEAM packs. As far too many apologists readily chirp up to inform us, it isn’t actually necessary to buy VC. It’s merely a shortcut for gamers that are impatient, short on time, and flush with disposable income…or so they’d have you believe, anyway. While the justifications for microtransactions are flimsy at best, it is true that they’ve been a part of NBA 2K for almost a decade now.
That longevity doesn’t excuse their intrusiveness and impact on game design, though scores of shrugging shills will claim otherwise. To dismiss concerns about recurrent revenue mechanics by framing them as a tired criticism that needs to be put to bed is to ignore the increasingly pushy nature of them. In all fairness, it isn’t always because someone is shilling, although that does undoubtedly happen. It’s also the result of annual releases, as we forget the exact figures of payouts and price tags; the specifics of each game’s economy. With that in mind, it might shock some people to see just how much the cost of upgrades has been rising in MyCAREER since NBA 2K14.
It’s understandable, of course. Again, there’s a new game every year, and if you’re used to the grind – and not inclined to look back at older titles – it’s easy to forget how much items and upgrades used to cost in previous iterations of MyCAREER. In fact, I’d suggest that 2K is counting on that! Furthermore, if I hadn’t gotten on a major retro gaming kick with the PlayStation 4 version of NBA 2K14 that included a full dive into MyCAREER at long last, I wouldn’t have specific figures for the rising cost, either. Since I did however, I’ve got some numbers to share, and compare with NBA 2K22. The difference between the games is astounding, and just a little infuriating.
As you can see from the above screenshot, at the time of writing, I’d earned a total of 65,628 VC in NBA 2K14’s MyCAREER (for those who are unaware, NBA 2K14 for PS4/X1 retained the VC branding in its offline MyCAREER files). This amount was accumulated over the course of playing 76 regular season games – I missed six games due to storyline reasons – with about 10,000 of that total coming from endorsements. Spending all but 4 VC of those earnings upgraded my player to 86 Overall, with many of my most important attributes completely maxed out, or very close to it. I’ve also foregone further attribute upgrades to buy Signature Skills, the forerunner to Badges.
In other words, for around 65% of the amount of VC included in the more expensive 75th Anniversary Edition of NBA 2K22, I’ve managed to upgrade my attributes to the point where I’m ranked 25th in the league (10th among point guards) based on Overall Rating. Those attributes are good enough to play even better than that, especially as they’re coupled with the boosts provided by the seven Signature Skills I’ve purchased. Obviously I can’t purchase any VC for NBA 2K14 even if I wanted to, as the servers have been offline for several years. Still, despite failing a few dynamic goals here and there, I’ve had ample opportunity to earn over 60,000 VC, and make major upgrades.
Just as an aside, this stands as proof that an offline MyCAREER in the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One version of NBA 2K14 is not only still playable, but quite enjoyable. It’s worth noting its value as a retro gaming experience, but the aim here today is to discuss the rising cost of MyCAREER upgrades, so it’s time to make a comparison. How far can we stretch 65,000 VC in NBA 2K22’s MyCAREER, and how much will it cost to get to 86 Overall? I’ll start with NBA 2K22 Next Gen, in which I’ve likewise created a point guard build, and haven’t yet upgraded my player beyond the starting attributes and Overall Rating of 60. History suggests that 65,000 VC won’t go too far.
I began by trying to max out my dribbling and passing ratings, as I’ve done with my NBA 2K14 MyPLAYER. Doing so would cost 65,131 VC; almost as much as what I’d spent on several different attribute upgrades and Signature Skills in NBA 2K14! It also upped my Overall Rating to 76. I then tried spreading the upgrades around more evenly, focusing on getting some key attributes to reasonable levels without going too far over 65,000 VC. Once again, 76 Overall proved to be the ceiling, but with careful budgeting it would definitely be possible to make some significant upgrades in NBA 2K22 for a cost of around 65,000 VC. Nevertheless, VC clearly used to go further.
What about maxing out my available upgrades? It isn’t possible to hit 86 Overall in NBA 2K22 without playing through MyCAREER to earn MyPOINTS and raise the attribute cap, but I could see how much it would cost to get to 85 Overall. Continuing to upgrade across the board, the calculated cost to go from 60 Overall to 85 Overall was 208,615 VC. That’s over three times as much as I’d earned and spent in NBA 2K14’s MyCAREER! Indeed, considering that I’d probably spent at least 4000-5000 VC on Signature Skills, the comparative cost of upgrading attributes in MyCAREER was probably closer to around 60,000 to 208,615 VC; an increase of just under 348%!
I’d already estimated a significant increase from simply glancing at the numbers in NBA 2K14, but when you make the comparison and calculations, it’s astonishing how the cost has been steadily rising in MyCAREER. To put a real life cost on this, a pack of 200,000 VC in NBA 2K22 costs $75.95 AUD, or around $55 USD. I believe the pack is slightly cheaper in the US, but the price is still comparable to what the game itself retails for. The bottom line is that VC no longer stretches as far as it used to. If you’re earning it the long way, it now takes even more grinding. If you’re prepared to buy it, you’ll need to opt for the more expensive bundles to get the VC that you need.
MyCAREER in NBA 2K22 Current Gen also demonstrates the rising cost in player upgrades, though it still utilises the old pie chart build system. Interestingly, it isn’t as expensive to get to 85 Overall with a similar point guard build in Current Gen. Hitting that cap while spreading upgrades around key attributes would cost a total of 146,989 VC. Having said that, that’s still almost two and a half times the cost of reaching 86 Overall in NBA 2K14. The individual attribute upgrades were also significantly larger in NBA 2K14, compared to both the Current Gen and Next Gen versions of NBA 2K22. Even with more ratings to upgrade, 2K14 has 2K22 beat on value for VC.
Mind you, the in-game economy isn’t just about price tags, but also income. Even though certain methods of grinding for VC (such as shooting around on MyCOURT) are no longer available, the quest system in NBA 2K22’s MyCAREER does offer opportunities to boost your balance. They’re not necessarily quick or fun though, and some – like the Daily Spin/Bonus – are random chance, meaning you may not end up winning VC. The cost of upgrades in MyCAREER has been rising disproportionately to your salary and other income opportunities, resulting in a choice between a long, tedious grind, or essentially paying double for the game if you opt to buy VC instead.
Also, while we no longer have to buy Signature Skills, instead earning Badges by playing the game to gain XP, there’s something else gamers are expected to budget for: clothes. Despite Ronnie 2K’s insistence in 2016 that NBA 2K isn’t a “Barbie Dress-Up Game” – and no, I’m never letting that one go – MyCAREER has placed a greater emphasis on cosmetic items, with the official social media accounts touting brands that can be purchased, and encouraging gamers to get rid of their brown shirt. As with buying VC, this is technically optional, but clothing has become a status symbol in the Park. If you don’t have the right fit, getting a game will be much harder.
This brings us to why the cost of upgrades and other content in MyCAREER has been steadily rising over the years. In NBA 2K14, online play in MyCAREER was more of a novelty. It was the debut of The Park, and the mode and story were still very much NBA-oriented. Although there are gamers who still enjoy the NBA in MyCAREER, these days the connected experiences are more popular. To get the most out of them, you need to upgrade quickly, and have the right look for The Playground. Simply put, there are more ways that 2K can take advantage of FOMO and pressure gamers into spending, or attempting to stomach a lengthy grind to earn that all-important VC.
Back in NBA 2K14, it didn’t matter if you weren’t at least 85 Overall and decked out with boosts and stylish cosmetic items within a week. Most MyCAREER gamers were still playing the NBA portion of the mode, and The Park was a novelty that hadn’t yet been infected by toxicity and elitism. 2K was also smart enough not to press their luck too much too soon. Sure, the first iteration of MyGM drew criticism, and paying for haircuts didn’t go down well in NBA 2K18. However, an allowance here, and small increase there, has facilitated the rising cost of MyCAREER upgrades. Again, the price of going from scrub to viable online avatar has risen almost 350%.
If you want to know why I go back to old games – outside of indulging nostalgia, of course – this is the reason. It’s hard to keep track of the numbers when you haven’t played a game for a while, and the cost has been quietly but steadily rising over many iterations of MyCAREER. It’s easy to dismiss talk of “things used to be better” as the result of rose-tinted nostalgia goggles, until you can produce numbers demonstrating how a crucial aspect of NBA 2K’s most popular mode has worsened. It’s easy to shrug and say “it’s just business” and the way things are now, when you don’t consider the ramifications of designing a mode around profits from recurrent revenue mechanics.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: when recurrent revenue is prioritised, fun and enjoyment hasn’t been. That’s because the most effective way of getting gamers to spend isn’t by giving us a fun experience, but by frustrating and tantalising us. Yes, NBA 2K has evolved to include some diverse and enjoyable experiences, but getting the most out of them requires us to choose between tedium, or engaging in freemium mechanics in a full-priced, Triple-A release. It’s unfortunately proven to be a highly effective strategy, thanks to the groundwork that was laid around the time of NBA 2K14. The writing was on the wall; it’s just that it hadn’t impacted the experience yet.
Still, excuses are made. It’s a business. It’s optional. It shouldn’t be too quick or easy to level up, so just put in the work. These have always been poor justifications for a Triple-A game to have microtransactions, but they’ve grown downright inane with the rising cost of upgrades and cosmetic items in MyCAREER. In NBA 2K14, it was far easier not to spend. With the online scene in its infancy and the single player NBA career experience still popular, it was more viable to go at your own pace and forego a preferred style of clothing and avatar customisation. Sure, we can “go play something else” if we don’t like it, but that hardly justifies the direction MyCAREER has taken.
I’m not pretending that this is some huge revelation. The issues with recurrent revenue mechanics in NBA 2K are well documented. I’ve written several articles about them, and discussed the matter on the NLSC Podcast. While many influencers and even video game publications will gloss over the problem, others are readily calling it out. However, it’s staggering when we can place numbers on it. In NBA 2K14, 65,000 VC was enough to get to 86 Overall, and have fun doing it. In NBA 2K22, not even the 100,000 VC from the special edition is enough to hit the 85 Overall cap. That means you’ll need to pay even more, or start grinding hard as soon as you pick up the game.
And if you want to play online – as many people do now – you’ll have to do one or the other. You won’t be patiently playing through your rookie year in the NBA to earn around 60,000 VC while enjoying steady improvement. You can go that route, but you’ll need to earn more than three times as much to get to the same Overall Rating, and your individual attributes won’t be nearly as high. That almost 350% increase in cost hasn’t proportionately increased the fun of the experience; if anything, it’s greatly diminished it! And of course, to actually take part in Playground games, you’ll need to budget accordingly so that you can look the part while trying to rapidly level up.
To that end, I don’t want to hear that VC and microtransactions have been in the game for years. We know that, and we also know how the situation has worsened with the inflated cost of upgrades. There was resistance in 2012, and even more resistance in 2021 as the approach to microtransactions has grown pushier and more intrusive on the gaming experience. The proof is there in the numbers that I’ve presented. Even if you want to claim VC wasn’t problematic at first – and buying it certainly was more easily avoided back in NBA 2K14 – it’s become a major issue. Yes, 2K is a business, but the business model utilised by NBA 2K is impacting the quality of the game.
When you start crunching the numbers and considering the necessity of upgrading as quickly as possible, the pressure to spend in order to make it happen, and the quality of the experience if you opt to grind instead, you can see why the common refrain of “it’s optional” is myopic and misguided. Now, if our income opportunities had also risen by almost 350%, it might not be an issue, but that plainly isn’t the case. When the rising cost of MyCAREER demands a VC balance that isn’t even covered by the special edition, and the alternative is a chore, fun hasn’t been the aim. It’s painfully obvious when we look back, and I’m sure 2K hopes that we don’t. It’s vital that we do.