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 importance of fixing MyREP, not just in terms of its rewards system, but also allowing it to carry over year-to-year.
Keeping an annually-released basketball game fresh in a way that satisfies its toughest critics – the hardcore hoops gamers – is easier said than done. Take a ranking and rewards system such as MyREP, for example. If it’s the same year after year, we’re prone to complain about it being too stale and familiar. If it changes, there’s bound to be a lot of people who preferred the old system, as well as those that were open to a change, but aren’t feeling the new approach. There’s also the issue of having to start over from scratch every year; a common complaint in general these days.
I want to talk about both of those issues related to MyREP: its use as both a reward and matchmaking system, and the concept of being able to carry over rep from the previous game. It’s something I’d like to see NBA 2K get right as we enter a new generation with online basketball gaming as popular as it’s ever been, yet also in rough shape. Because of its effects on features and the online experience, it’s more than a cosmetic badge. We have good reason to give a damn about a bad MyREP system. Yes, that is a reference to “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, and indeed, I’m keeping the musical motif going as I wax lyrical about this matter.
You’re living in the past, it’s a new generation
We want to see ideas evolve and improve as new games are released, and particularly when they make a jump to a new generation. It’s all well and good to have graphical improvements, faster loading times, and a few gimmicky features that emphasise the power of the new tech. Those are important things to have, particularly the first two. However, the flashiness of those enhancements will quickly feel hollow if the games don’t have substance. Obviously gameplay is paramount here, but modes and features also need to move with the times. It’ll be a disappointment if we see the same pitfalls that held back games from being as good as they could be on the previous generation.
As a rewards system, MyREP is beyond stale despite appearing for the first time in NBA 2K20. That’s because it’s basically the old Road to 99, copied and pasted into a new online-only ranking system. Now, I don’t like to throw the word “lazy” around like a lot of people do, because it’s so often an unfair criticism of developers who do work very hard. However, the way that MyREP was implemented was rather lazy. It wasn’t well thought-out, and resulted in offline rewards – such as NBA animations and MyCOURT customisation – requiring gamers to play online to unlock them. Not only that, many were placed at ridiculously high levels given the quality of the rewards.
If you go back and compare those same rewards to their general placement in the Road to 99, you’ll see how some of them ended up being associated with MyREP levels far beyond their worth. Not only does this punish primarily offline gamers for not playing online to unlock single player rewards – an approach that doesn’t make any sense conceptually – but online gamers also suffer from lacklustre bonuses. We’ve been unlocking the same assortment of rewards for about three games now. Some of them should be standard features at this point, unlocked out of the gate. That would open things up to offer better rewards, tailored to both online and offline gamers.
This should be a priority for whatever rewards system is in place in MyCAREER and its connected modes moving forward. Whether it’s tied to a system like MyREP or is its own separate mechanic, familiar rewards that are hardly worth unlocking at the higher levels aren’t going to cut it. Unlock MyCOURT customisation right away, and allow all NBA animations to be unlocked in MyCAREER play. Spread the useful rewards out across the levels, so that it’s neither front-loaded nor top heavy, with decent unlockables in the mid-tiers. Provide online gamers with suitable rewards that are related to the connected experiences, and actually worth levelling up to achieve.
Never said I wanted to improve my station
So, what about MyREP carrying over between games? It’s an issue I’ve seen raised on Twitter, and it’s an idea worth exploring. Look, it’s unrealistic to expect progress to carry over from one game to the next verbatim. I’m not going to be able to take my 99 Overall Playmaking Shot Creator into NBA 2K21, ratings and Badges intact. I’m also going to lose my All-Star 2 MyREP level, along with all of the cards I’ve collected in MyTEAM. Putting aside that this approach facilitates microtransactions, it would also eliminate challenge and make MyCAREER far too short of an experience. It’d be like starting a new game in a Fallout title with maxed out skills and all of the best gear.
Still, there’s merit in some form of progress carrying over to a new game. I’ve long been an advocate for some kind of “returning gamer bonus” that provides a one-time boost to a MyPLAYER in a new game, or getting some MyTEAM content based on our Collector Level or a handful of designated favourite cards from the previous year. I’m still in favour of that idea, but I’ll admit it’s a long shot. What might actually be feasible is carrying over MyREP in some form. Now, if it’s still tied to the rewards system then the idea has to be approached carefully. Once again, it would remove the challenge of a new game if we were able to unlock everything right away.
The reason I like the idea of representing our MyREP from the previous game is that it would demonstrate a history with the online scene. This is important because our MyREP plays a role in matchmaking, and identifying our suitability to prospective teammates. Experienced gamers with higher MyREP tend to avoid newbies, which creates a Catch-22: you need a high MyREP to get a game, but you need to play games to level up your MyREP. There’s some underlying toxicity and elitism here that also needs to be addressed, but at the same time, it’s understandable that higher-ranked players are wary of playing with someone who appears to be a novice.
Of course, appearances can be deceiving. If you delay getting into the online scene in a new game, you may appear to be a noob despite being a Playground or Pro-Am veteran of many years. If your MyREP from the previous year were to carry over, however, it might alleviate this problem. Imagine if your 2K Card in NBA 2K21 displayed both your current MyREP level and average Teammate Grade, along with your NBA 2K20 rank and stats. Others would be able to see that while you haven’t been playing online this year, last year you achieved Superstar level as a reliable and non-toxic teammate. You’d have a way of demonstrating your prior experience.
The world’s in trouble, there’s no communication
As it stands, each game stands alone as its own entity, your 2K Card and records reset every year. There’s no way of immediately proving your past experience in the online arena, which only adds to the elitist and toxic atmosphere the scene has cultivated. It’s tough enough having to start the grind again from 60 Overall with basic animations, but at least that’s doable offline (and yes, shortcuts can be purchased for those who feel so inclined). Proving your worth online time and time again is a chore, and as I said, leads to the aforementioned Catch-22 where you need to play in order to prove your worth, but must prove your worth in order to be able to play in the first place.
Now, there are other issues to deal with here. Dumping everyone into the same Neighborhood regardless of MyREP, experience, and Overall Rating, not having in-depth matchmaking options in Pro-Am, and introducing restrictions on team Pro-Am that force gamers into the mess that is The Rec, are all problems that need to be sorted out in future games. With that being said, MyREP offers a ready-made system to determine ranking, experience, and reputation; all useful data in connecting us with suitable teammates and opponents when there’s proper matchmaking. Factoring in our MyREP from the previous game, or at least letting others see it, would help greatly.
I know it’s easy enough for me to throw out ideas like this, since I’m not the one that has to implement them. I’d imagine there’s a way of doing it through our profiles on Steam, the PlayStation Network, and Xbox Live, though. With all of the other data that NBA 2K collects, surely there’s a way of representing MyREP across games. I’m not suggesting that we’re immediately granted the exact same level and all the perks that go along with it, but there would be value in being able to prove that we’re not complete novices when it comes to NBA 2K and online play. There’d still be some issues with elitism towards actual newcomers, but that requires a separate solution.
With that being said, I don’t think it’d be inappropriate to offer returning gamers with an established MyREP some sort of additional bonus in the new game. Whether it’s access to some exclusive 2K Cards or quick unlocks for the lowest tier rewards, I’m all in favour of a “welcome back” gift. Again, don’t make reaching Legend level in the previous game allow someone to immediately reach that status in the new release, but perhaps allow them to skip the first few Rookie levels. Gestures like that can be made without hurting NBA 2K’s bottom line, and they’d go a long way in demonstrating goodwill to some of their most loyal and enthusiastic customers throughout the years.
And I’m only doin’ good while I’m havin’ fun
Let’s get back to MyREP replacing the Road to 99 as a rewards/progression system. As much of a grind as it is to upgrade ratings and Badges year after year, it’s also part of the experience. It’s an aspect that could be improved upon with cheaper upgrades and higher athletic attributes for a supposed top prospect, but that’s a discussion for another time. It isn’t a lot of fun having to unlock MyCOURT customisation every year, especially now that all of the different options are spread out across MyREP levels that take a long time to hit; way longer than they did on the Road to 99, in fact. As I said, at this point they should just be immediately accessible, standard features.
I’ve already mentioned that all NBA-related animations and rewards should be unlocked by playing offline. On top of that, rather useless rewards such as the Beats machine, and slightly more fun but still fairly useless rewards such as the mini-basketball machine, are no longer exciting prizes for online or offline gamers alike; especially at the levels they’re unlocked at. If anything, those rewards – if they’re not immediately available along with MyCOURT customisation – should be re-earned at lower levels, with fresh rewards to aim for in a new game. Unlocking the same old stuff – particularly when some of it is completely useless – is extremely boring.
Emotes and other Neighborhood animations are lousy rewards and disappointing at the higher levels. Bicycles are horribly over-priced wastes of VC, for all the use they are making it slightly quicker to get around. The ability to go shirtless in Playground games, design a custom t-shirt, or place a tattoo anywhere on your MyPLAYER, are too high because of the copy and paste from the Road to 99 to MyREP levels. More to the point, we’ve seen and unlocked these same rewards every year beginning with NBA 2K18. They’ve become a chore to reacquire, rather than something exciting. Not to harp on the point, but they should be lower tier rewards, or immediately unlocked.
Rewards such as doubling VC earnings, getting a second spin of the Prize Wheel (or access to the Elite Wheel) are better, though a couple of them could be more within our reach. Unlocking online-only Badges and animations – providing their effects are worth it – are good ideas, and should be parallel to unlocking similar abilities in the single player MyCAREER experience. I’d also recommend splitting animations up between the tiers, as not all Park animations make great rewards at the Superstar level. As long as offline rewards are available without online play, and online rewards are actually worth aiming for, then the MyREP system can actually be put to good use.
So why should I care ’bout a bad reputation anyway
You might be asking why this is so important; why it’s worth going into all of these suggestions, while making Joan Jett references to boot. Well, the musical motif is just for fun, but there is a reason to give a damn about a bad MyREP system, and avoiding the same pitfalls in future NBA 2K titles. You might dismiss it as largely useless, and sure, many of the rewards aren’t necessary to enjoy MyCAREER and its connected experiences. Unlocking animations is obviously a problem that needs to be addressed, but much of the other stuff can be ignored, or eventually earned if you’re willing to put in the hours…and then do so again the next year, when it’s all locked again.
Here’s the problem with that line of thinking, though. If a feature is in the game, then it’s worth doing right. If there’s a rewards system in place, it should adequately reward (and certainly not seemingly punish) gamers. Furthermore, if that rewards system is revamped in a new game, the rewards shouldn’t be a lazy retread of what we’ve had in previous years, nor a copy and paste job that pays no attention to whether the rewards are placed at suitable levels, or if offline rewards are only attainable through online play. There’s merit to the MyREP concept, but the way it was implemented in NBA 2K20 was sloppy and poorly planned. Again, if you implement it, implement it well!
Any and all aspects of NBA 2K should be held to this standard, and if anything does fall short of expectations, they’re fair game for critique. True, there’s a hierarchy to our criticism, and outside of locking single player rewards behind online gameplay, many of the issues are lower priority compared to other problems. That doesn’t invalidate the issues with the MyREP system, though. As for the online scene, as long as MyREP plays a major role in establishing status and matchmaking, there’s value in showing our online history. It’d be difficult to achieve between platforms, but on the same generation, and in future games on next gen, it’s something to strongly consider.
We’re compelled to place importance on MyREP because NBA 2K does. It’s not just a cosmetic aspect of our profile for bragging rights. If it were, I wouldn’t waste all these paragraphs talking about it. As long as it’s tied to a rewards system where we unlock content, while also influencing whether or not other gamers will play with us, it has significance. It’s therefore vital that the idea is implemented properly. The framework was there in NBA 2K20, but the execution of the concept must be better. After all, who wants to grind to unlock the same rewards, or just get to play online, year after year after year? I don’t know about you, but not me, me, me, me, me, me, me.