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 few thoughts on how we gamers are part of the problem when it comes to recent issues with NBA 2K19.
I try my best not to be repetitive in the topics I choose for my weekly features. Unless I’m producing a series centred on a certain theme or topic, I try to space out similar features and even alternate between games wherever possible. I also want to be as fair-handed as possible, and not resort to bashing for the sake of outrage clicks. With that being said however, although I’ve discussed issues with online modes and play in the last couple of Monday Tip-Off articles, recent events in NBA 2K19 have made it impossible not to touch on them once again this week.
Where to begin? An influx of new gamers from a recent sale has been blamed for persistent problems in MyTEAM’s Auction House, an issue that remains unresolved. The appearance of an unskippable ad has naturally raised the ire of many gamers, both for its inconvenience and inappropriateness in an E-rated game. This is all on top of the continued dissatisfaction with the game’s heavy focus upon microtransactions and gambling-like mechanics. Those issues all deserve scorn, but as I prepared to talk about them and criticise NBA 2K’s handling of the situation once again, a nagging thought came to mind: like it or not, we’re part of the problem.
Before we get to that, let’s indeed criticise these problems because it’ll be cathartic for everyone. That the problem with the Auction House persists days later, and the fact that it’s happened at all for that matter, is a further indictment of 2K’s servers. For all the money that NBA 2K makes through sales and recurrent revenue, server instability shouldn’t be a problem. The fact that the game is a profitable as it is also makes the appearance of an unskippable ad feel extremely greedy and gauche. As for the ad being inappropriate, it’s likely just an oversight, but it still doesn’t sit well given the issue of microtransactions and gambling-like mechanics in a game played by minors.
As usual, 2K’s response has left much to be desired. There is no bulletin about the problems with the Auction House on the official MyTEAM Twitter, at least as of this writing. Even a token message acknowledging that there is a problem and advising gamers to check back for status updates would be an acceptable response. Once again, I feel compelled to point out that 2K was somehow immediately able to address an issue that saw everyone get a free Pink Diamond LeBron James card over Christmas, but can’t fix or even just acknowledge a major problem affecting a core function of MyTEAM. If it affects them, they jump on it. If it affects us, they drag their feet.
So it goes with 2K, a company whose hubris has steadily destroyed the goodwill it built with basketball gamers. After having the nerve to charge for haircuts in NBA 2K18, they did back off by reducing the cost, but they easily could’ve (and should’ve) immediately made them free, as they would do in NBA 2K19. They balked at the idea of separate currencies for cosmetic items and attribute upgrades, implying it would be confusing, then introduced a third currency in MyTEAM. The way that the game has become anti-consumer, both in the approach to modes and in pushing the recurrent revenue model, has been extremely frustrating and disheartening to see.
Here’s the really frustrating part, though. Although 2K created these problems in that they are responsible for supporting their game and the performance of their servers, and as a company they made the decisions that have culminated in the current state of basketball gaming, by enabling and defending them, we are part of the problem, too. Sure, we’ve grumbled and spoken out with angry posts and negative reviews. We’re rightfully outraged when we hear about 2K pressuring a site to take down a negative review, just as we’re outraged about unskippable ads and other questionable practices, but little changes. NBA 2K still sells millions of copies, makes millions on VC sales.
For all the angry voices and calls to boycott NBA 2K, our actions – or perhaps more accurately, inaction – speak louder than words. Every year, it seems as though plenty of gamers vow “never again”, only for the game to do great business. On top of that, there are plenty of gamers who defend and justify the questionable practices, either through impassioned rebuttals or seemingly complacent acceptance. It’s bewildering to see people defend and advocate for something that isn’t in their best interests, to be so blasé about and on board with mechanics that are so anti-consumer. It seems that there are many gamers who are only too eager to justify anything NBA 2K does.
I’ve heard all the arguments, and I’m sure they’ll be familiar to many of you as well. There’s the person who says, in a post dripping with mock pity, that it’s just capitalism and anyone who complains doesn’t get how business works. What, do you think 2K is a charity or something? There’s the “not my problem, therefore not a real problem” crowd, who shout down valid complaints because they don’t affect them personally, and consider any complaints that aren’t theirs to be “whining”. And of course, we have the whataboutists who bring up NBA Live’s struggles and EA’s business practices, as though it justifies anything; essentially, the “but everyone else is doing it” defense.
The problem extends beyond ads and microtransactions, too. Too many gamers will dismiss criticisms about design choices, or issues such as a lack of balance and proper matchmaking, in a way that allows them to feel superior and pat themselves on the back. A former content developer for EVE Online wrote an illuminating post on Reddit that discussed the elitism and contemptuous nature of certain mechanics in NBA 2K18, but despite its positive reception, the “get gud” sentiment still permeates the community. Gatekeeping changes, such as removing the three user minimum for team Pro-Am, are applauded for the “purity” they supposedly bring to online play.
When it comes down to it, we’d rather blame each other than criticise a developer, and so nothing changes. This isn’t just a problem with basketball gaming, either. On the official Mortal Kombat 11 Facebook page, I noticed a couple of gamers taking issue with the Season Pass, as well as the exclusive skins that are unlocked through the new online Mortal Kombat League. The complaints were about overpriced content that easily could’ve been in the game, a lack of balance with some of the characters, and the exclusiveness of restricting the unlockable costumes to an online mode. In short, some fair criticisms and reasonable concerns when it comes to gaming in 2019.
What did I see in response to those comments? Snark about how they needed to “get gud”, and how it “wasn’t 2003 anymore”. Never mind that balance is important for competitive online play, or that various revisions of the arcade and home ports of the original trilogy addressed such issues. Never mind that value for money is still a valid issue for consumers in 2019, and that we’re somehow justifying paying twice as much for the same amount of content. Never mind that a game that offers both offline and online play caters to two audiences who both deserve to be heard. In a twisted way, it’s comforting that these problems aren’t exclusive to basketball gaming!
I’ll admit to being a part of the problem here. Being a content creator who focuses on basketball games, I buy NBA 2K every year. I even pre-order it for convenience, and the middling amount of VC that comes with the standard edition. I post features that discuss positive experiences with the game (though I like to think I’m even-handed with criticism as well). I even Tweeted about a recent sale on NBA 2K19, as I figured any PC gamers who don’t have the game but may have interest in picking it up cheap may want to know about it. In other words, I’m not exactly leading a boycott of the game, and have even promoted an opportunity to get it at a discount.
And look, I’ll defend the desire to pick up the game. If you’re a passionate basketball gamer, you probably do want to get the latest release. NBA 2K has done a lot of good things, and a lot of people do enjoy playing it. Boycotting the game in its entirety is easier said than done, and we all want to justify our investment, the same way that we justify any of our other choices and preferences. However, we don’t have to indulge in the more questionable practices, and we certainly shouldn’t defend them. It is possible to play NBA 2K without spending a single cent on VC, and I think it’s a good stand to take. Even so, we can acknowledge that the game is designed to try to get us to do so.
Furthermore, we shouldn’t be supporting gatekeeping. Matchmaking benefits us all, as the best of the best will get to test their skills, and the rest of us can work our way up the ranks; that is, of course, unless the “get gud” crowd would prefer lopsided matches and easy victories? The situation with AI players in the Pro-Am modes can easily be resolved by only matching up teams with five users against other teams who have five users, or adding it as one of the matchmaking options. Proper balance can only benefit competitive online play, truly making it a game of skill. Elitism and gatekeeping are only helping to justify the predatory mechanics intended to push microtransactions.
Yes, 2K needs to own these problems. Their servers, support, and communication all need to be better. They, and other developers, should prioritise the quality of the experiences on offer in addition to recurrent revenue mechanics. Until they do, the backlash they receive is well-deserved. However, we can’t neglect our role here. We can’t make excuses and shout each other down. If we want the situation to change, we must take action: boycott the game, refrain from buying VC, speak out and support each other…whatever we can personally do. To paraphrase a popular saying, if we don’t want to be part of the problem, we must find a way to be part of the solution.