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 look at how an idea for a franchise mode game can turn out to be less fun than it originally seemed.
As I’ve mentioned before, this year I’m intending to move away from MyCAREER and return to my roots as a franchise gamer. A generation ago, I was unsatisfied with NBA Live’s Dynasty mode as it lagged behind NBA 2K’s offering, an issue that I still have with EA’s game. I ended up missing out on the quality franchise experience that Association provided as by the time I got into the NBA 2K series, career modes felt fresher, and vital for online team play. I’m ready to return to franchise gaming though, and with the depth of MyLEAGUE, my previous complaints shouldn’t be an issue.
However, there’s a hurdle beyond the depth and quality of a franchise mode: your idea for your game, the scenario you want to create for yourself. If you’re invested in the team you’ve chosen and the situation you find yourself in, you’ll be hooked on your franchise game. Conversely, if the appeal of the scenario quickly wears off, you’ll be far more likely to abandon your franchise within the first five to ten games. On the surface, the solution is to carefully consider all aspects of your franchise game as you set it up, and avoid an unappealing scenario. Unfortunately, all that foresight goes out the window when a seemingly fun idea turns out to be less appealing than expected.
Talk to just about any franchise gamer, and they’ll tell you that they’ve had plenty of franchises that didn’t last because the idea wasn’t as fun as they thought it would be. Maybe they picked the wrong team, or maybe their idea to trade this player for that player sounded a lot better on paper. Maybe a team is too good, too bad, or just too mediocre to have fun playing with beyond a few games. Most of us have had to let a save go a few games in – sometimes more than a few – because we haven’t enjoyed ourselves. Sometimes it’s a matter of sticking with it and pushing through the first fortnight of the season, but it’s usually apparent when an idea isn’t going to work out.
One of my most memorable franchise blunders came in NBA Live 2002. I began a Franchise with the Utah Jazz, with the idea of doing something really wacky. I traded John Stockton for Mike Bibby, acquired Scottie Pippen from Portland, and relegated Karl Malone to the bench. Looking back, I have no idea why I thought this would be any fun beyond playing with a team I wouldn’t normally choose, and the amusement of turning a Hall of Famer that I’m not a fan of into a sixth man. Not much of a joke, not much of an idea. From memory, I lasted about three games before I asked myself what I was doing, and frankly, I didn’t have a good answer. That was the end of it.
That was a franchise game I started on an impulse, and in my experience, impulsive ideas for any kind of season play tend not to work out. After renting Celtic Pride one weekend many years after it came out, I had an urge to start a Season with the Boston Celtics in NBA Live 99. I figured it would be fun to play with an underdog Celtics squad, and the lockout-shortened 1999 season is one that I’ve always felt a strange affinity for. It was a passing whim though, and as a couple of years had gone by, I had a newer game to play anyway. In hindsight, I should’ve just played through a Playoff or even an exhibition game after creating the fictional players from the film.
It’s clear that wackier ideas are hit and miss as far as being successful scenarios for season and franchise play, but even more mundane approaches can go awry. Last year I had intended to make the switch from MyCAREER to MyLEAGUE, using the Start Today option to begin a game with the Chicago Bulls in early November. I was even going to maintain a story thread for the first time in several years. Unfortunately, I didn’t play a single game. Getting drawn back into MyCAREER was a major reason for that, but the more I looked at the Bulls’ roster, the less appealing the idea felt. The Brandon Jennings signing was meant to make things interesting, but it wasn’t enough.
Now that I’m truly ready to stick with single player gaming in NBA 2K20, my goal is to avoid those pitfalls. At this time, I’m still deciding who I’d like to control. The Bulls are my default option, but I have to be truly on board with a rebuilding situation if I’m to stick with my favourite team. Should I choose a contender, I have to develop some connection with them on the virtual hardwood, and want to try to guide them to the Larry O’Brien trophy. I have to decide whether or not to make drastic changes to the roster, as I’ve found that changing the face of a team (and the league) too much and all at once can easily ruin the experience. It’s the reason I’ve never liked fantasy drafts.
At the same time, while I can make these plans and seemingly logical choices for my preferred style of play and franchise experience, there’s no telling if I’ll sour on the idea when I start playing with the team. It’s possible to seemingly make every right decision when setting up a new game, only to find that it’s not as fun as anticipated. That’s why it’s usually a good idea to play a few games with the team you’re thinking of choosing, just to make sure they’re a good fit. If you don’t, you should be prepared to bail on the franchise after a few games if it quickly becomes apparent that it’s not the team for you, or that your overall plan isn’t as fun as you thought it would be.
Of course, compared to dissatisfaction with how a career mode game is progressing, it isn’t nearly as painful when an idea for a franchise mode game doesn’t pan out. Yes, there’s still a feeling that time has been wasted, but you’ll know very soon when you’re not feeling the game you’ve set up. You’ll likely spend a lot more time grinding, to say nothing of spending virtual (and maybe even real) currency upgrading a player in a career mode, before you realise your build isn’t fun to play with offline, or isn’t viable in the online competitive scene. Losing all that progress and starting over is far more disheartening in MyCAREER than abandoning a MyLEAGUE after a few games.
Another strange phenomenon with franchise gaming is that even if an idea does pan out, the initial brainstorming can be more fun. This is due to a chunk of the experience taking place outside of gameplay, and that begins with setting everything up. There’s a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction in choosing a team, deciding on the direction and roster management plan, and if necessary, making those initial moves. At that point, the mode is full of promise. Once you start playing, you have to start putting in work. There are responsibilities, not to mention stakes, as you try to make your vision for the franchise come to fruition. You’ve actually got to achieve what you planned to do.
I believe that’s why a lot of franchise gamers have started over more than a few times throughout the years. It’s not that they’ve made bad decisions with their idea for their franchise – though that may be the case and it certainly doesn’t help – and it’s not that they don’t enjoy playing through seasons. It’s just that there’s so much excitement at the start of a franchise, when you’re formulating your plan and setting up a new game. Much like the start of a real NBA season, there’s a blank slate that suggests endless possibilities and inspires optimism. There’s also an immediate gratification in having completed step one. Once you start playing the season, it’s a long road to the end goal.
It’s why it’s important to give a new franchise game a chance to get you hooked after that initial excitement of setting it all up has passed. On one hand, sometimes the idea is more fun, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy playing out that scenario. On the other hand, you also have to recognise when a scenario seemed like it’d be a fun idea for a franchise, but has limited appeal beyond the initial thought. As for me, without a desire to grind up a MyPLAYER for online play, I’ll have more time to experiment and start over if my first idea for MyLEAGUE doesn’t take. With that being said, I believe I’ll avoid utter silliness and movie-inspired scenarios this time around.