It’s the holidays; I shouldn’t be writing a negative or critical article. As we wind down 2018, I wanted to focus on having fun with basketball video games, reflect on the year that was, and then get back to critique and heavier topics in the New Year. Sadly, we have a controversy on our hands. In case you missed the drama, a Locker Code for a Pink Diamond LeBron James got out into the wild on Christmas Day. Naturally, a lot of MyTEAM gamers were quick to snap it up, bolstering their collection with a card that most of us probably wouldn’t ever get our hands on otherwise. It was, if you’ll excuse my tongue-in-cheek usage of a clichéd phrase, a Christmas miracle.
And then, 2K went Ebenezer Scrooge on MyTEAM gamers. After the code had been in the wild for several hours, its reward changed to a LeBron James Free Agent card. The worst was yet to come however, as gamers discovered that the original card had been removed from their collection entirely. Some logged on to discover it was gone, while the more unlucky gamers had it stripped from their lineup as they were using it, resulting in wins counting as losses and other rewards going missing. It would seem that the Pink Diamond wasn’t meant to be released, but its removal has led to another PR blunder for 2K Sports, when they could’ve spread some Christmas cheer.
There’s a bit to unpack here. First of all, let’s acknowledge that the Locker Code was not meant to get out into the wild. It was a promotional code that wasn’t supposed to be unlimited. With that in mind, it’s understandable that 2K have stemmed the flow of freebies by first changing the reward, and then removed the Pink Diamond card itself. Since the mix-up involved a lot of gamers accessing content they weren’t supposed to get, it’s understandable (albeit disappointing) that 2K revoked said digital item. I’d say that most gamers do understand that, and realise that since it’s oddly generous for 2K (and also didn’t come via official channels), it was likely too good to be true. But…
But, I’m going to push back on those smug folks who are talking about everyone being “butthurt cry babies”, or “salty”, or “foolish” for redeeming the Locker Code and not expecting the Pink Diamond LeBron to be snatched away. At this point, it’s not just about the card, though make no mistake; gamers are plenty miffed about that. It’s not ridiculous to suggest that it would’ve shown a lot of goodwill to, in the face of their own error and mix-up, let people who had redeemed the Pink Diamond LeBron to keep it as a Christmas gift. It’s not like the community hasn’t been supportive of the NBA 2K series, contributing to record sales and recurrent revenue profits.
Shake4ndbake’s commentary on the situation is on-point, and this Tweet in particular is quite apt. The comparison to a business that makes a mistake in advertising a deal and then honours it (at least until a correction or retraction can be issued) is a fair one. It’s slightly different in that it’s digital content that wasn’t meant to be accessed, but in terms of showing goodwill, it’s still an apt comparison. Once again though, it’s not just that 2K removed the Pink Diamond LeBron from collections. Leaving it be would’ve shown goodwill, but one can understand why they removed it. What a lot of gamers are taking issue with here is the timing and nature of 2K’s actions.
There was no announcement, no warning. The cards were just quietly removed from gamers’ accounts. There was no explanation, no apology or responsibility taken for the mix-up. No compensation was offered, though arguably a second Christmas Day Locker Code released via the official MyTEAM Twitter account was intended to serve as such [UPDATE: 2K has since followed up on the issue]. There was no public acknowledgement of the issue or the actions that would be taken; no warning that anyone who applied a Diamond contract, shoes, or other consumables and upgrades to the Pink Diamond LeBron would lose them along with the card when it was removed. In short, there was no communication at all.
Gamers have lost those consumables as well as MT, and in some cases, a Diamond LeBron card that they’ve seen fit to sell upon acquiring the Pink Diamond version. The response from 2K Support, predictably, boils down to “tough luck”. And yes, the code leaked so anything gamers did with it was “unsanctioned”, but it’s still a harsh stance, especially given the lack of communication. It underscores one of the biggest problems with 2K Sports. As great as many of the NBA 2K games have been over the years, the company has become more and more anti-consumer in the way that they treat the fanbase. On top of that, frankly, their communication sucks.
I’ve spoken at length about microtransactions, pay-to-win mechanics, and the way it’s become the bane of basketball gaming on this generation. We’re all very aware of the issues in that regard, but the lack of goodwill goes beyond that. Consider the way that they handled this. As soon as they could, the code was nerfed and the card removed. Compare this to Daily Pick ‘Em being broken for at least a couple of weeks or the issues recovering missing pre-order VC. 2K dragged their feet on a fix for the former, and made users jump through hoops for the latter. Conversely, any issues that could cost them recurrent revenue are promptly fixed; even during the holidays!
It highlights the greed and disregard for the consumer. Yes, they’re not the only ones who are doing it, and no, nobody with an inkling of common sense expects 2K, EA, or any other developer or big company to act like a charity. There’s a business side to developing video games, and profit to be made. That’s just the reality of the situation. However, there are good ways and bad ways to do business, and good ways and bad ways to treat your customers. Even if you’re taking an understandable and reasonable course of action – as it can be argued 2K did here in removing the card – by doing it so covertly and without any public explanation, it ends up feeling rather shady.
Again, communication is a big problem for 2K. Their support staff give vague and unhelpful copy and paste answers, while making gamers with valid problems and complaints jump through hoops to get any satisfaction (if at all). They’re so averse to delivering bad news (or maybe so eager to deceive), that they’ll carefully omit details that are vital to their most loyal and enthusiastic customers. Whether it’s the absence of the old Crew mode, haircuts costing VC in NBA 2K18 at launch, changes to team and walk-on Pro-Am in NBA 2K19, or blunders such as this one, we’re left in the dark. I’d suggest that the lack of transparency stings worse than the bad news itself.
Even when 2K does communicate with us, they bungle it. A lot of the error messages in NBA 2K are bewildering passive-aggressive. Whenever there’s a server error, we’re informed that there’s a problem with our connection to the server. It’s not their server; it’s our connection. You may think that’s reading too much into an error message, but it’s a common theme. Ever had a face scan fail to render in-game? You’ll be told to try again and “pay close attention to the instructions”, a rather insulting suggestion given that as far as the companion app indicates, you did everything correctly (and there are no further instructions to speak of, anyway). Communication is not their strong suit.
This is, after all, the company that employs Ronnie 2K to liaise with the community. I realise that his official title isn’t “community manager”, but his role isn’t dissimilar. I’ve been running the NLSC since 2001, and in that time, I’ve dealt with quite a few community managers. He’s the only rep that a company has deemed to turn into a pseudo celebrity who’s more interested in rubbing shoulders with NBA players and celebrities, and getting people to pay for chat access on his streams so that he can “bless” them with Pink Diamonds, than be a link to the developers. Then of course, there was the whole “Barbie Game” debacle. It’s utter disdain for the fanbase.
Sadly, it makes him the perfect face for 2K. Incidents such as this one with the Pink Diamond LeBron card are frustrating, even infuriating, but not surprising. Yes, clearly it was a mistake, and yes, perhaps everyone should’ve seen it coming, but it was still handled poorly. When faced with an opportunity to show some goodwill at Christmas and let their mistake slide – at least for people who had already benefitted – they chose not to. Even if you want to call that harsh but fair, they didn’t announce the action or publicly address the issue. Once again, they were quick to fix a mix-up that benefitted gamers, despite generally being slow to resolve problems that adversely affect us.
No, it shouldn’t surprise us. After all, this is the developer that tried to get us to pay 1500 VC or more for certain haircuts in NBA 2K18, before “generously” nerfing the cost to 100 VC across the board and acting like their hands were tied when discussing the issue during the NBA 2K19 preview season. This is the developer that claims that having separate currencies for attribute upgrades and clothing items in MyCAREER would be “confusing”, yet now has three different currencies in MyTEAM! They’re a developer that praises their fans when there are positive Tweets and reviews, but will openly mock and giggle at legitimate criticism and understandable frustration.
Just because it’s expected doesn’t mean we can’t complain, and demand better. No one is letting EA, Bethesda, Ubisoft, or Rockstar North (who are also under the Take-Two banner) off the hook; nor should they. This isn’t just about losing the Pink Diamond LeBron. I think most gamers can appreciate that it was acquired by mistake. It’s about a lack of transparency and communication. It’s about resolutions that punish users for the developer’s mistake. It’s about being quick to patch and nerf whenever gamers might catch a break with the grinding, while delaying resolutions for any issues that are affecting the gaming experience or the ability to earn in-game currency.
Look, we can throw around terms like “salty” and “butthurt” and “whining”, and all manner of buzzwords to defend a company that is more than willing to throw away a golden opportunity for goodwill. After all, there’s not much that won’t be defended by someone, somewhere on the Internet. Forget about the Pink Diamond for a moment. Easy come, easy go, though it’s a shame for anyone who wasted consumables on it. Bottom line, the way that 2K handles problems and communicates information leaves so much to be desired. Defend them if you must, but they dropped the ball here once again. This is their latest PR blunder, but I guarantee that it won’t be their last.
UPDATE: 2K are apparently working on restoring the consumables gamers used on the Pink Diamond LeBron card. Locker Codes for a guaranteed Pink Diamond and a chance at up to 50,000 MT have also been released. While this is a commendable show of goodwill, it shouldn’t have come to this, and my point about an overall lack of communication still stands. Hats off for trying to make amends in the face of the backlash, but in general, their approach to handling these matters, communicating with gamers, and demonstrating goodwill, definitely still needs work. At the end of the day, we need to speak up and be willing to put our money where our mouth is.