Welcome to another edition of The Friday Five! Every Friday I cover a topic related to basketball gaming, either as a list of five items, or a Top 5 countdown. The topics for these lists and countdowns include everything from fun facts and recollections to commentary and critique. This week’s Five is a list of five concepts that must never return in future basketball games.
One of the benefits of revisiting older basketball games is rediscovering features that have since disappeared, and would make a welcome return in new releases. Over the years, we’ve seen a number of features and mechanics brought back due to popular demand, which has always been a cause for celebration. To that end, I’m sure we all have further suggestions for aspects we’d like to see again. Of course, there’s no guarantee that all of those concepts will return at some point. Some of them just aren’t feasible, while others are outdated ideas and no longer relevant to modern design.
And then, you have the concepts that must never return in a future basketball game. These are the bewildering ideas and design choices that didn’t just fail to make their games better, but in many cases made them actively worse. Even if those concepts didn’t entirely ruin a game, they unquestionably impacted the fun, or displayed a complete lack of goodwill. Some of the concepts that I’m discussing here do seem unlikely to return, but we can never be completely sure of that, as some games have revisited undesirable ideas that we hoped were gone for good. You may disagree with one of the below examples, but for the most part, I think we’ll all be on the same page.
Simply put, it’s the most literal form of gatekeeping that we’ve ever seen in NBA 2K, and perhaps basketball gaming in general! After completing the pre-NBA portion of MyCAREER in NBA 2K21 for PlayStation 5/Xbox Series X|S, you were dumped in the Rookieville docks. A massive gate blocked your path to the brand new City, and the only way to get past it was to play against other Rookieville inhabitants to raise your rep and be accepted by one of the Park affiliations. There were so many issues with Rookieville that I wrote an entire article about it! Thankfully it didn’t return in NBA 2K22, though a developer laughably defended the idea as being a “success”.
Let’s begin with the insulting name and gatekeeping premise. Sure, it didn’t take too long to gain access to The City, but to that point, it was a needless step. It also meant that anyone who just wanted to play the NBA side of MyCAREER and needed access to The City to purchase accessories from the NBA Store – or utilise any other facilities applicable to the offline experience – needed to play online games to do so. Finally, getting games could be tough, especially after the first month. This required a later patch to add a CPU opponent to ensure that latecomers had a chance to get in. It’s one of NBA 2K’s worst concepts, and it’s concerning that no one foresaw the drawbacks.
2. Paying for Haircuts (Or Any Other Facial Customisation)
Admittedly this has only happened once, in NBA 2K18. That’s going on six years ago, so you may think that I’m being paranoid in bringing it up. However, we should never forget what a brazen attempt it was to add pressure to buy VC through adding a price tag to basic avatar customisation. On top of that, it wouldn’t be the last time that 2K pressed their luck by charging a fee for something that was previously free. When The City removed MyCOURTs, it replaced them with rentable private courts upstairs at the Gatorade Gym…for a price, of course. With all due respect to the hard-working developers, I don’t trust 2K as a company not to pull a similar stunt in the future.
To anyone willing to shill for 2K and insist that we should pay for haircuts – or any other facial customisation – stop. Just stop. The cost of upgrading a MyPLAYER already requires a tedious grind or paying more than twice the original cost of the game, and cosmetic items are similarly extortionately-priced. There is absolutely no justification for paying for haircuts, or potentially introducing a fee to re-create or re-scan your player’s face. If you want to make the “realism” argument, I’ll direct you to my breakdown of the in-universe value of VC, and note that NBA players get many things for free that MyCAREER makes us pay for. This concept must never return.
3. Unskippable Cutscenes
There are a few reasons to skip cutscenes in video games, aside from impatience. You may be speedrunning, in which case cutscenes slow down the proceedings. It may be your second playthrough, meaning you’ve already seen the story and all of its twists unfold, and you just want to focus on the gameplay experience. Or, it may be because the story and its associated cutscenes are utterly awful, and you wish they weren’t part of the game. MyCAREER isn’t a mode that you can really speedrun, but the other two reasons for skipping cutscenes definitely apply here. It’d be nice if we could still skip the entire wretched story, but the ability to skip the cutscenes is the bare minimum.
Look, I appreciate the time and effort that goes into crafting a story for MyCAREER. I do. I also realise that as a Grumpy Elder Millennial, I may not be the target audience for the tales they’re telling these days. However, judging by other gamers’ reactions to the stories in NBA 2K22 and NBA 2K23, I’m not the only one that thinks that calling them bad fan fiction levels of awful is an insult to bad fan fiction. Again, it’s a shame that we can’t skip the story entirely anymore, and that it has such a large impact on the gameplay experience. Mercifully though, we can at least skip those horrible scenes, and to that point, unskippable cutscenes must never be a part of MyCAREER again.
4. Aiming on Jumpshots
I’m not a fan of tossing out provocative hot takes just for the sake of it, but I’ll always grant myself one potentially controversial item per Friday Five. I mean, it’d be pretty boring if everyone completely agreed with me all of the time, right? With that being said, I believe that shot aiming is one of those concepts that really must never return, unless the developers can work out a much better way of implementing it. I did like the mechanic in NBA 2K17, and to my mind, it’s the best method of shot aiming that we’ve seen for jumpshots. It was also great for free throw shooting, and as much as I love the old T-Meter concept, NBA 2K17’s mechanics were a more modern solution.
Whenever you speak out against shot aiming, it invites some elitist to cry “get good”, but here’s the thing. If a mechanic is that unpopular, even among people who have no trouble with it, it’s not a good direction for the gameplay. It’s also fallacious to suggest that the only complaints about shot aiming is that it’s difficult, and not that it can be easily exploited, undermining whatever semblance of a skill gap that it intended to add. Shot aiming is one of those concepts that has good intentions, and again, it had merit in NBA 2K17. It keeps proving to be a bust with gamers though, and when concepts continually fail like that, it’s a clear sign that they should never return.
5. Subscriptions for Roster Updates
It’s not often that I talk about microtransactions having benefits, silver linings or otherwise, but the profitability of recurrent revenue mechanics does make certain other practices unlikely. It’s becoming a forgotten footnote in the history of the NBA Live series and basketball gaming, but there was a time when it seemed as though roster updates were going to become subscription-based. While Season Passes and all manner of DLC are quite common in gaming now, fortunately basketball games are not charging us for updated rosters through the season. NBA Live 09 and NBA Live 10 were definitely flirting with the idea though, at least with the second-hand market.
Dynamic DNA roster updates in NBA Live 09 and NBA Live 10 did indeed require a subscription, though one was included with all brand new copies of both games. As such, if you bought them new – pre-ordered, at launch, or otherwise – you didn’t have to pay for the updates. If you bought those games second-hand, and the subscription code was missing or had already been redeemed, if you wanted the updates, it was an added digital purchase. As I said, I suspect we won’t see anything like that again, as the career and card collecting modes are reliably profitable. I certainly hope that it’s among the concepts that will never return, as it was a bad enough idea the first time.
What’s your take on these concepts? What are some other concepts that should never return in future basketball video games? Have your say in the comments, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.