Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five features five of my hot takes on basketball gaming in 2019.
Another Friday the 13th is upon us, and I’ll be honest: I’m drawing a blank on fresh ideas related to good luck, bad luck, and the number thirteen. I suppose I could talk about having terrible luck with disconnections in NBA 2K, or how I lost my progress in my NBA 2K17 MyCAREER when I accidentally overwrote it with an old backup from the cloud, and then access to the save file entirely because the server was shut down during a time when I’d uninstalled the game. I could look back at NBA 2K13, or even the ill-fated NBA Live 13, but that’s more suited to Wayback Wednesday.
Instead, I’m going to take us into the weekend by sharing five hot takes about hoops gaming in 2019. After all, does anyone want a fair and measured take anymore? I’d like to think so as that’s my preferred approach, but there’s no denying the popularity of hot takes. If you agree with them, they make you feel clever and self-righteous. If you disagree with them, you can enjoy getting fired up and firing back at the person tossing them out. I can’t quite bring myself to abandon all reason and give you some hot takes on the level of an obnoxious talking head on a panel show, but I’ll share a few thoughts regarding our beloved hobby that you may or may not agree with.
1. Career modes are better when you can pick your team.
This is something I’ve changed my mind about in recent years. I believe a big part of the original appeal of career modes, and the reason they became the mode of choice when it comes to basketball gaming, is that they took some control away from the gamer. That may sound absurd, but consider that it makes the experience more of a game, more of a challenge. With less control over your destiny, you were presented with a scenario that you had to make the best of. You weren’t necessarily going to end up on your favourite team, or in a favourable situation. It was living the life of an NBA prospect entering the Draft; you don’t get a say in where you start your career.
While I still believe there’s value in that experience, I’ve come to conclude that being able to choose your team at the beginning of a career mode is the better way to go. It’s a potentially fun and interesting challenge to find yourself on a team that you wouldn’t normally choose, but it can also be extremely off-putting. You can skip the hassle of restarting or demanding a trade by beginning your career where you want, be it your favourite team or a situation that seems like a good fit for your player. With so many other aspects on rails – especially in MyCAREER – it’s preferable to take back a small amount of control, and avoid getting into a completely undesirable situation.
2. We glorify the last game that really wowed us.
I’m not really on board with this whole backlash against nostalgia that’s going on right now, but I will agree that it can cloud our judgement at times. We see this often in the basketball gaming community, whenever someone declares that a game that is getting on in years is still the best. Now, it’s worth noting that “best” can mean “favourite” as opposed to “objectively the best quality”, but it’s not uncommon for gamers to use it in the latter context. Sure, not every release is better than the last in every way (or at all, in some cases), and there are games that continue to hold up well throughout the years, but it’s very easy to get hung up on the idea that a game remains unsurpassed.
Taking a look at the games that continue to be cited as the best several years later, the common factor is that they’re all landmark releases that pushed the envelope. In other words, they’re the last game that really wowed us, and felt like a big step forward. The games that follow these releases tend to be incremental updates, at least for a couple of years, and may end up lacking some feature that was popular in the previous game. Despite improvements to graphics, controls, mechanics, modes, and other aspects, the old game is still seen as superior because it felt like it moved the needle more. It may still be a great title in its own right, but by glorifying it, we sell its successors short.
3. Games get judged on how easy it is to win in them.
I have to follow up on something I said when I discussed the excuses that we need to stop making for games. As far as being a universal rebuttal to valid criticism, saying that someone must just suck at a game is fallacious. At the same time, however, it’s not unusual for our success, or lack thereof, to be a factor in our evaluation of a game. After all, losing isn’t a lot of fun and bad video games tend not to be fun, so if we’re not winning and having fun, then the game must be bad! Context is important, of course. If we’re losing because of broken mechanics, then we have a point. If it’s simply due a learning curve or shortcomings on the sticks, it’s not a fair assessment.
Honestly, some of my first impressions of various games have been tainted by losing, and looking back, at least some of those losses have been on me. Sometimes it has been the game, but other times it’s been me using ineffective strategies or getting frustrated and playing poorly. When I look at some of the complaints of YouTubers and other “influencers” – especially after a major and meritorious change – when they say “this game sucks”, what they really mean is “I can no longer win using the same cheesy methods as before”. Their evaluation is based on winning right away, rather than whether or not the game is achieving its intended goals. Speaking of which…
4. A lot of gamers’ hot takes about basketball games are wrong.
Grumpy old man serving up the hot takes here, but when I see discussions about basketball gaming, in particular what’s better now and what needs to improve, I do find myself disagreeing with a lot of gamers. This is particularly true of the #fix2k20 hashtag that’s been trending in the wake of NBA 2K20’s release. I realise we’re all concerned about different parts of the game, but when I see complains about aspects that make the game more realistic and demands to make gameplay cheesier, while at the same time ignoring game-breaking bugs and legacy gameplay issues, I just hope that 2K doesn’t listen to those people. Unfortunately, it seems like they often do.
It’s the same with NBA Live. Yes, I understand that there are people who really enjoy unlocking new clothes through LIVE Events and prefer The Streets, but that shouldn’t be the focus of the game. It’s not going to result in a satisfactory product across the board, and in turn, NBA Live is not going to gain the traction it needs. The proof is in the pudding, when you look at sales and reception. Good feedback is dismissed out of hand because “times have changed”, even though the ideas are still relevant. “Wrong” is admittedly a contentious word to use when we’re talking about opinion and personal preference, but when people are advocating for sim games to be less realistic, it’s apt.
5. Basketball gaming should be better than it is.
Probably the hottest of my hot takes, so I’m finishing up with it. It’s not that today’s games are all completely awful or anything, but somehow, it does feel as though basketball gaming should be better than it is. We should have at least two viable choices of sim games, instead of one vastly superior and dominant brand. Older franchises like NBA Jam and NBA Street shouldn’t be dormant. The one arcade title we have in the vein of Jam shouldn’t be a grind-fest with gameplay stuck somewhere between sim and arcade. We shouldn’t be worrying about microtransactions. With eSports on the rise, online modes should have proper balance and matchmaking.
Look, video game development is much harder than a lot of people seem to think it is. If it were easy to make the perfect game, followed by perfect sequels, EA Sports or Visual Concepts would’ve done it by now. And, in all fairness, we have had some awesome games in the past decade. The best NBA 2K releases, along with NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, have been high points in basketball gaming. Still, it’s difficult not to feel wistful about the missteps. NBA Live’s struggles to catch up to NBA 2K, some of NBA 2K’s practices that have been lacking in goodwill, no NBA Jam or NBA Street games; it feels like we should be in a golden age, but all things considered, we’re not.
Do you have any thoughts on these hot takes, or maybe you have a hot take of your own to share? Sound off with your opinions on basketball gaming in 2019 in the comments section below, 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.