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 is a list of five reasons why we still need to have robust offline content in basketball video games.
It’s no secret that basketball video games have been placing more and more focus on their online experiences. Whether it’s new content being pushed through for single and multiplayer challenges, head-to-head showdowns, or modes that allow you to team up with friends and take on other squads, online content has become a big part of basketball gaming. It’s an area where NBA Live and NBA 2K will continue to expand and innovate, and with the popularity of online multiplayer gaming, as well as a desire for dynamic experiences, it’s vital that both titles do just that.
Unfortunately, the focus on the online aspects of NBA Live and NBA 2K can leave the offline experience out in the cold. While some gamers may suggest that its time has past anyway, I don’t think that’s true. As much as NBA Live and NBA 2K need to follow the current trends and provide appealing online modes and content, the offline portion of the game should not be ignored. Offline single player modes and content still have their place in basketball video games, so it’s important that they aren’t ignored moving forward. If EA and 2K need to justify spending time on those areas, here are five reasons why we still need offline content.
1. Servers Go Down…Eventually For Good
Online support for video games isn’t provided indefinitely. With NBA Live and NBA 2K being annual releases, there’s no guarantee that the servers for a title will remain active for much more than a year after the next game comes out. Indeed, 2K has increased and capped online support at 27 months, which means that online modes and content are basically available for two seasons plus an additional three months before the servers are shut down. If you want to keep playing a game after that point, you better hope that the offline experience is satisfying and sufficiently deep, because any online modes and components will be permanently unavailable.
Putting aside any desire to return to an old favourite, though, most basketball gamers will likely have moved on by the time online support for a title ends. Fair enough. However, servers do experience downtime, either due to scheduled maintenance, or unforeseen problems. When that happens, online modes are obviously going to be temporarily unavailable. These days, that does mean that several modes and features will be unavailable until service is restored, but as long as there’s at least one mode that’s completely functional offline, in addition to bonus content such as historical teams, a game won’t be entirely unplayable and without appeal.
2. Unreliable Internet Providers
As much as we basketball gamers grumble about servers and the quality of the online experience, sometimes, it isn’t EA Sports’ or Visual Concepts’ fault. Sometimes, the problem is at our end. We may be past the days of dial-up Internet, where someone else in the house picking up the phone or an incoming call disrupted the connection at the worst possible moment, but broadband isn’t infallible either. Depending on where you are in the world, and how reliable your provider is, you may still experience the occasional drop out or outage. When it comes to online multiplayer modes, or modes with online content, an unstable connection can cause a lot of frustration.
I experienced that frustration myself on two occasions recently. Line problems and an odd issue with my provider have both caused instability with my connection in recent weeks, and I found myself dropping out of a Playground game with Arcane after we finished recording last week’s episode of the NLSC Podcast. Fortunately the issues have since been resolved, and a restart of my router usually gets things going again, but should I experience an extended outage, I at least have the option of MyLEAGUE to get my virtual basketball fix. There’s a reason why Always On is a controversial practice: games with single player modes should be playable offline.
3. Undesirable Online Experiences
There’s a reason why up until a few years ago, I was almost exclusively an offline gamer. I’d played the occasional online game here and there, but a variety of bad experiences discouraged me from really getting into the experience. The first issue is lag, a problem that isn’t quite as pronounced now that I have a faster connection and technology has improved, but has still spoiled more than a few sessions of 2K Pro-Am and LIVE Run. I’ve found online games in NBA Live 18 to be very choppy to the point of being unplayable, since it seems that the game does not have an Australasian server. As such, the lack of depth in the offline experience is a major drawback.
Even if a basketball game runs as smoothly online as it does offline, there’s the matter of settings and balance. Depending on the sliders and difficulty level that have been set for online play, the experience may not be very appealing, especially for novices. Furthermore, if there are issues with exploits, such as an unstoppable move, cheesy trick, or an overpowered player build, the quality of the experience can easily suffer, even if it’s relatively lag-free. Offline modes allow you to make adjustments for a better experience, as well as avoid bad sports and sore losers, ball hogs, abusive messages, and other undesirable aspects of playing with and against strangers online.
4. The CPU is Always Available
One of the reasons I can no longer say that I’m not much of an online gamer is the amount of time I’ve spent playing 2K Pro-Am over the past few years. It’s been a lot of fun playing with the NLSC squad, but there have been nights where we’ve spent up to half an hour waiting to find an opponent. When it comes to The Playground, the whole Got Next concept can also mean a lot of sitting around, waiting for a game to begin. As enjoyable as it is to team up with friends and take on human opponents, it’s inevitable that a lot of time will be wasted with the online experience, whether it’s waiting in a virtual line, or enduring a lengthy matchmaking search.
Conversely, the CPU is always available to play. When it comes to offline and single player experiences, loading times are the only wait that stand between you and some basketball gaming. You don’t need to worry about your friends being online and in the mood to hit the virtual hardwood or blacktop, nor do you need an ample amount of potential opponents to be available, either. Day or night, the CPU is going to be there in offline and single player modes. Even if there aren’t any issues with the servers or your connection, there are going to be times when getting an online game just isn’t possible. Deep and robust offline content provides an alternative, and fills the void.
5. Offline Content is Awesome These Days
Look, it’s important that NBA Live and NBA 2K both continue to innovate in terms of their online experiences. Online play is extremely popular, so I’m not advocating ignoring that aspect of the game. However, offline modes have come a long way in the past couple of decades. At most, we used to have a single season mode that we could continue into the Playoffs. Some games, like Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside and Slam ‘N Jam, didn’t even handle that particularly well. Now we have a fantastic franchise experience in MyLEAGUE, as well as appealing bonus content in the form of 2K’s historical teams, and the WNBA teams in NBA Live.
I’d suggest that the traditional basketball gaming experience hasn’t come to an end just yet. Whether it’s catering to an audience that prefers a single player mode without any online elements, ensuring there’s something to play when there are issues with servers or connectivity, or simply providing alternatives to create a well-rounded product, we need to see quality in the offline modes and content of basketball video games. From adding more depth to NBA Live’s Franchise to a more streamlined MyCAREER experience that doesn’t involve running around a virtual neighbourhood, or even just extra teams to play exhibition games with, offline content is still very important.
Do you still spend time playing offline modes in basketball video games, or do you mostly play online these days? How would you further enhance the offline content and experiences in games moving forward? Have your say 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.