The Friday Five: 5 Frustrating Design Choices in Basketball Games

The Friday Five

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.

It’s stating the obvious, but we’re pretty fond of our basketball video games around these parts. We may get frustrated and grumble when we encounter a bug or some other quirk in a game, but I’d like to think that for the most part, a majority of us are enjoying our time on the virtual hardwood. No game is ever going to be perfect or completely bug-free, and new gaming tech is always being developed and refined. All the same, we generally find a way to enjoy basketball games, especially if they receive official patches that are able to stamp out some of the most troubling issues.

Of course, bugs aren’t the only issues that cause us to become frustrated with basketball video games. Sometimes, our complaints are with the design choices that are made when developing hoops titles; the approach to certain features. While there may be a rhyme and reason to some of those choices, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t annoying, or problematic. In this week’s Friday Five, I’m taking a look at five design choices that cause their fair share of frustration for basketball gamers.

1. Low Starting Ratings in NBA 2K’s MyCAREER

Dunking in NBA 2K13's MyCAREER

While I’ve developed more of an interest in MyCAREER in recent years – my dislike of the story-driven approach aside – there’s a persistent issue that continues to frustrate me: the starting ratings. I do understand the design choice here, as lower starting ratings provide more of a challenge, and a goal to work towards. It shouldn’t be too easy to max out your player, so it’s fair enough that you have a long way to go when you begin your MyCAREER. However, I still think those initial ratings are a bit low, as you’re often on par with NBA players who barely crack the rotation.

When you factor in the story-driven approach to MyCAREER, the starting ratings look even worse. Generally speaking, the narrative is that your player is supposed to be a big deal, yet doesn’t have the ratings to back it up on the court. It also affects modes like 2K Pro-Am, and as I discussed in a recent Monday Tip-Off article, it can make for a painful transition to the next edition of NBA 2K. I’d prefer if those starting ratings were a little bit higher, and if need be, the upgrade system tweaked accordingly to ensure that you don’t max out too quickly or easily. Furthermore, low starting ratings also facilitate and encourage the next item I’m going to discuss.

2. Microtransactions

Purchasing Virtual Currency in NBA 2K15

Two of the most controversial aspects of modern video gaming are downloadable content and microtransactions. I’d suggest that a lot of gamers can get on board with DLC, as long as it doesn’t involve stripping core content from the base game and the add-on is worth the price tag. In the best case scenario, DLC is an optional expansion that gamers can pass on if they’re satisfied with a title as-is. Microtransactions tend to be a bigger problem as they’re more invasive, a component that gamers will have to deal with in one way or another. Even if you’re not forced to spend money yourself, you can still find yourself at a disadvantage against someone who has.

2K Pro-Am, MyPARK, MyTEAM, and Ultimate Team can easily be unbalanced by players who are willing to spend several times the cost of the game to quickly upgrade their team or player. Even if you’re sticking with a single player experience, there’s subtle encouragement to exchange real money for in-game coin, whether it’s upgrading your player in MyCAREER, or buying a new card pack in MyTEAM or Ultimate Team. Unfortunately, microtransactions are a part of basketball video games these days, and while I understand the business side of it, it leads to some frustration on the sticks. Suffice to say, I’m not a big fan.

3. Single Players, Connected Modes, and Always On

MyCAREER Menu in NBA 2K15

It makes sense that there are connections between Rising Star and LIVE Pro-Am, and MyCAREER, 2K Pro-Am, and MyPARK. It means that you don’t have to upgrade separate players for each mode, which streamlines the experience. You’re generally putting yourself into the game (in some form), and in all likelihood, you’ll prefer to play with that one avatar. However, there may be a time when you do want to create a different player, which can be done in NBA 2K16, albeit with the same face and name. That’s at least more than you can do in NBA Live 16, which only supports one player and one Rising Star game at a time, unless I’ve overlooked an option.

Needless to say, while there’s logic in that design choice, it’s still frustrating for anyone who would like to create a couple of distinctly different players to use. A bigger problem is the fact that single player modes require an online connection to be fully functional. We’ve seen how MyCAREER saves were lost when the NBA 2K14 servers were shut down, while other saves have been ruined by server outages and Internet connection issues. This is all part of the connection between the modes, as well as the aforementioned microtransactions, and to that end, “always on” does make sense. However, it can also lead to problems, frustration, and disappointment.

4. Inability to control multiple teams in Dynasty Mode

Chicago Bulls Dynasty in NBA Live 16

This one’s strictly an NBA Live issue, and has been for over a decade now. When Franchise Mode was revamped into Dynasty Mode in NBA Live 2004, we lost the ability to control multiple teams, which has certainly irritated a lot of gamers who love that particular mode in basketball games. The concept does make sense, as the idea is that you pick a franchise to run, and much of the challenge – such as trading for star players – can be eliminated if you’re controlling more than one team. In that respect, it’s not unlike MyGM in NBA 2K (minus the depth, of course).

However, NBA 2K has the advantage of an alternative sandbox-style franchise mode in the form of MyLEAGUE, which allows users to control multiple teams, as well as veto trades between CPU-controlled teams, among other “commissioner” functions. NBA Live only has the one franchise mode, and while Dynasty’s problems extend far beyond the inability to control multiple teams, it’s an example of how the mode desperately needs an overhaul to its features and concept. Even when Dynasty was in better shape all those years ago, this was still a knock on the mode; ultimately, it’s a frustrating limitation.

5. Steal and Shoot on the Same Button

Chris Paul steals the basketball in NBA Live 16

For this last item, I’m actually going all the way back to something that I discussed in the very first Friday Five article I posted in January 2013. While we can customise controller configurations in NBA 2K, we still assign buttons to corresponding actions. For example, changing the main pass button will also change the button for switching players on defense. This approach tends to be intuitive for the most part, but there’s one pairing that can cause problems: Shoot and Steal on the same button. NBA Live has also come to use that controller configuration, and game-to-game, it’s probably the most frustrating design choice basketball games are employing right now.

Even if you’ve somehow been lucky enough to never encounter any issues with this in any iteration of NBA Live or NBA 2K, you can probably see the potential problem here. There are times when it’s all too easy to unintentionally launch a shot from beyond midcourt because you’re attempting a steal, but somehow end up with the basketball in your hands just as you’re pressing the button. It’s not something that’s going to happen on every play, but the fact that it can happen even if you’re not recklessly spamming the steal button is problematic. Even if we can’t assign offensive and defensive controls independently, I say have Steal and Shoot on different buttons.

Those certainly aren’t the only frustrating design choices that we see in basketball video games, but they are some of the first ones that came to mind for me. Have you been frustrated by any of those issues? What are some other design choices and concepts in basketball games that you find annoying? Have your say in the comments 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.

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June 5, 2016 4:02 pm

I think the biggest frustration, at least for me, is that the developers are going in the “online” direction for gameplay. Which means they have to tweak the gameplay in ways that prevent online users from exploiting the gameplay, which makes the gameplay for offline users play worse. There’s little tweaks in there that just make the game frustrating, less smooth and just less fun in general

June 7, 2016 4:57 pm

Issue 5–MOST DEFINITELY. You hit it right on the head. Especially when it’s a key steal in a clutch situation, only to jack up a shot to lose the game. Ugggh…