The Friday Five: 5 Pitfalls Future Basketball Games Must Avoid

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.

As I continue to play NBA Live 14 and NBA 2K14 next gen, I’m naturally noticing aspects of the games that really impress me, as well as elements that I feel still need some work but certainly have a lot of potential. Needless to say, I’m also noticing a few things that I really hope both developers can avoid in the future.

I do actually want to start talking about some of the more positive aspects of both games in upcoming Friday Fives but this week, I’m focusing on that last category: the things I want EA Sports and 2K Sports to avoid. These include ongoing and re-emerging problems in basketball video games, as well as a few newer issues that I believe need to be nipped in the bud.

1. Lack of customisation options

Kyrie irving in NBA Live 14

I’ve touched upon this one before, but it’s worth mentioning again. NBA 2K14 next gen has a decent amount of roster management and customisation functions whereas NBA Live 14 has none, at least outside of Dynasty Mode. Neither game features Create-a-Player outside of their single player career modes, nor any other creation modes. Ultimate Team and MyTEAM don’t really count here.

Although I understand the need to try something new and the desire to avoid getting bogged down by old ideas, I think that it would be a huge mistake to shun such popular staples of sports games. I’m hoping that it’s simply a matter of prioritising features and focusing attention elsewhere this time around, rather than a brand new philosophy for this generation. On the subject of the players that we create for the career modes though, deeper facial customisation options wouldn’t go astray, especially in NBA Live.

Many fans were disappointed when they found out that NBA Live 14 didn’t offer any gameplay sliders, apart from the foul frequency settings. Fine tuning the gameplay for optimum realism and performance, both out of the box and through official patches, is certainly a noble goal. However, there’s usually at least one or two aspects of the game that an individual player wants to tweak to their liking. Slider tweaks can sometimes turn a major gripe into a non-issue, so it’s important that the concept isn’t done away with.

2. Lack of modes and features

Dwight Howard blocks a shot in NBA Live 14

To be fair, this wasn’t too much of an issue with NBA Live 14 and NBA 2K14 next gen. Neither game boasted quite as many modes as some of their previous iterations, but neither were as barebones as NBA Live 06 on the Xbox 360, either. At the same time, I’m hoping that neither series will drag its feet in introducing, or indeed reintroducing, additional modes and features.

I understand the importance of trying new things and I appreciate that the old must make way for the new, but I would like to see certain modes and features brought back and retained, for the sake of a well-rounded product. All-Star Weekend, single season mode, Playoffs mode, a practice mode in NBA Live (though we could possibly be seeing that in a forthcoming patch), the ability to practice plays in NBA 2K, Creating a Legend…their return would be most welcome.

I’m sure that telemetry data has been the reason for some of these features receiving the axe and some of them certainly don’t need to be particularly deep or paid a lot of attention compared to other elements of the games. Still, I hope that we don’t have to wait for too long before some of these staples are reintroduced, or up-to-date equivalents make their debut. Similarly, I hope that we don’t see modes like MyGM or features like BIG Moments disappear, but instead see them continue to improve and innovate.

3. Offline play being hamstrung by online issues

Kobe Bryant celebrates in NBA 2K14 Next Gen

I’ve seen a few declarations that offline/single player gaming is a thing of the past, but it really depends on which genre you’re talking about. The success of series such as the Batman: Arkham games, The Elder Scrolls and Fallout – to name but a few – would suggest that single player gaming is indeed alive and well. Likewise, as important as online play has become in sports games, gamers still spend a lot of time playing solo in offline modes, assuming control of either a whole team or a single player’s career.

The “connected experience” may be important, but the fact remains that people are still playing basketball games offline. While there may be online components in the form of social media feeds, leaderboards, roster updates and of course, microtransactions (more on that in a moment), it’s important that modes that are chiefly based offline are actually able to function properly while offline.

There’s always going to be downtime at some point, for one reason or another. Implementing features that make offline modes reliant on online stability wreaks havoc with the game when the server is temporarily unavailable, or indeed no longer available once a new game is out. Whether it’s the troubled launch of SimCity 5 or the more recent issues with NBA 2K14, it’s clear that this approach is a bad idea and one that needs to be avoided.

4. Intrusive microtransactions

Created player in NBA 2K14 Next Gen's MyCAREER Mode

Most people would probably say that basketball games simply need to avoid microtransactions, period. I’d certainly agree with that but unfortunately, I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation with the way the gaming industry has taken to the concept. If microtransactions aren’t going anywhere – and I strongly doubt that they are – then developers at least need to ensure that they avoid intruding upon the gaming experience.

2K Sports has been hammered recently for its implementation of Virtual Currency in NBA 2K14 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and rightfully so. As I mentioned above, its presence in single player modes has caused problems when the servers are down, allowing an offline mode to be affected by online stability. It’s also tied some basic functionality (such as rotation management in MyGM) to microtransactions; while they don’t break the virtual bank, it simply shouldn’t be that way.

I feel that there is actually a legitimate need for content such as booster packs, for gamers who want to speed things along in a single player career mode. If you’d like to forfeit a cup of coffee or two to advance a little quicker or unlock some content earlier, so be it. However, turning everything into a microtransaction, especially while offering miserly earnings and poor value for the in-game currency, shows bad faith to the consumer. It’s a trend that needs to change before we get too far into this generation.

5. Attempting to reinvent the wheel with every release

KG vs Chandler in NBA Live 13

Don’t get me wrong. Innovation is necessary, especially when it comes to sports games with annual releases. After all, a glorified roster update is never going to be well-received and certainly doesn’t justify full retail price. However, the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” definitely applies here and change for change’s sake is not a good thing when there’s no tangible improvement. It’s also much harder to make progress if you’re constantly going back to the drawing board.

We saw how this affected NBA Live during the past generation, as technology that wasn’t quite ready led to the cancellation of two titles. NBA Live 14 has its problems and areas that still need work, but there’s a lot of potential there. EA Sports won’t do themselves any favours by scrapping everything and starting over, rather than building and improving upon what they’ve got. Fortunately, it seems they intend to do the latter.

In contrast, NBA 2K has had a solid foundation on which to build and improve, but has seen significant changes to its controls over the past few releases. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I think they’ve made some good changes and a great decision in moving dribbling to the right stick. Having said that, I’m hoping that they’ve arrived at a concept that they’re content to tweak and refine, rather than radically change or overhaul anytime soon.

That’s going to do it for this week. What are some of the pitfalls and mistakes from the past generation that you’re hoping basketball games will avoid in the future? Let me know in the comments below and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in, please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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January 4, 2014 5:27 am

excellent article!