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.
In years gone by, a few people have been upset that our Wishlists for NBA Live haven’t really paid much attention to online features. There are a couple of reasons for that: first of all, a lot of improvements to the online experience also fall under the category of gameplay fixes, and thus don’t bear repeating in another section of the Wishlist. Secondly, I have to admit that improvements related to online play don’t spring immediately to my mind, because I’m still mainly an offline player. As such, I encourage anyone who is primarily an online gamer to post their feedback, as it’s an area of the game that I’m prone to overlook.
Given the popularity of online play, the strong desire to see proper online leagues implemented, and the outcry when there was dissatisfaction over Crew Mode, I’m guessing the preference that I and many others still have for single player/offline play may be puzzling to a lot of online gamers. So, in this week’s Friday Five, I’m listing the five reasons that I rarely play online.
1. Poor sportsmanship
Admittedly, I’m talking about a few bad apples that do their best to spoil the barrel, but it’s still an issue I have with playing basketball video games online. I have played the occasional online game, and whenever I’ve played with friends or someone from our community, it’s been fun. However, I’ve had less luck with random match-ups, as I’ve had the misfortune to encounter quite a few people who are bad sports. You know the type: if they’re losing big in the fourth quarter, they’ll either quit or cause a disconnection, preserving their record and robbing you of a victory.
Even though I’ve certainly had positive experiences playing online, encountering poor sportsmanship has left a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve been thumped in online games before, and yes, it’s not a whole lot of fun. Still, you play it out. You use it as an opportunity to try out some new moves, some new strategies, so that you can learn from the experience and get better. You don’t act like a child who throws a tantrum and flips the Monopoly board when they land on a property with hotels.
I think that online basketball gaming would appeal to me a little more if NBA Live and NBA 2K had better systems in place to combat poor sportsmanship. If wins and losses were still awarded when the losing player causes a disconnection or quits, or the quit option allowed you to voluntarily concede the game and accept the loss, then it wouldn’t be so bad. As it stands though, whenever you’re unlucky enough to encounter a poor sport, you’ll just end up feeling like you’ve wasted your time. And speaking of time…
2. It’s less convenient
I’m not going to sit here and arrogantly claim that my time is more important than everyone else’s. That said, like everyone else, I do have other commitments. As much as Teenage Andrew would have abhorred the thought of having no schoolwork to do, yet not using that time to play video games, the reality of adulthood is that sometimes, I have to give gaming a miss. I still enjoy it, I like to set aside some of my leisure time to do it, but I have to pick and choose when I’m going to have a lengthy gaming session.
To that end, online gaming doesn’t really suit me, as I prefer to play video games in my own time, and when it’s convenient for me. Additionally, most of the people I would prefer to play with online are on the other side of the world, and their free time isn’t necessarily going to marry up with mine. There are also moments when you need to pause for an extended period of time, which you obviously can’t do online. As much as online play is a convenient way of setting up a multiplayer game – what with gaming in the same room becoming something of a quaint practice of bygone days – it just doesn’t suit my gaming habits.
It’s why I’ve always declined invitations to join online leagues. It’s just not my thing for a start, and I’d also hate to be the jerk who holds up the proceedings because I’m not able to make deadlines, or be as active as I need to be. It has nothing to do with the leagues themselves, as I know a lot of them try to promote sportsmanship and fair play, and the people involved have a lot of fun. I just don’t want to be the person spoiling everyone else’s fun, simply because I’m not able to fulfil my commitments.
3. Lag & Server Issues
This isn’t as big an issue as it once was, as servers have been improved, and I have a reasonably fast connection these days (at least by Australian standards). There was a time when online play wasn’t worth my time and effort to try out; when you’re running into constant buffering issues on a YouTube video that’s only a few minutes long, online gaming isn’t really a feasible idea.
As I said though, things have definitely improved, and my current connection is up to the task. The few times I’ve played NBA Live 15 online, I’ve been quite impressed by the smoothness and overall lack of lag. At its best, it’s almost indistinguishable from offline play, but there are still moments of stuttering, as well as occasional freezing. I’ve also heard that others have experienced a noticeable amount of lag at times, so it’s fair to say that it’s still a lingering issue. Of course, that’s just the nature of the beast, when it comes to online play.
When it comes down to it, I prefer the relative consistency of the offline/single player experience. Having said that, these days a lot of the modes that are single player (or at least offer single player gameplay in addition to online multiplayer) still require a connection to the server, in order to keep up to date with the latest content. So, even if you do prefer to play single player, you are still at the mercy of server issues and downtime. Still, it is worth having those online elements to single player modes, when it means content like official rosters and BIG Moments, or fun concepts like Ultimate Team and MyTEAM.
4. It’s a different style of gameplay
“Game Experience May Change During Online Play”. It’s an ESRB notice that’s intended as a disclaimer: while sports games are generally rated as being family friendly, once you go online with them, that’s something that neither the developers nor the ESRB can guarantee. In short, other gamers may use profanity or otherwise objectionable speech that isn’t found in the game itself. The songs you’ll hear on the soundtrack are generally edited for content, but your fellow gamers won’t necessarily have the same filter.
That disclaimer also concisely sums up the fact that online gameplay differs from offline gameplay, even though it isn’t meant in that context. The current aim of the two main basketball video games is to present a realistic simulation of NBA basketball, something both titles strive for with varying degrees of success. The AI is – for the most part – programmed to play in a realistic manner, to imitate what we see in real life. Now, the core gameplay elements are obviously the same in online play as they are in offline play; it’s still the same video game, after all. However, the action is now being influenced by two human users, instead of one user and the AI.
In that respect, it’s just like playing against another person in the same room. The game will change because chances are, you’re both going to be trying to use every trick in the book to pull out the win. If one person cheeses, the other person is going to cheese in retaliation, and so on. That’s not to say it’s necessarily a bad thing or can’t be fun, but I find that online play often invites simplified strategies that can get quite repetitive, in the name of picking up the W. Part of that can come about due to the aforementioned lag, which can make jumpshots far less reliable than one would like. Ultimately, I just prefer the offline gameplay experience.
5. A preference for the offline game modes
And not just offline gameplay; I prefer the offline game modes, too. Look, online play can be fun, and it’s something I’ll do once in a while with friends or someone from the community, as a change of pace. For me, however, most of the appeal and replay value in basketball video games comes from the game modes (or depth modes, if you prefer): Dynasty, MyCAREER, MyLEAGUE/MyGM, Rising Star, Ultimate Team, MyTEAM…even BIG Moments, which are updated throughout the season. Their features and their depth is what keeps me interested in playing the games.
Also, to be perfectly honest, I really don’t care about proving my skill to other gamers, or establishing myself as an elite, nigh-unbeatable basketball gamer. I know that a lot of gamers do find appeal in that, and that’s absolutely fine. If that’s how you enjoy the games, and you are indeed having fun and enjoying yourself, that’s the main thing. More power to you! Personally, I’m more interested in taking control of a team and playing the role of coach and GM, experiencing the ups and downs of an NBA season, indulging in the fantasy of being an NBA player…all that good stuff that the single player modes have to offer. Those are the experiences that I’m interested in.
Once again, I do think that online play can be fun, and I’ll give it a try every now and again. Should NBA Live bring back Online Team Play, or NBA 2K implement a similar feature, I’d be up for joining in some regular games in our community. When it’s all said and done though, online basketball gaming just isn’t my thing. Some of the drawbacks are just too off-putting, while the appeal of single player/offline modes is just too strong. Every now and again, though…well, it’d be a shame to let those online features go to waste.
Do you share my aversion to online play? If not, how would you sell me on it? What are your reasons for preferring online play? Let me know in the comments section below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! Thanks for checking in this week, please join me again next Friday for another Five.