The Friday Five: Top 5 Controversies in Basketball Gaming

The Friday Five

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.

It’s about time that I did another Top 5 countdown in The Friday Five, and I believe that I have an interesting topic for the occasion, one that I’ve somehow overlooked covering so far: controversies in basketball gaming. As video games have transitioned from a novelty into a thriving industry and popular pastime, gamers have become savvier consumers who are not afraid to speak their minds when the product doesn’t meet their expectations, or a developer does something that they don’t like.

Basketball video games are no exception, and the basketball gaming community certainly has no qualms about speaking out when it’s unhappy. There have been a number of issues that have had us riled up over the years, so for this week’s Friday Five, I’m reflecting upon, ranking, and counting down what I’m offering up as the Top 5 Controversies in Basketball Gaming. Let’s begin.

5. The Crew Mode Debacle

Crew Mode in NBA 2K15

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really one for online gaming, so modes like Crew don’t really interest or concern me. That said, Crew is very popular with a lot of NBA 2K gamers, so I certainly believe it’s important that the mode is done justice for their sake. Unfortunately, the handling of Crew Mode has not been without controversy in recent years. First, it was taken out of the game for a couple of iterations, then brought back in a cut down format in NBA 2K14, before finally returning to the traditional concept in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version of NBA 2K15.

Now, while accusations that the developers were lazy or out to get Crew gamers are unfounded, 2K could (and should) have handled the situation better. When the answer is bad news, 2K reps often avoid the question altogether, an approach which left gamers in the dark about Crew Mode’s absence. Providing a very different experience under the banner of Crew Mode was also a miscalculation. Transparency and honesty are paramount in video game development these days, so straightforward explanations as to why certain decisions were being made about Crew – telemetry data, focus on other aspects of the game, technical limitations, etc – wouldn’t have gone astray.

4. The Cancelled Patch for NBA Live 2001 PC

Kevin Garnett in NBA Live 2001

We’re going back over a decade for this one. NBA Live 2001 was a somewhat controversial release in several respects: the release of the PC version was pushed back, there were some bothersome gameplay quirks such as offensive rebounds tending to outnumber defensive boards, custom teams were gone, and in contrast to NBA Live 2000, we couldn’t edit player accessories. However, the most controversial issue was that an official patch had been planned and announced, but was ultimately cancelled.

While the decision to cancel the patch was not made lightly or maliciously, it didn’t sit well with a community that had several gripes with the game, and had been anxiously awaiting a patch to fix them. Gamers were understandably disappointed and angry, but unfortunately, they lashed out at the one NBA Live developer who was visible and active in the community: NLSC co-founder Tim Tschirner, who had joined EA Sports to work on NBA Live 2001. The criticism of the game and outrage at the patch’s cancellation were justified, but placing all of the blame on Tim absolutely wasn’t. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a good situation all around.

3. A Console-Only Release for NBA Live 2002

Steve Francis in NBA Live 2002

NBA Live 2002 was the first game in the NBA Live series not to have a PC release, and needless to say, our community wasn’t pleased about it. Although NBA Live 2001 had its issues, most of us did still spend a lot of time playing it, and of course, modding and updating it with patches. Sadly, most of those releases have been lost over time (though we’ve managed to track down some and upload them to our archives), but suffice to say, it was a very prolific year for the NBA Live patching community. Interest in and enthusiasm for the NBA Live series was still very high.

However, since we couldn’t make patches for a console-only release, and most people in our community preferred to play NBA Live on PC anyway, the general trend was to continue updating NBA Live 2001 (and NBA Live 2000) through to the following year, when the series would return to the PC platform with NBA Live 2003. Although the community was pleased to get another PC release – especially one as customisable as NBA Live 2003 – NBA Live 2002 planted concern in a lot of gamers’ minds regarding the future of the series on PC. As it turned out, those concerns would be realised just a few years later.

Incidentally, for those who would like some more insight into why NBA Live 2002 was a console-only release, check out our interview with Tim from Episode #100 of the NLSC Podcast.

2. Console-Only Releases for NBA Live (09-Present)

Tony Parker in NBA Live 09

What’s more controversial in PC gaming than skipping the platform for a single release in a series? No longer releasing the series on PC, period. To date, NBA Live 08 is the last game in the NBA Live series to be released for PC, and the announcement that NBA Live 09 would be a console-only release certainly caused upset in our community. PC basketball gamers would not be left out in the cold as the 2K series finally made its debut on the platform with NBA 2K9, but for long-time NBA Live players, EA’s decision certainly stung…especially for those who were around during the time of NBA Live 2002, and had experienced it all before.

It didn’t help that the PC versions of NBA Live 07 and NBA Live 08 were troubled releases, with bugs that severely hindered the overall experience. NBA Live 07 received an official patch, but NBA Live 08 did not, despite sorely needing one. The dissatisfaction with those two releases, coupled with the series going console-only, resulted in many PC basketball gamers developing a dislike for (and aversion to) the brand that still lingers today. For my part, I don’t take the lack of NBA Live on PC personally – at the end of the day, it was a business decision, not an act of spite – but I do share the disappointment, and hope for a return to the platform some day.

1. Virtual Currency in NBA 2K

Purchasing Virtual Currency in NBA 2K15

This was a difficult Top 5 to rank, as gaming communities are not shy about voicing their displeasure, and all of these controversies resulted in basketball gamers being very vocal in their outrage. However, I’m putting Virtual Currency in the top spot, in part because it’s an ongoing issue, but also because it represents a controversial practice that is becoming more and more common in gaming: microtransactions. While the use of the concept in mobile gaming has certainly been criticised, the increased presence of microtransactions in AAA games has really received a lot of scorn.

It isn’t necessary to spend real currency to get Virtual Currency, but it’s much quicker to do so, if you want to level up your MyPLAYER or build up your MyTEAM a lot sooner. A more concerning problem is when server downtime results in a MyCAREER game changing to an offline save, thus resulting in lost VC (and real money, too). This has led to some very angry posts directed towards 2K on social media, and rightfully so. NBA Live also facilitates microtransactions, but there’s been less controversy as their use is restricted to one mode (Ultimate Team). With 2K’s use of VC in multiple modes, avoiding these issues in the future is absolutely vital.

That’s all from me, but what are some of the most controversial issues in basketball video gaming that you can recall? Do any of the issues that I mentioned resonate with you? Sound off 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.

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February 21, 2015 6:44 pm

How about 2K killing community modding?