All I did growing up was play NBA 2K. Now, because I love myself, I've had to stop.
2K, as it's commonly known, is meant to be an NBA simulator video game series that lets every basketball fan live out their dreams of becoming the next Michael Jordan or LeBron James.
And it once was just that. My first involvement with the game was the 2013 edition ‘NBA 2K14’ (it comes out the year before, confusing I know) on my Xbox 360. It was a wonderful gaming experience, so wonderful that it made me become a rabid fan of the real-world NBA.
You could start your own NBA career, build your perfect team and pit it against other 2K players around the world, or just play against your mates, a bonding experience like no other. It wasn’t perfect - there were bugs, it could be repetitive, and the graphics were average - but God, none of us are. It was just a great game.
In 2023 though, playing 2K is a cruel form of torture.
Pay To Enjoy
Critics and casual players all agree that modern versions of 2K are ruined by microtransactions - in-game purchases one makes with real money to improve their gaming experience.
In the two most popular game modes - MyTeam and MyCareer - you are horrible to start things off, like the worst player or worst team in existence bad.
Becoming good (and the game actually becoming enjoyable) requires collecting and spending 2K's in-game currency - VC. VC is used to upgrade your player’s skills or buy new players for your team, buy cool clothes, and even help you move around the map faster.
It can be earned by saying goodbye to loved ones, studies, and ambitions for a good week or two and just playing 2K for hours and hours to build up your virtual bank account. Because you suck in these early stages, you will miss easy shots, lose a lot of games, and scream really loud at your television, concerning your mother or flatmates as you incrementally improve your players' skills on a game-by-game basis.
The alternative to earning VC through gameplay is to straight up buy it with real-world money and trust me, 2K will do everything it can to make you fork out the cash besides literally threatening you with death.
So, save yourself all that time, and your lovely mother her eardrums, by spending your real money on virtual coins so your player is above average (it’s been estimated to make your player as good as possible (99 OVR), you need to spend US$100 (NZ$165) in addition to the NZ$120 to buy the game).
It’s gotten to the point where the gameplay is so impeded by the need to buy VC, players are boycotting the game and even filing lawsuits against Take-Two - the company that owns 2K. They are tired of having to spend money or a stupid amount of hours to simply compete with other players - the whole point of any game.
This is not an accident. As reported by Axion Gaming, Strauss Zelnick and Karl Slatoff, the CEO and President of Take-Two respectively, have their pay directly tied to their performance, specifically encouraging “recurrent consumer spending” (people spending money on microtransactions over and over again) - nearly 25% of their pay is tied to this.
It has paid off (pun intended) quite remarkably for the two big dogs as they are receiving a combined NZ$120 million this year (Take-Two also own the Grand Theft Auto Franchise, so a portion of the money will come from that). This comes after their management company ZMC signed a contract with Take-Two in 2022 “that more heavily weighted performance goals around recurrent spending”.
This isn’t to say that playing 2K is not fun, it can definitely be a great time. However, reviews for NBA2K23 say it’s impossible to look past the fact it’s a “microtransaction-infested disappointment”, as IGN put it or, in Videogames Chronicle more harsh criticism, that microtransactions “are a cancer at the heart of NBA2K23”.
More Than A Basketball Game, Unfortunately
Those in charge of the decisions at 2K do seem aware that they can make a more than bare minimum basketball simulator but, bizarrely, they’ve decided the game needs a whole lot of things that are not basketball.
The previously mentioned MyCareer game mode has turned from a fun NBA career simulation into a TV drama that holds little relevance to actual basketball-based gameplay.
This started in 2K16 when the Spike Lee-directed two-hour-long film ‘Livin’ Da Dream’ was implemented into MyCareer, viewed through unskippable cut scenes. The story revolved around your player - named Frequency Vibrations - and your family, friends, and girlfriend.
Spoiler alert: Your friend dies in a car crash during your NBA journey. Shout out to Spike Lee but this was completely unnecessary for a VIDEO GAME about BASKETBALL. The film literally meant you missed out on playing games during your first NBA season and forced you to make decisions that never amounted to anything.
The next year, Michael B. Jordan is your co-star and you have to navigate a friendship with him, another year you are a DJ that has suddenly decided to chase your basketball dream, in the latest game, all of your team’s fans hate you.
The Competition Did Not Live
Back in the early 2000s, 2K couldn’t afford to be as bad as it is now. The tens of millions of dollars of revenue was not guaranteed like it is now.
NBA Live by EA was the basketball game everyone was playing back then.
They came up with at-the-time revolutionary features according to IGN: “Perfect recreations of [Michael] Jordan's historic games, streamlined controls, NBA teams that play and feel like their real-life counterparts, a franchise mode that includes sensible GM logic and intelligent team building.”
After 2K11, EA didn't release an NBA Live game for three years. After returning in 2013 with NBA Live 14 and subsequently releasing another five games, EA completely canned the game, leaving 2K as the sole NBA simulator game on the planet.
Now, the next 2K’s only new additions seem to be updated NBA rosters, better graphics (or just sweatier players), and new, creative ways to micro-transact baby.
I wish I could just say I'm getting older and therefore games in general are just less enjoyable. But unfortunately, I think the days of NBA 2K being an enjoyable basketball game are over, and don't look like they'll be coming back soon.
If you wanna live your NBA superstar fantasies, you're gonna have to empty your virtual and real-world wallet.