Just the thought of interacting with a companion app sounds wrong. So often they're shallow, half-baked experiences that serve little purpose beyond nickel and diming their audience into spending more money on a game that they've already shelled out a substantial amount for.
And there's no doubt that MyNBA2K17 is designed to generate some extra money for 2K. But while it exists as a way to scan your face and check your stats in NBA 2K17, it also comes with a mobile card game that's disturbingly entertaining.
If you've ever come across WWE SuperCard, MyNBA2K17 largely works the same way. You start out by picking your favourite team, and then you're given a series of cards ranging in rarity as a starting "lineup". Each of the cards has four stats: offence, defence, rebounding and playmaking, represented by an arbitrary figure in numbers.
At the basic level, two teams face off with a lineup of five players. Each quarter you're given the chance to pick one or two players to compete in various challenges. It boils down to whoever picks the player with the higher stat number, and while you can play a single bonus card each game to boost a player's stats for that round, that's more or less what it comes down to.
It's a pretty basic loop. Draw cards. Select players. See numbers. Win based on numbers. Repeat.
It also works damn well.
This isn't a first for 2K, though. The MyNBA2K app was introduced into the flagship basketball franchise in 2013. WWE SuperCard launched a year later, and quickly became 2K's biggest mobile hit with more than 10 million downloads to date.
It's the sort of product 2K's shareholders love. Mobile games might not deliver billion-plus figures into a company's coffers, but for big publishers with big, iconic brands like NBA, FIFA, WWE and so on, they provide a consistent stream of revenue.
And it's impossible not to think about that when I'm watching the numbers on my basketballers go up. Hell, there's a mechanic in the game where you get rewarded with free draft picks (basically disposable cards that can be sold or recycled for various purposes) for watching mobile ads.
Just writing about it feels a little gross. But that hasn't stopped it from becoming the primary source of entertainment on my phone. I stopped playing the career mode in the NBA 2K16 for this. I put a halt on reading the Fables comics just so I could keep my players refreshed.
It really comes down to three parts. You have the quick game, which is basically single PvP matches against other players teams. There's Blacktop Challenge, which pits 10 players against each other over 5 two-minute rounds. Players get victory points for beating other players, and as the match progresses your players lose stamina and eventually get recycled with others from a 25 player deck.
The longest form mode is Season, which pits 30 players against each other over the course of 82 automated games every 30 minutes. Your lineup is basically made up of 15 players and three "support" cards. Players lose energy with each and every game, and you can't update your roster mid-season as you pick up new cards.
Beyond the cards, there are also two in-game currencies. And there is plenty of encouragement to drop money. Hell, you even need real money if you want to list duplicate cards for auction instead of giving them away in a firesale.
Why am I playing this, again?
The main motivation, of course, is to slowly earn more in-game coins for my player in NBA 2K17. Those coins go toward attribute and skill upgrades, and the more of those you buy early on the faster you'll be able to start dominating.
Because of that, it's difficult not to be encouraged to spend money. After all, you're deliberately handicapping yourself if you don't. You might get those stat boosts eventually, but after how many hours? MyNBA2K17 leans on that too.
The more money you spend, the more draft picks you can have, the more you can refresh your players in Season matches, the more trash cards you can recycle to boost your first team ... the better you do. It's really that simple.
And yet I'm still playing. It's almost the same appeal as Clicker Heroes or AdVenture Capitalist, those free-to-play games on Steam that almost abusively leverage the reward mechanic inside people's brains.
I'm being given things all the time: new support cards. New draft picks. New players. Better players. I've even found myself enjoying crappy mobile ads — because those ads give me more draft picks, which leads to bigger numbers one way or another.
No wonder MyNBA2K17 feels good.