NBA 2K19 Is A Nightmarish Vision Of Our Microtransaction-Stuffed Future

Not a photoshop.

Let’s start with the good news: NBA 2K19 is not as egregious with its nickel-and-diming as NBA 2K18 was. But that being the good news is also what makes this the worst news.

Last year’s entry in what’s still the best basketball series (on the court at least) on the planet was heavily criticised by fans for the way it charged full retail price for admission then at almost every turn tried to bleed players for even more cash, not just for cosmetic stuff but for career progression as well.

It still sold well, of course, but the outrage was enough to convince 2K to walk back some of the more obscene parts of the game’s thirst for Virtual Currency (VC) in this year’s edition.

In 2K19 haircuts are back to being free, players can earn more VC after games, and there are more opportunities to pick up extra currency through daily activities, all of which makes 2K19 feel like there’s a slightly smaller boot to your throat every time you hit a menu screen.

What’s VC? Virtual Currency, or VC, is the lifeblood of NBA 2K19. It’s how almost everything in the game is obtained, from player stats to new sneakers. It can be earned in small amounts through gameplay, but 2K would really prefer if you just paid for large chunks of it with real cash.

That’s nice, I guess. But the place 2K19 has been walked back to is still ghastly, and if this is the safe, happy place a series thinks it can retreat to in order to make amends with disgruntled fans, then hoo boy.

NBA 2K19 is constantly begging you to spend VC. You’re asked to spend VC on Gatorade for performance boosts, on vehicles to make progression around the plodding Neighbourhood mode quicker, on shoes, on clothes.

It’s relentless, in your face the moment you turn the game on, and doesn’t leave you until the second you quit (quite literally, since GET VC is right there underneath QUIT).

The worst offender though, more than the trivial and cosmetic items that the game is littered with and which you could easily live without, continues to be the way your MyCareer progression is tied to VC spending.

You don’t level up in 2K19 purely by playing, you buy your stat upgrades with VC, and because everybody starts MyCareer mode as a fledgling scrub, getting your jumpshot and passing skills off the ground floor is a priority.

Note: my review copy of the game was the fancy Anniversary Edition that came with 100,000 VC baked-in, so I could instantly bump my guy up to an overall rating of 75, which let me cruise through 2K19's lengthy prelude section against Chinese and G-League teams.

This was also helpful because it let me get a better contract upon entering the NBA, and in 2K19 contracts determine how much VC you get after every win (a good contract can really add up over time).

If like most players you have the regular version of 2K19, though, get ready. Your player will be terrible, your opportunities limited, and the NBA will be a hellscape of missed shots and stripped balls until you can get your skills up.

It’s pay-to-win, basically. In a singleplayer game mode (though of course VC can also be spent on stuff for the multiplayer stuff as well). And 2K’s solution to improving the day one experience is to say, hey, you can buy the more expensive Anniversary Edition of the game, or buy a stack of VC with real cash.

Or do things the hard way. In theory, and I know there will be very dedicated players who will argue this, you can avoid paying extra money by simply improving your player organically. VC is awarded in other ways, mostly through game performance, so it’s definitely possible to start from the bottom and work your way to the top purely through playing your way there, even if it takes months.

But the higher your stats get, the more VC improving them costs, so where it might initially only take a few games to move up a point, it can later take days or even weeks.

And while loads of people are willing to do this, are we really even having this conversation right now? This kind of rationale is mobile game shit, the kind of odious formula work that you expect to see from something like Mobile Strike, not a major home console title.

Yet that’s exactly how 2K19 presents itself. Even after taking all that criticism last year, even after making a very clear “apology” for a barbershop miscalculation, the foundations of this series’ economy are still built atop a bedrock of utterly gross game design.

2K19 is like a free-to-play mobile game, a predatory experience where the game is always shaking you down for your lunch money, even after you’ve already given it $US50 ($70). To play 2K19 is to be in a constant state of denial and refusal, always aware that in every aspect of the game, from the gyms to the stores to the action on the court itself, you can either spend VC or be told that you’re missing out on something.

It is not fun to be around.

And all of this is before I even get to the game’s overt use of advertising and sponsorship, which I know isn’t directly related to microtransactions, but is related to the overall sensation of “this game is gross to be around”.

There is advertising across all sports games, it’s an inescapable part of the experience, if only because the actual sports these games are simulating are full of ads! But 2K goes way beyond anything EA does in FIFA or Madden, from its sponsored stores to the way brands are so integral to the singleplayer MyCareer experience.

I just talked some shit about mobile games, but at least they’d reward me for having to sit through an ad:

I just don’t get it. There are plenty of other sports games on the market, some of them even outselling 2K, and they’re nowhere near as abrasive or offensive with their thirst for cash.

FIFA and Madden make millions on digital card sales, but have quarantined that behind a game mode that anyone wanting to play singleplayer will never have to even see.

And so with FIFA, despite the series’ own problems, I still find myself looking forward to it each season, eager to see if the ball physics have been made more realistic, if player animation has become smoother, if crowds have become livelier. And because it’s almost entirely devoid of microtransaction panhandling, I’m really looking forward to the conclusion of FIFA’s excellent singleplayer story arc this year.

But with 2K, instead of approaching a new entry in the series with optimism, I now find myself dreading each new season, wondering what fresh new commercial hell I’m going to have to be subjected to just to play some games of basketball.


Comments

    I'm done with NBA2k, totally 100% done. This article hits the nail on the head for me as to why I'm not going back to these games any time soon.

    NBA2K18 was ridiculous. I understand that a lot of the stuff available via VC is cosmetic, but the way it was implemented made me feel like a poor beggar at all times even though I'd payed full price for the game. Why should I be left to run around in grey track pants the entire time when my player just became the MVP? Shouldn't he be able to afford some decent pants? Oh that's right, because I'd used all my VC on upgrading player attributes.

    The fact that we're only getting lip service with the lessons that have been learned here is a joke and the publishers/devs must be laughing at us all if we continue to buy this shit.

    Its a shame as I love the nba and the game is the best version of that sport at the moment.

    I wish I wasn't lazy so I could go back through all my Kotaku posts where I said that if we let companies get away with Cosmetic nickle and diming that this kind of stuff would follow.

    Why anyone would argue in favour of getting less content for more money in the first place is beyond me but this is the world we live in now.

    Please don't trot out any garbage about the companies needing these extra revenue streams, the companies who are the worst about Microtransactions are by far the wealthiest, us paying all this extra money for less product has not amounted to a damn thing as these publishers still are in the habit of laying off entire studios once a game is finished no matter how much money it made if it will save them a few extra dollars in the short term.

      Hey now, have a heart... that's totally out of line saying that the revenue is enough without these exploitative practices. Get back on board with the narrative: "Games cost too much to make." It's the costs which are to blame! If we want them to make high-quality games that cost that much to make, we have to accept that they NEED to fuck consumers from every direction. What else would you have them do? Just make a modest profit? What kind of fucking monster wants to deny the industry's god-given right to make more money than Hollywood does? Haven't you heard the ads? If Publishers can't plunder our wallets to make all the possible money ever, they won't bother to do this anymore, and games will straight-up stop being made by anyone ever!!11!

    I hope the Belgians rake EA over the coals hard. The big publishers need a reality check and making an example of EA would be a good place to start.

      This is 2k, btw.

        Yes, but Belgium is going after EA for loot boxes. As I said, the big publishers need a wake up call and EA being made an example of would be great.

        Just to add a bit of context: latest rumours are that EA is taking Belgium's regulators to court to dispute their interpretation of gambling laws and get a win for the gaming industry re: lootboxes. If Belgium hands EA a crushing defeat, it'll serve as a lesson to 2K and all other publishers.

    The biggest complaint going around is the total lack of anticheat. The hacking is so obvious on first day of launch its clearly the same engine and framework as last years.

    and spending money on product placed items... is disturbing.

    I hope EU adopts Brussels stance on loot box and ingame gambling.. cause EU really hates US companies telling them what they can get away with legally. Microsft Apple and Google owe billions in fines for their greed.

    How far back do you have to go to play a good career game without all the micro upgrade bs? Is 2k17 okay?

      I've put a few hours into NBA2k17 and I don't think it was this in-your-face with microtransactions.

    Idiots have let this happen.

    And only idiots buy any products whatsoever from these rubbish-tier publishers)

    So sorry for basketball fans that they have to put up with this; as an avid soccer/nhl fan i’ve had to watch the single player modes of my sports titles of choice take a backseat improvements wise whilst effort is focused on the online/ultimate team modes; annoying as all hell, but way WAY better (& no I’m not suggesting we should accept either) than what has happened to the 2k series.

    Such a shame as I used to be a big fan of 2k & was sad when their nhl series ended but can’t imagine what a misery it would be now. Competition is normally a good thing, but with these sports sims the big companies just seem to be pushing each other further towards the dark side than the light. Going to be very interesting to see what happens with the Belgian/EA court case because if EA win I dread to think where we go from here - the licenses are so expensive/tied to the big publishers that it makes it an unattractive proposition for other companies; my personal soccer fave in PES sells fractions of the FIFA series & most people won’t even look at it because of the lack of licenses - lack of sales leads to less investment (& let’s face it, Konami are hardly champion publishers anyway) & consequently i’ve skipped this years title as so few improvements have been made - a self defeating circle to which surely no rational dev/publisher would want to be a part?

    Fuck this game, fuck this company, fuck this industry. Bring on the next Great Crash.

    Wow. Holy shit.

    F*** this. F*** Take-Two / 2K. And an especially big F*** YOU to anybody who encourages this shit by buying the game and any of its virtual currency.

      Sad thing is that twitch/mixer seem to be full of streams of people playing it - hardly a good basis/sample for how well it’s sold but it certainly still seems popular?

      Absolutely not my place to tell the people who want to not buy it but I seriously hope it fails, however unlikely that looks? Thing is that not everyone hates this stuff like me/you/other comment-ers so they’re happy to buy, buy again, whilst others are trapped in the ‘one more chance’ land where they suspect the worst, hope for the best and then repent when they realise the poo still stinks.

      Watched a battlefield v beta impressions vid the other day - the three people playing it hated it yet said this year’s version is the last chance for Dice with them, they won’t buy BF6 if they hate the final version of 5 (i mean, how different can it be from the beta yet they’ll still buy it?) having disliked hardline, 4, 1 & both battlefronts - that last part had me in stitches, exactly how much money do you spend/many chances do they need? Problem is we’re too loyal to the brands we love with the opposite absolutely not being true.

        It's off-topic, but as someone who started with 4 and loved it, but went onto hating every entry afterwards, what makes you not like it?

        I imagine if I started with 3 I'd probably find things that I wasn't fond of but I didn't so it's hard to pin down what those things are.

          Sorry, I was trying to relay what the guys in the video were saying, it wasn’t actually my opinions (fwiw I actually didn’t mind 4 but saying that, much preferred 3 & bad company 2 even more). Think the main gripes they had are to do with the fact they felt/feel battlefield has lost its identity a little from the old games & content has been increasingly cut between versions (think they said 36 guns in V & there were 90+ in 3 or something?). Battelfront issues were the same as eveyones (i guess).

          Will try and find the vid/post a link, it was a channel I hadn’t seen before - i was watching the beta impressions whilst waiting for it to download, been a while since ive played BF & all this Destiny talk has me itching to shoot something (digitally of course!). They can’t be that unhappy though anyway or why would they still buy it (which was pretty much what i was trying to say using 4000 words when 20 would have worked!).

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    It's much worse now, they found out people were leveling up too fast and they lowered xp gain rates

    https://redd.it/9f0zwm

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