The newest iteration of the NBA 2K franchise is here, and while 2K continues to improve the game in many facets, there is one particular factor that continues to be further emphasized, and that continues to ruin the experience: Virtual Currency.
“VC” isn’t dissimilar from your traditional in-game currency, XP or experience points, that is prominently featured in RPGs, and other sports franchises like FIFA and Madden. In theory, you spend time playing the game to earn XP or even in-game currency in RPGs, in order to purchase aesthetic or tactile upgrades. One of the biggest challenges in game design, is understanding how to best dole out XP, and reward players at a satisfying rate, while also providing enough of a challenge to keep players glued to their controllers.
It would appear to most people that NBA 2K is very much doing the same thing, and it wouldn’t be necessarily wrong for them to think so. You can ultimately play the game and grind out VC to take your MyCareer player from a vanilla 55 overall ranking to a perfect 99. Cool.
So where’s the problem?
Over the past few iterations of NBA 2K we have seen VC become more prominent. You can download their app for a chance to win VC daily. You can answer a trivia question in the NBA 2K TV to win some VC. Everything you do in-game unlocks VC, or at lease it should. So while it seems that 2K is giving you every opportunity to earn VC, it plays off more like they’re giving you a constant reminder that you will never have enough VC. That is where the nasty phrase “micro-transactions” comes into play.
We saw micro-transactions really start to become a thing in online multiplayer titles, and in mobile gaming, and has slowly moved its way into major console gaming. Remember Candy Crush? “Oh, you don't quite have what it takes to beat this level, give us $0.99 and we’ll give you an extra move.” These prompts are spread throughout every element of these games. Sound familiar?
In NBA 2K17, your MyCareer player starts out at a lowly 55 overall, even if you had downloaded and played through The Prelude and played significantly well. In The Prelude you go through your player’s time in college, and ultimately deciding your fate in the upcoming NBA draft. I wasn’t stellar by any means, but I succeeded enough to earn a spot in the lottery. Historically, players drafted in the lottery can range from mid 60s to low 70s in terms of their overall rating. It appears that regardless of where you are drafted, you start at the vanilla 55 overall. Which is a bit disappointing. The reward doesn’t match the work.
So, let’s move past that. Going through my rookie season, and my player is struggling to get minutes on the court, so I don’t have much time to earn a lot of VC during the game, regardless of how well I perform. I am getting more minutes, but at the rate that I’m going, my player who still hasn't broken the 60 overall mark, the grind ahead of me seems quite daunting. The reward doesn’t match the work.
Then I put in work, and hit every practice that I can, try to manage my endorsement deals to the best of my abilities. What do I get? A bonus 50 VC for an appearance, and an unspecified amount for certain accomplishments in practice. The practices do a good job of letting you know how much more work you need to put in in order to unlock more upgrades. I need to specify that though. Even if you have the VC, you still have to put in work to unlock the ability to purchase your upgrades. So you’re not even really doubling down, and working toward the same goal. the reward doesn’t match the work.
Honestly, your best bet to earn VC legitimately is from playing other modes. Luckily, these modes are pretty great. Then again, MyCareer is my mode of choice, and I’m at a disadvantage when I decide to play it. Why am I being penalized for playing the game mode that sold me on the game in the first place? The reward doesn’t match the work.
So, what does this leave us with? The dirty dirty micro-transaction. When it comes to preordering the game you had 3 options. The standard copy of the game, one with some items and VC, and another version with some more items and slightly more VC. These game bundles cost $59.99, $79.99, and $99.99 respectively. Up to this point we have seen many complaints on Twitter regarding the inability to redeem the codes to get the VC that they just payed for.
When you go to the upgrade store to purchase upgrades, clothing, or animations, when you checkout, it doesn’t just say “nope, you can’t afford this.” NBA 2K17 allows you to fill your cart to your wildest desires, and then gives you the option to purchase the VC that you would need to be able to afford the purchase.
“Well, at lease you can transfer the VC that you earned in the previous title to the newest iteration of the game!”
HA! Good one! This is easily the most mind-blowing problem that could be remedied fairly easily. I’ve been playing NBA 2K for years, and I buy it every single year (my fault, I know). Outside of games like Fallout 3, Persona 4, and other deep RPGs, there is no other series of games that I put anywhere near as much time in. That applies to each individual game as well. NBA 2K is such an amazing game to help relax at the end of a long work day, and sometimes I’ll find myself playing for hours on end when I get a day off. I play each game to the point where VC isn’t even a concern, I’m playing for the gameplay alone. Which is great, because I’m no longer focused on trying to earn VC to be good, I’m just focusing on my skills moment-to-moment in game. I’m spending time perfecting my post-up moves, learning my dribble moves, figuring out the jump shot and free throws of individual players. I’m earning VC this whole time, and I don’t care because the game itself is good enough. If a newcomer to the franchise picks Team USA, and I pick some random Euro League team, I can beat them, because I am dedicated to the nuances of the game.
Here’s the thing 2K; I love your games. They put most other sports games to shame. I buy your game every year. I put hours upon hours even after I get past the grind of earning VC. I’m afraid to say though, this grind is starting to become tedious to your most dedicated fans. I’m not saying you should get rid of VC, I like dropping 2.5k on a pair of shoes that I can only wear off court. My suggestion, and it’s an easy one: allow us to transfer our VC from previous titles. We have NBA 2K accounts that should be the basis of everything that surrounds our 2K experience, yet you expect me to believe that you can’t access the amount of VC I’ve earned in just the previous iteration of the game. Malarkey!
There are still people who will buy VC. Come out with a sweet shirt with a red panda on it, and I’ll spend $20 to buy it! But please, reward the people who have put in the hours, who have put in the work, and allow them to focus on the nuance of your great basketball simulation.