I’ve been reviewing 2K’s basketball games since 2013, and I’ve seen the series evolve and grow in that time. For the most part those changes have been positive, with the one exception of NBA 2K14. It’s no coincidence that it was around that time 2K began pushing the Virtual Currency, which has been present in every entry since. Over the past few years its presence has grown, but there seemed to be enough of a balance where not paying didn’t mean you were penalised. With NBA 2K18 2K games has thrown that balance out of the court.
It’s difficult to disentangle the business decisions without being in the meetings, but Visual Concepts and 2K Games may not be entirely to blame here. Parent company Take Two Interactive have been seeing a huge return on GTA Online, which could easily be a factor. Whatever the reason, the use of VC throughout NBA 2K18 has taken the system to breaking point, considering you need to use it for pretty much everything in the game.
It’s most obvious in NBA 2K18’s MyCareer mode, which has become a personal favourite of mine through the series. In this mode you aren’t a rookie who gets drafted into the NBA by a team, you’re now scouted on the street and picked up – though you do still get to decide which team to play for. One day your character is playing ball at a small tournament, the next he’s training with a team of your choice. When it comes to the plot, this leap doesn’t make for the strongest in the series, throwing you right into the deep end. Your little rookie player has a lot of work to do, as his base rating is just 60 out of a possible 99.
When playing in MyCareer, you can’t ignore the Road To 99 sign where you upgrade your player attributes and work towards skills. You also can’t ignore the high cost of upgrading a player. Reading around in the community it seems like approximately 200,000 VC is needed to reach an 85 rating, and that’s without opting for the various customisation options in the game which all have a price of their own. You’re looking at a few thousand for a t-shirt, a new tattoo, or a pair of new shoes.
That wouldn’t be too bad if it isn’t wasn’t for the fact that you’ll earn less than 1000 VC from most games, especially when starting out. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you’ll have to spend either a long time grinding, or use microtransactions to level up quicker. This is essentially the practices of a free to play game in a full priced sports title. Paying to level up your character will also absolutely give you an advantage online in the Neighbourhood section.
The Neighbourhood is a new addition to NBA 2K which adds a hub area where players can mingle, go to the training arena, shop, or play against others. Again, it’s obvious that getting you to spend money on VC is the main aim. You’ll spawn near the training arena, but then have to jog slowly past all the shops where you can spend money before you finally reach the playground area where you can team up with random players to compete against others.
Obviously it is random on who will join your team and who the opposition will be, but it isn’t an uncommon sight to see higher levelled players taking on low level ones, with the former obviously having stat advantages for their character. Of course, if you lose you’ll earn less VC to improve your character, and that is expensive in its own right.
If my player didn’t perform too well, he might earn around 600 VC. When I went to improve two different attribute points it cost approximately 700 VC, and that did next to nothing to improve my player’s overall rating. You’re grinding from the word go and that takes away a lot of the fun that can be found in NBA 2K18. Additionally, you can lose VC from making mistakes in a game. Say you commit a turnover you’ll lose one VC. One coin doesn’t sound like a lot, but the principle here is that even if you spend real cash, 2K can still remove currency from your account. Sure you can make it back up with assists and baskets, but taking money away for mistakes is entering some deeply questionable territory.
Obviously VC isn’t limited to MyCareer. The other obvious place is the MyTeam mode where you buy packs to build a team up to compete against others or take on challenges. It sounds good enough, but when I went to view the auction house for more cards I was informed I needed to complete the silver tier objectives, which includes buying a pack using either VC or MyTeam points. Your VC balance is linked to all aspects of the game, so buying a pack in MyTeam means not improving your player in MyCareer. Imagine if in FIFA you couldn’t view the Ultimate Team transfer market unless you bought a gold pack. There’d be an outcry, but for some reason NBA 2K isn’t called out on this.
The most annoying thing about all of this though is that underneath all of the push to get people invested in VC, this is still a great basketball game. The production values are second to none throughout, with the player and commentator models looking fantastic. Just like in previous games the commentary proves again to be the best in any sports title, with real life soundbites from NBA players and coaches. Even 2KTV continues to be interesting when NBA players are interviewed and game tips are given.
The on court action has been improved a little too, though the shot rating seems to be off. I can throw a good or excellent shot and see it bounce off the rim, while a slightly early or late release will see the ball go through the basket to score some points. It makes the shot rating system almost meaningless. Aside from that and the VC issue NBA 2K18 brings the game when it matters, but is utterly soured by the approach to the rest of the game.
- Looks fantastic
- On court action is smooth
- The Neighbourhood hub shows potential
- The absolute ridiculous grind required to be any good
- 2K’s insistence on slowing down progress, pushing VC packs instead
- MyCareer story isn’t as good a previous
- Locking out an auction house unless you pay in MyTeam
With NBA 2K18 we’ve reached an inevitable crossroad, though the signs should have been seen a while back. The on court action is still the best available, but there is now room for another franchise to come and steal an audience that will be sick of the costs of simply being able to compete in the 2K series. The grind isn’t fun and paying gives advantages over those who won’t or can’t afford to. You absolutely cannot ignore how NBA 2K18 is a full price game that also integrates the business model of a free to play/pay to win title and the way that the enjoyment you get from it suffers because of it.
Version tested: PlayStation 4
Update 4PM BST 21/09: In discussion with 2K Games, we’ve temporarily removed the score pending a statement with regard to our criticisms, at which point it will be reinstated. Additionally, a draft conclusion was posted that incorrectly characterised our score as a protest vote, and has been reworded to reflect that our criticisms are rooted in the effect that VC and microtransactions have on the gameplay.
Update 2 1PM BST 22/09: Our 3/10 score has now been restored to this review, with all but the wording that suggested this was a protest vote also kept intact. You can read our explanation of what happened and why here.
Massive shame. When a publisher/parent company’s avarice causes disruption in otherwise fantastic game, it’s really quite damaging.
ughh, good advice is don’t bother playing my career and using VC for buy anything and upgrade player rating
Ouch. I’m not interested in the game, just stumbled across this on Reddit. Quite a shame 2K seems to put pressure on you, which does definitely not improve my view of 2K.
You have my full support, TSA.
To be crystal clear, 2K haven’t put pressure on us, they asked us to reconsider the score and questioned the use of the word “protest” which is wrong in this context and completely on me. There’s no worries about inappropriate blacklisting or anything like that.
We’re still waiting on the statement because they are trying to improve the balance, it’s just whether or not they are prepared to reveal how they will be doing that, but we’ll be returning a score and explaining what happened at 1 today.
Appreciate the support. It’s a bit of a faff…
The Lone Steven
Naturally, all of the staff needs to make their way to the Winchester, hole up and wait for it to all blow over.
To be fair though, I would argue that questioning the reviewer about their score does apply pressure, just in a more nuanced, less direct way. In my opinion, the review sets out exactly why the game gets a 3 out of 10 and that seems fine to me. If the game is ruined by microtransactions and the like, thats on the publisher (and, sometimes, the development team).
Registered here to express how disappointed I am in you for removing your score. The game as is has been reviewed and any statement from 2k isn’t going to change the game that people are buying. This sets a horrible precedent that any publisher can contact you, say they’ll write up a BS excuse shortly and you’ll remove your score.
Are you here for us the readers or the publishers?
Shame on you.
The Lone Steven
Really? 2k? really? Are you really gonna to pressure TSA over the review? Because that always works sooooo well when publishers interfer with review scores. Just seriously? That’s something I would expect Warner Bros to do, not 2k. 2k may want to pray that a certain critic with a penchant for Boglins doesn’t learn about it thus it being casted into the spotlight and everyone finding out about it.
As for the game, freeium elements? In a triple A game? What the flying….. it’s Basketball. I don’t mind grinding but that’s only for RPGs and a lot of the time, they tend to be fun. This? THIS? It’s basketball. There’s only so much basketball that one can do before it gets boring. *sigh* if they did this for the sports series that they put tons of effort into, i’m guessing the WWE2k games are gonna to end up doing this.
Too late for that, Jim Sterling already did a video on this two days ago!
The Lone Steven
Yep. Every publisher should watch that video and then decide if they are willing to be known as ****** or not.
Hes done another one about this whole saga.
Thank you for giving NBA2k18 a harsh score and they rightfully deserve it! The only way they will change their methods is consequently media reviews such as yourself.
I am an older gamer, had a Dreamcast including that first NBA2k game with Iverson on the cover. NBA2k has been the one game through out the years I had dedicated a ton of my time to (which I do not have a lot of due to kids, and a career). When the Legend edition was announced, there was no doubt that I was going to purchase that edition as I did the Kobe Legend edition for 2k17.
Upon playing the MyCareer in 2018 it was devastating to me how much they changed the game. I did not want to play an RPG running around without a map or navigation trying to find where Mycloset was, and waiting and waiting on load times. I had to turn to YouTube just to figure out where My Court was. It was frustrating running around and not knowing where to go or what to do, and as such I have a bad condition of motion sickness. I was ecstatic of the improved face scan, however the hair cut did not match mine, so after watching YouTube videos, I figured out where the barber was. Then I was confused why getting a haircut required VC which 2k17 didn’t require. I was like fine, it’s only 1,500 and I only needed one haircut. A few hours later after my motion sickness went away, the network connection was disconnected, restarted my Xboxone, and I came to realize the my My Career file I had from Prelude was gone. So no problem I will just create another myplayer file, but now all the Legend edition Shaq digital items were gone also. I submitted a ticket with 2k technical support and awaiting their response. Another important aspect of playing this game is the difficulty levels. I do not play online with other players, and strictly just play mycareer and WOW this game is incredibly HARD. I understand I am only a 60 rated player but I would miss open shots and layups, and ridiculously cannot play any defense on the computer. The game ultimately is frustrating and just not FUN anymore. Literally a huge step backwards from an amazing NBA2k17 game.
Registered, just say thanks, THANKS FOR BEING THE ONLY ONE EXPOSING THIS GAME!
VC is no protest, VC made this game UNPLAYABLE ever since 2K15 and it only gets worse since. When you give it 3/10, I almost ask myself how can you play even 30% of this game? Other review site kiss 2K and fanboys asses and give it a high score for graphics? For a good score, The Witcher 3 had to give graphics and then add all the stuff that 2K didn’t bother: pacing, stability, balance, story, good value and ART.
p.s. randomized player packs are virtually gambling directed for teens. 2K is the mother and father of exploitative gaming, thank you for being real.
Aran Suddi, Thank You for having the conviction to post one of the FEW articles out there that accurately describe and rate the game based on its broken independence on fee to play elements.
Take note editors at Sixth Axis, while all the other big review sites wrote their puff pieces suckling at 2k’s teats, Aran had the integrity not to mislead your readers and wrote an informative and accurate review. It was disappointing to see you guys remove the score however, after reading your statement on why it was done I can understand the stance you took. I find myself thanking you now as well.
At the end of the day I think this turned out well; I found a new games review site with writers and editors with integrity, and 2k Games got the slap in the face they needed as you mentioned in your statement “Needless to say, they’re now very aware that players aren’t happy, which is perhaps the best thing to come from all of this”
Registered, just say thanks. The fact that the publisher would reach out to try to influence a score is a scandal through and through. The fact that this game recieves a 9/10 or even 8/10 from many mainstream reviewers is disgusting. Shows the inadequate ability of the reviewers. A game that has a price tag of $80 where I live. Should not be implementing a f2p basis that infringes on my enjoyability of said game. You have a new fan :P Thank you for submitting this review.
Well done, great to see such integrity and honesty here. If microtransactions ultimately suck the fun out of a game then it’s relevant and should be mentioned. Top job.