I can’t remember the exact year but it had to be around 1998 that my father took me to see the New Jersey Nets get utterly outplayed by Michael Jordan and the rest of the invading Chicago Bulls. On its own it was an absolute spectacle to see my favorite team get picked apart by the best player in the league, but for my family and I, it was one of our favorite pastimes to enjoy together. Some families are really into football or baseball or whatever, but mine was all about basketball, especially the Knicks and the Nets. I also was really into video games, which was good because it turns out they made a lot of basketball games.
While I don’t follow the NBA much these days, I’ll still pick up an NBA 2K once every few years in an attempt to scratch that lingering basketball itch. A few weeks ago NBA 2K18 was on sale for twenty bucks and I decided to pull the trigger on it and try to finally win the Nets a championship considering that’s basically what I do every time I’ve picked up one of these games in the past. But before I purchased it, I was greeted with the super accurate and never abused user review aggregate score of Mostly Negative.
As it had been in previous years, NBA 2K18 was filthy with microtransactions and plenty of reasons to engage with them. Using NBA 2K17 as an example, I’ll give you the real quick and dirty explanation of the economy. You’ll create a player to bring into the career mode and some of the various online modes, and depending on how well you do in games and practices you’ll receive a certain amount of in-game currency that you can spend on more skills and cosmetic items.
The problem is that you accrue an abysmal amount of the currency just through regular play and everything worth buying is ridiculously expensive. In an average game, you might earn anywhere from five-hundred to one-thousand dollars of in-game currency, whereas certain skills, like three-point shooting, can cost several thousand in-game dollars to level up just once. That’s also the same currency for making your character wear arm bands or cool sleeves as well as simple stuff like just getting a new haircut. From everything I was reading, it seemed like NBA 2K18 had doubled-down on these crappy business practices, and people weren’t too pleased about it.
Now, my point for writing this isn’t to dunk on NBA 2K18 and its terrible business model, but rather to illustrate how little that means to me. Because for as many bad reviews as I saw I also read that if you don’t engage with that stuff, the core gameplay is really good. Considering all I ever do in these games is play the franchise modes that allow you to pick a team and run them for decades, I was happy to buy the game and do just that. Twenty hours later, I’m very happy with my purchase. It’s become my go-to game for when I want to watch a movie or listen to a podcast, and outside of a few performance issues and the rare invisible player, I think the game is pretty great.
I don’t support the crappy business model that’s implemented in NBA 2K18, I think that it’s gross and exploitative that it encourages people to pay if they want to be competitive in two of their largest game modes. But the game itself is still really good, and it reminds me of all of the great memories I had from when I was a kid and was actively following the sport. And honestly, that’s kind of all that matters to me at this point.