The uproar over VC in NBA 2K18 has now reached the mainstream

Posted September 25th, 2017 at 1:00 pm

It took long enough to get to this place from a coverage standpoint, but NBA 2K is starting to be recognized as a real video game that sells eight million copies and generates hundreds of millions in digital revenue annually and not “just a sports game.” Major media websites and Youtube personalities with massive followings have jumped all over NBA 2K18 for its aggressive implementation of Virtual Currency and for the first time in recent memory publisher 2K Sports is taking fire from all directions. 

VC goes all the way back to NBA 2K13 but it was with the disastrous NBA 2K14 that 2K Sports had to make their first course-correction. Due to unreliable servers and a push to make the game “always-online” with VC in mind, consumers went weeks at a time where the game was largely unplayable. After that at least the likes of MyLeague were left uninfluenced by VC but its role elsewhere has stayed the same or grown.

Consumers have grumbled about VC and its impact on the games but ultimately the masses have expressed either indifference or acceptance. That is, until now, with NBA 2K18.

The Metacritic score for 2K18 is lower than both 2K17 and 2K16, due in large part to just a handful of outlets that have penalized the game over it’s microtransaction-heavy design. It’s the user reviews however which demonstrate a greater wave of objection. The PlayStation 4 version has a user-score of 2.1 and Xbox One is at 1.6. It’s also getting hammered on Steam where reviews are “mostly negative.” This is all based on anger over VC and/or the loss of MyPlayer characters which have cost them time and money.

It’s fascinating to see mainstream video game websites and Youtube personalities (examples here and here) that don’t even play sports games now covering the situation with VC as though it’s something that was just discovered. What made it easier this year was the more absurd examples, such as hair styles costing up to 1500 VC without even the ability to preview how they look and with the loss of any styles purchased prior when a new one is bought. Make no mistake about it though, VC has heavily influenced the game’s design for a number of years now.

If 2K only cared about creating a compelling and fun career mode, they wouldn’t start players at 60 Overall where they’re lucky to even make layups. They do that because it pressures players into paying to make their character fun to use. If 2K only cared about balanced competition, they wouldn’t place low rated characters into online games against maxed-out characters. They do that to create the situation where you need to pay in order to even compete online. If 2K cared about a realistic experience, they wouldn’t pool together VC to be used on both attributes and cosmetic items or across multiple modes. They do that to create conflicts that are more easily resolved by spending money.

2K Sports will definitely be making adjustments after all this but VC is here to stay. Features like The Neighborhood have been built as a longterm play to encourage more spending. What 2K has to do is get back to making fun the priority, instead of penalizing people who don’t pay extra money by making the game less enjoyable at the start. They can accomplish that while still finding ways to generate digital revenue.

What’s also certain though is that reviewers and consumers are very aware now of the tactics being utilized by 2K Sports and the harm that has been done to the game in the process. Next year NBA 2K19 will be scrutinized far more heavily leading up to and through its release, as the company’s response to the backlash will be watched closely by all.