Controversy of their own making with NBA 2K20 could cost Take Two in the long run

Posted August 30th, 2019 at 9:15 am

With legislators and the FTC keeping close watching on video game monetization practices one might think publishers would dampen their brashness around promoting loot boxes and other gambling-like mechanics. Take Two, the parent company of 2K Sports, however has gone the other way. They have brought the conservation back to the forefront by releasing an incredibly audacious trailer for MyTeam mode in NBA 2K20.

Major websites and Youtubers have naturally jumped all over this and made it a top story and representative of everything wrong with the industry right now, and should it eventually be used as additional evidence against the claims of Take Two and other publishers they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.

While debate continues over what constitutes gambling – and pack openings (i.e. loot boxes) are at the center of that – recent proposed legislation would ban all forms of in-game monetization. For NBA 2K that would include the sale of VC which has its tentacles in almost every mode of the game. What 2K has done here though is take many simulated gambling aspects that are only used as rewards, give off the impression that gambling (and big wins of course!) are taking place, and present that as a reason for consumers to pick up NBA 2K20.

A big segment of those potential consumers are of course children and that is the way any legislation is going to be framed – protecting the children. The ESRB and PEGI are supposed to provide some guidance and regulation but have not done so here. The game received an ‘E for Everyone’ in the US and a rating of appropriate for all 3 years and older in Europe. Even by their own guidelines simulated gambling constitutes a ‘Teen’ rating. There is no question that simulated gambling is found in NBA 2K. Actual gambling, which reasonable people can disagree on is taking place through loot boxes, would require an ‘Adults Only’ rating.

The gambling mechanics in question that are put on display in the trailer are actually not even new to the NBA 2K series. No one outside sports gamers were apparently aware of them. They also don’t involve wagering. That isn’t likely to matter though because the trailer shaped a perception that could be impossible to escape. 2K chose to make them a centerpiece of their marketing this year and this is the result of that ill-advised decision.

Sports gamers have been conditioned to accept the influence of some monetization. Realistically the sustainability of most sports games now relies upon it. There have been limits to that however whether it be the “always-online” NBA 2K14 or the VC-influenced grind of 2K18. EA Sports on the other hand has remained disciplined and limited the monetization to Ultimate Team mode. That hasn’t prevented backlash being directed at them as well.

To this point the only response from 2K has been to make the video unlisted on Youtube. That won’t save them should legislators and parents see the video and use it to form an opinion and push for more restrictive legislation. The video alone makes the case that these games are promoting gambling to children. It’s game over when that narrative hardens.