Sports video games are better than ever but the monopoly 2K has on the basketball product is damaging the experience.
Sony Interactive Entertainment recently released MLB The Show 22 and despite being someone who has never watched an MLB game in my entire life, I was extremely excited.
It’s unfortunately only on console (I’m part of the PC master race) but the depth of the manager mode, the clean ultimate team and longevity of the player campaign helped baseball fans get their fix during labour disputes.
The Show’s Franchise game mode (MyLeague/MyGM for us NBA fans) added several minor leagues to keep those long simulations interesting with a greatly-expanded pool of players. You can also start in the minor leagues in your career mode (MyPlayer) and develop all the way up to the big leagues.
I’m not a baseball fan but these additions to the simulation are something I can only dream of as an NBA fan.
Instead of simulating ten years into the future to see if someone like Cade Cunningham can lead the Detroit Pistons to a dynasty, predictable draft classes and rigid potential ratings mean we never get to see a player make a Most Improved Player-like leap or late lottery picks flourish into stars and we’re stuck with the same old outcomes based on pre-determined numbers.
There is some variation in the simulations and chemistry plays a small part in 2K’s MyLeagues but if you’re a team like the San Antonio Spurs, you know every single time that it’s not worth “developing” any of your young wings because they’ll all cap out in the early 80s.
When it comes to sports games, I like to split their modes up into two sections: money-makers and fan service. NBA 2K makes a lot of money with its MyTeam and MyPlayer modes and their microtransactions and pay-to-win models. That’s fine, video games are a business and they have to make money.
Modes like MyLeague and MyGM (while you can spend money to buy boosts, they give you advantages a natural simulation wouldn’t) aren’t that critical at the end of the day.
But if that’s the case, why does MLB The Show invest so much time into their franchise mode? If that’s the case, why does FIFA keep adding to their manager career, why does Madden add greater capabilities to its franchise mode and why is Football Manager always one of the most played games on Steam?
Despite the progress of nearly every other sports game, 2K fans have been stuck with the same, predictable MyLeague content for three years in a row.
Why do all these other sports hone their simulation/manager modes while NBA fans are stuck with repeatable draft classes and a progression system that bores you after one season?
Well, it looked like we were going in the right direction at one point. In September 2017, Danny Leroux, Real GM Radio sat down with Erick Boenisch to talk about the advancements in the MyPlayer and MyGM modes, incorporating the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to MyLeague/MyGM and improved gameplay mechanics.
As a first-year uni student at the time, I was giddy with excitement. After finishing high school, my PlayStation wasn’t ready for the volume of simulations it was going to endure for the next few years.
2K18, as expected, had an incredible MyLeague experience and the long-awaited financial depth was more than welcome. Not only were the offseasons realistic but challenging as we, the fans, tried to fit in our dream scenarios within the league’s actual constraints.
There might not be anything better on God’s green earth than coming home, cracking a can and starting a new sim for the night.
But 2K18 was the last time a senior 2K executive sat down with a niche podcast host to talk about something other than MyPlayer and MyTeam.
It was also the last time a MyLeague experience saw significant improvements. I feel like I’ve been playing the exact same game with updated rosters since then.
And each year, like clockwork, I put on my clown makeup, big red nose and rainbow wig to pay 2K the $80 privilege to discover this.
A few months ago, The Deep Two NBA Podcast reached out to NBA 2K’s PR team to try and set up a guest appearance similar to that of Leroux’s all those years ago. After an initial first reply to find out our angle, we didn’t get an email back.
And why should they reply?
It’s clear that after nearly half a decade of stagnation, simulation/MyGM/MyLeague modes aren’t a priority of the developer. And on top of that, it’s not like there’s a legitimate competitor on the market biting at 2K’s heels hoping to satiate the dorky needs of us few.
When NBA Live was trying its best to crack onto the scene, it became infamous for its bugs and gameplay issues. It needed to be flawless but it came during the golden era of 2K games and was squashed.
I wish that I had given it more of a chance back then but then again, I didn’t have to, my preferred title was improving, so there was no reason to jump ship.
But not all hope is lost.
Arguably the biggest sports video game of all time, EA’s FIFA franchise has lost the naming rights for FIFA, according to a press release from EA. Without getting too stuck on the details, FIFA wanted double the money it costs for naming rights per The New York Times and EA called their bluff, walking away from the table.
EA says that following 2023 (the final instalment of EA’s FIFA), they’ll be releasing EA SPORTS FC, a new game
but also the old game with all the same naming rights as before but none of the former constraints.
Apparently, we won’t know what these ‘constraints’ were until we hear what EA will be doing after the break up with FIFA in Summer 2023, but I’m going to be optimistic and say that the changes EA SPORTS FC make could have positive ramifications for the rest of the sports gaming industry.
Could they be the first game to step out of the yearly cycle?
Could they be the first game to make real progress away from pay-to-win/Ultimate Team style packs?
Could they move further into the nerdy simulation side of things?
And if they do make progress in these areas, would they apply them to their other IPs like Madden, UFC and NHL? All of a sudden, over half the sports video game market is different.
Does that mean 2K could follow?
Maybe I’ve taken a few too many leaps of faith here. Let’s start with the easy fixes: 2K, could you please fix Jordan Poole’s hair? He hasn’t had the dreadlocks in literally years…