NBA 2K19: First Impressions, and the Issue of Microtransactions

I said last year that NBA 2K18 lost a customer with its gross microtransactions nonsense. While voting with your wallet is an overrated concept sometimes, I’d like to think that losing a customer who bought every annual edition for more than a decade would at least be a sign of something. I eventually caved and bought 2K18 — but only after its price had plummeted to $15 over the summer, and with another $5 off in Best Buy credit. So ultimately 2K got 10 of my hard-earned bucks.

That’s the most they deserved, if anything. 2K18 was a grotesque nightmare of capitalism and the worst of video gaming, with cosmetic bullshit like haircuts and tattoos costing unreasonable amounts of the game’s Virtual Currency and fewer ways than ever to earn it.

2K18 also featured an awful career mode with poorly written, annoying characters that you actively wanted off the screen as fast as humanly possible. But the gameplay was great, full of little nuances that made the action from baseline to baseline a stunningly accurate tribute to the NBA.

So what lessons, if any, has 2K learned from last year’s debacle? Well, that depends on your perspective. On one hand, there are plenty of ways where you can see small improvements, like haircuts being free instead of costing VC or higher difficulties resulting in increased payouts. On the other, you can still see advertisements everywhere you look and the road to 99 continues to feel like an uphill slog unless you have dozens of hours to play — or pay real money for VC to skip the process.

I’ll be honest: as a longtime 2K vet, there is nothing that makes me feel worse than picking up a new game for the 12th year in a row and starting my career as a 60 overall for the 12th time. Grinding my way onto an NBA roster’s bench and eventually earning playing time and a starting spot felt fun the first time. Maybe the second. By time 12, it feels like absolute garbage, especially when VC rewards are tied to performance and your NBA player feels horribly outmatched every time he takes the court. So I’ve paid for VC twice just to get my player up to some respectable level on his ratings, like the mid-70s. That part of the experience feels punitive at best and manipulative at worst.

What’s frustrating about all this is that it would be easy to walk away, like last year — to wash my hands of the entire experience and tell 2K it can shove its VC up its ass. But I genuinely love basketball, and when you’re not stuck in the VC grind, playing the game is a blast. NBA Live continues to miss the mark, so what else do I do? Even if I throw a bit of extra money into the abyss for VC, I generally get dozens of hours of these games, so it’s a decent return on investment. I just wish the series didn’t put me in that position to begin with.

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