The "MMO-ification" of NBA2K from a former MMO developer. (EVE Online)

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The "MMO-ification" of NBA2K from a former MMO developer. (EVE Online)

Postby sticky-fingers on Wed Jan 17, 2018 8:13 pm

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Re: The "MMO-ification" of NBA2K from a former MMO developer. (EVE Online)

Postby Andrew on Wed Jan 17, 2018 8:54 pm

Fantastic post. A few points in particular stand out to me.

Visual Concepts, 2K, and Take Two have done little in this latest release to demonstrate that they understand the importance of player retention. Their approach is, if anything, downright contemptuous of players and hostile towards newer players. It is, if anything, anti-retention. Their latest title, NBA2k18, is a naked and brazen grab for short-term financial gain without consideration of the potential long-term downsides.

This attitude has been brewing for quite some time, not only in their business practices, but the way they interact with fans. Consider Ronnie's ridiculous "This isn't a Barbie dress-up game" comment last year (24 hours before a blog dropped talking about shoes, no less). 2K feels untouchable, and right now, things are going really well for them. However, there's only so long you can thrust a middle finger in the face of your most dedicated fans before they flip the bird right back at you. The backlash is real, and it remains to be seen whether it's pushing the bubble closer to bursting.

These games once featured in-depth tutorials and practice modes that encouraged players to engage and invest time in the game to improve. These games once made it far easier for players to create new builds and try different things to freshen things up and promote long-term engagement. These and other considerations are clearly not the priority for the studios and publishers going forward, and this can only hurt them in the long run.

Take something as simple as trying to practice your jump shot. On your MyCourt this isn’t anywhere near as easy as it should be. You must chase around your balls on the court, slowing the process down, and generally making something as simple and vital as practicing a shot an arduous process. I was shocked to learn that at 92 OVR (or something like that) I will finally get access to a ball machine on my court that makes it easy to practice something as fundamental as a jump shot. This kind of stuff is bafflingly self-destructive.

Or consider the tutorial modes that previous iterations of this title shipped with, where you could practice a specific move and the game would provide feedback on whether you’d pulled it off. These are all just simple little things that helped retain players by allowing them to improve, and engage with the games incredible depth. The removal of such features is a real headscratcher, because it only makes it harder for players to engage long-term with the title.

Can't add much to that, except to say it's a great point. The games have become less accessible, though there are some very comprehensive resources in the control listings in 2KU. It's also kind of funny that your player can afford a big loft apartment with a basketball court from Day One, but not a ball machine. Just another example of inconsistent logic in MyCAREER and the new Neighborhood approach.

Instead of creating a better experience for new players, the game creators seem to be pushing hard in the exact opposite direction, by focusing on the game’s elite: cosying up to YouTubers who play at an elite level (as opposed to YouTubers who create game tutorials). Another example of this is their promotion and allocation of significant resources towards things like the new E-League, as opposed to putting those same resources and energy into refining the gameplay, and broadening its appeal by making it more friendly and accessible to new players.

Spot on. Again, I think it comes back to the comfort they feel in terms of retaining the user base, no matter what they do.

Consider how hard it is now to start a new character over from scratch. Nothing carries over – not even cosmetic items. The entire process is intentionally discouraging and intended to psychologically manipulate players into shelling out real money to progress a second character, and a third, and so on. The thing is, most players are simply going to be discouraged by this and stick it out with their main character until things become so stale they simply move on to other games. This kind of mechanic, and the mentalities it encourages in the player…they would be considered kryptonite to an MMO studio that relies heavily on player retention. The game creators are inviting disaster by cultivating this kind of thing. It may not hurt them now, in the short term, while people persist despite the designs, but there is a limit to gamer’s patience, and their loyalty to a brand can be shaken over a long enough timeline.

I posted another topic detailing my frustrations with bugged elements of my MyPLAYER Archetype last year, and the unsatisfactory replies from 2K Support. Now, it may be true that they don't have the ability to fix that problem with my MyPLAYER, but it sure doesn't hurt that my only options are to grin and bear it, or start over and potentially pay to avoid some of the grind (and regain cosmetic items, too). It's a problem that's been building for a few years now, and is finally coming to a head in NBA 2K18.

Honestly, I don't feel encouraged to even play with my original MyPLAYER part due to the next point, since I was mostly building him up to use online.

As I said, there’s many more examples of design decisions I could incorporate into this argument, but I wanted to keep this short. I’ll give one more example to close though: the lack of matchmaking in online gameplay modes. This is yet another glaring oversight from a studio that wants to both push the online element harder, and also make an entry into the e-sports domain. There will be large numbers of players who want to participate in the online experience, but who are immediately discouraged from it after facing opponents well above their skill level. There is a reason why the most successful online competitive games have these kinds of mechanisms – because constant loss, because a lack of access to ways to improve…all that hurts player retention.

That sums up the problems with the online experience perfectly. There's very minimal matchmaking in 2K Pro-Am, basically using the broad Amateur, Pro, and Elite tiers. Generally speaking, you're matched up with a team of the same tier, unless an opponent isn't available, in which case you may face a team from a different tier. That system is easily broken by squads disbanding and reforming with blank slates, which amounts to elite players in newbie clothing. The pay-to-win mechanics dictate the terms of competitive play, and of course, encourage everyone to at least consider shelling out some real money to upgrade their player faster. Without deeper matchmaking, to say nothing of casual and competitive settings, it's become an alienating experience.

The Playground, of course, has no matchmaking outside of glancing at who's playing, and deciding "Yeah, they're probably too tough for us", or conversely, "We can take them". Considering that you have a limited number of courts on which to get a game, sometimes you don't have a choice if you actually want to play.

Obviously, this all invites scorn from the "git gud" crowd, but the fact of the matter is, people have differing skill levels. Beginners need to master the game in an environment that allows them to hone their skills against competition that's on their level, and some online gamers are playing "socially", so they're not min-maxing and treating it all as Serious Business. Other games cater to those differences in skill level and approach; NBA 2K does not.

Like so many failed, shuttered studios I watched fall from great heights, I don’t think they realize just how precarious their position is right now. Their behaviour mirrors CCP’s own hubris and insularity at the time they fucked up to a scary degree.

Kenny's said it more than once on the Podcast: no one is too big to fail. 2K is safe for now, but the more they press their luck, the more precarious their position becomes. And if they continue to succeed in spite of their hubris and decisions that are lacking in goodwill, it's likely the game will continue to drift from the experience that a lot of long-time gamers desire.

Again, a fantastic and insightful post from someone who worked in the industry, and knows their stuff when it comes to these matters (as well as NBA 2K itself).
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Re: The "MMO-ification" of NBA2K from a former MMO developer. (EVE Online)

Postby [Q] on Thu Jan 18, 2018 4:18 am

I agree with the lack of tutorials especially when I picked up 2k16 for free from PSN. I was able to pick it up and play but I knew there was a secret list of advanced moves and I just never got the chance to really try that stuff.
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