Erick Boenisch, Producer for NBA 2K12, back one more time. Today I’m going to tell you about something pretty special, something you have all been wanting for a number of years now. I realize the title of the Insight gave it away, but ‘The Association: Online’ is finally here! You want details? Let’s get to it…
A feature like this is a major undertaking if done properly and, let me assure you, we went about this the right way. Let’s dispel any preconceived thoughts you may have about what this feature is. The Association: Online is NOT last year’s leagues with a new name and modest improvements. The Association: Online IS what you’ve come to know and love about the offline experience, simply introduced to the masses in the online world.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about human tendencies when it comes to the Association mode, it’s that people like to experience this in a number of different ways. Some people don’t have a lot of time, but like to play every game, so they play 29 game seasons. Some people insist on 82 game schedules where they try to play at least a rough majority of the games. Some people like 5 minute quarters. Some people insist on 12 minute quarters. This was at the front of my mind during the entire process of creating The Association: Online.
Your Online Association comes in two flavors: Public Associations and Private Associations. As the name would indicate, Public Associations are a first come, first served league interface where anybody is free to join. These leagues are created and spawned by our Online Association server. We have a variety of frameworks pre-built to suit your needs. Some public leagues are 14 game seasons and some are the full 82 games (there are also 29 and 58 game seasons). They also vary in quarter length, difficulty level, how fast the league advances, and whether a fantasy draft precedes the start of the league. Private Associations are user-created and require a password to be entered before they can be joined by other players. Private Associations allow for a greater sense of league customization and, essentially, allow the commissioner to control just about anything that happens within the league.
For those of you who enjoy the rush of a live fantasy draft, we have created an all-new drafting interface that will provide you with all the information needed to make your draft a successful one. Aside from the ability to sort available players by various criteria, you will also be able to manage a short list, view your current lineup/team, and view opponent lineups/teams. You can also view your drafting hub, which tells you how many more picks remain until your next selection, how big your payroll is and how much you can afford to spend for each of your remaining picks.
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The all-new Fantasy Draft interface gives you every tool you need to perform the perfect draft.
In Association, money matters. This is something you need to take into consideration when drafting your team. Mid-tier players with superstar-level contracts (think Rashard Lewis) make you think twice before drafting them where their skill level would indicate. There are a number of draft strategies you can employ. You can ‘win now’ with aging vets (Kobe, Duncan, etc.), you can ‘draft for the near future’ with close-to-ready prospects, or you can draft for the ‘distant future’ where you take non-ready prospects that you hope will eventually blossom in a few years time. This last strategy is an interesting one as it gives you the chance at a top draft pick during your first few years in the league. A combination of building your team through the fantasy draft as well as the NBA draft is one I’ve already seen work quite well in our test leagues. I love these fantasy drafts as you will see people take completely different paths. Do you draft a 33-year old Kobe or a young superstar in the making with John Wall?
So you’ve joined a league and are now ready for action. You will quickly notice that The Association: Online has two unique screens not seen in the offline version of the mode. The first is called ‘League Home’. This interface gives you a snapshot of what is going on with your team along with displaying any unread notifications you have. Notifications can be a variety of events including trades that have been offered to you, whether or not another team accepted a trade that you offered, an injury report for one of your players, a league opponent proposing a scheduled game time, and much more. The design of this interface provides you with ‘need-to-know’ information, all at your fingertips.
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The League Home interface in Online Association keeps you up-to-date on everything that is happening with your team from upcoming games to trade offers and much more.
The other screen custom tailored for the online experience is the ‘Schedule’ interface. This screen needed some special treatment as The Association: Online has a unique ‘flex’ scheduling system that I want to tell you about. Depending on the number of games in your season, we provide you with the ability to play any game on your schedule that takes place in the immediate future. For example, users playing an 82-game schedule will have three in-game weeks (roughly 10-11 games) available to be played at any given time. This provides you the opportunity to continue playing your Association in the event that your next opponent is a human opponent who isn’t currently online or available.
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The Schedule menu in The Association: Online allows you to easily see all of your games that are playable now in addition to games that you have already scheduled with other human opponents.
I’d like to talk a little more about the ‘window’ of games and how it works. With the default speed setting, your league will advance 3 in-game days every real-world day. When the league advances, games at the beginning of the ‘window’ get simulated if they are unplayed. At the same time, new games will appear at the end of your ‘window’ during league advancements. This provides you with ample time to use our in-game scheduling tool so you can coordinate with other human players and agree to a time against your opponents. Games against CPU teams can be played any time they are inside your allowed games ‘window’.
At this point you are probably wondering how the concept of ‘time’ works when you have the ability to loosely play games out of order. Rest assured that we have gone to great measures to ensure league fairness when it comes to this privilege. One way that we keep people honest here is how player injuries are measured in ‘games’ rather than time. For example, if Andrew Bynum were to twist his ankle in a game, his injury might require him to sit out for ‘3 games’ rather than ‘1 week’. This means he will be unable to play again until his team has played 3 more games. For those of you who thought you might be able to cheese the system by just not playing games until your player is healed, sorry, it doesn’t work like that.
Trading & Unruly Players
The next tool we created to promote league fairness revolves around our trading system. Whenever a user agrees to a trade with another team, the trade gets sent out to every single member of the league (as a notification). As a member of the league, you have a right to review the trade for fairness. If you like the deal and think it benefits both teams, no further interaction is required on your part. On the other hand, if you feel like one team is greatly taking advantage of the other, you can choose to protest the trade. When one or more users choose to protest a trade, it will then go to arbitration where a modified version of our in-game trade logic will evaluate the trade while looking at the needs for both teams. If the server believes that the trade is acceptable, it will be processed in a future league update. If the server agrees that the trade is unfair, it will be voided and sent back to the users involved where they can choose to re-work the deal or just abandon it altogether. One note here regarding Human/CPU trading. The CPU trade AI is extremely stringent in Online Associations. For those of you whose intentions are to get to the top by winning deals with the CPU, you’ll need to find another strategy; they are tough in this mode!
I think we’ve all been in a league at one point or another where a certain member of the league was taking advantage of other players or was involved in collusion of some sort. We are offering your league protection with the ability to nominate users for removal from the league. In Public Associations, a vote can be requested to have a player kicked from an Association in which he/she has exhibited questionable behavior. In Private Associations, the commissioner has the ability to remove a player from his/her league at any time. We know you all take your online leagues seriously, so it was important for us to provide you with the tools you need to maintain these leagues over a period of multiple seasons.
Once your league has crowned its first champion, the offseason will be ready to get underway. The offseason consists of three periods of time. In the first period, you will be able to view player retirements, view player progression, accept/decline team contract options, deal with your restricted free agents, etc. Here you are merely preparing for the second offseason period which is where all the action is.
The second offseason period consists of the NBA Draft, Rookie Signing, and Free Agency. Due to the nature of these events, this is the ‘Live’ period of the offseason, where all users are required to be present at a pre-scheduled time to participate. In Public Associations, this will generally be scheduled to accommodate both east coast and west coast users alike. If you are ever unable to attend the Live Offseason event, we do offer you the ability to login prior to this event and setup a draft list that the CPU will use in your absence during the NBA Draft. Additionally, you can also provide a free agent target list that you would like the CPU to use during the live Free Agency period in your absence.
NBA Draft: This event looks and feels like the draft found in the offline version of The Association. That is to say that David Stern and Adam Silver will both be on-hand to announce every pick that is made. Once it is your turn to pick, you will only have 90 seconds to make your selection. While other teams are drafting, you are able to review the available players list and prepare for your upcoming pick. The NBA Draft is a very tense and exciting event. Have a good time with it.
Rookie Signing: This period is very simple and lasts only a couple minutes before moving on to the Free Agency period. As draft pick contracts are essentially slotted per the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, there isn’t any true negotiating here. It’s simply a matter of accepting the pre-determined contracts for the players you want on your team.
Free Agency: The Free Agency period consists of 12 ‘days’, with each ‘day’ consisting of two parts. The first part of the day is when you will make your offers. Other players and CPU teams will be making real-time bids for players as well, so you’ll want to offer the maximum amount of money that makes sense for your team when bidding on players. The second part of each ‘day’ is where you can view the players who have accepted your offers. It is here where you will ‘confirm’ the signing to have a signed player join your team. This is very useful in that it affords you the ability to send out many offers to players when you can actually only afford to sign one or two of them. If multiple players accept your offer in the same day, you’ll be able to confirm which one(s) you actually accept onto your team.
The third and final period of the offseason is where you will send your players to Training Camps, provided you have earned enough Reward Points during the season to do so. In the event that your roster does not yet have 12 players on it, you will also be able to sign leftover free agents to get your roster to the required minimum. Once you have completed these tasks, you simply need to sit back and wait for the next season to start, which will generally happen within a day or so (this varies based on the chosen ‘speed’ of your league).
The Association: Online is something I’ve been dreaming about delivering for a number of years now. For those of you who have followed my Association Insights over the years, you all know how passionate I am about franchise modes, and making them as truly authentic as possible. What we were able to accomplish with The Association: Online this year is very remarkable to me. The architecture used to create this mode will play a pivotal role in an upcoming endeavor that we will be announcing soon. Needless to say, this endeavor will tie in very closely to your Online Associations. Well, that’s about all the time I have for now. I’ll be spending my time this year playing in multiple Online Associations (you can participate in up to 3 different Online Associations at once), so I hope to see you all there. NBA 2K12…the wait is almost over!
- Erick Boenisch
Next NBA 2K12 Developer Insight: "On the Move" by Ronnie Singh, Ben Bishop - Friday, September 30th, 2011