It’s a yearly tradition now to look at the NBA 2K franchise and see how it’s trying to pilfer cash from its users. You could say the same for most sports games in one way or another, but NBA 2K is unique in that it seems to find new ways to do it each year. In an ironic twist, the thing that makes NBA 2K one of the best franchises every year — the bravery to change big portions of modes and gameplay more than other big sports games — also means it’s a major weakness because the microtransactions go through those same changes. With that in mind, this year some of the loudest complaints are related to the new badge regression system for MyPlayer/MyCareer.
Before getting to badge regression, I have to say I assumed the removal of the Auction House in the MyTeam mode would be the culprit for the loudest complaints. However, on some level the Auction House maybe did need to be removed because 2K’s greed in prior years had gotten so out of hand that every new great card would go for exorbitant amounts of MT. On top of that, pack odds were weighted so heavily against users that it meant the black market for MT was really wild. While 2K did this to itself and created the problem, the whole process did need to be reset in some capacity. Regardless, I’ll be curious to see how MyTeam plays out in the weeks and months ahead as 2K now controls the market and the cost of all players (and you can now buy MT with cash straight from 2K).
Badge Regression In NBA 2K24 Is A Hot Mess
Anyway, getting to badge regression and the anger many users have about it, I want to point to the Godfather of sorts of the NBA 2K content creator community first and foremost. Chris Smoove put out this video a couple days ago, and what he says in it is a great encapsulation of all the issues with badge regression. I’m not going to regurgitate all of them, but they’re valid and they’re a big part of what I’m going to be talking about here.
Going into the season, 2K framed the “beauty” of the badge regression system as a way to translate your on-court exploits to badge progress and regression.
The beauty of this system is that you are who you are playing as. You’ve proven which skills you excel at, or which areas you like to gravitate towards. In the end, role players who have singular focuses will likely have fewer badges but at higher levels than well-rounded players who like to dabble with a little bit of everything.
I don’t want to spend too much time on the idea of “realism” in our sports games because ultimately video games and real life are not the same. Sometimes it’s better when something isn’t translated one-to-one from real life to the video game. Still, this system is inherently kind of silly. If Steph Curry doesn’t shoot a bunch of open 3s in some games, it doesn’t mean he’s going to be a worse shooter when he’s wide open moving forward. I don’t think that’s really anywhere near the top of the biggest problems with this system, but we are OS so I do need to point that out.
The bigger issue before even getting into the microtransactions is that badge tiers matter a ton, and there’s also probably some general bugs with the badge progression — and that’s if I’m being kind, otherwise it’s even more exploitative on purpose. Smoove’s video is the best example for this, but basically he shows off how his badges are not progressing very quickly based on usage, which was the promise. He’s throwing all these alley-oops and yet his badge progress is still not going anywhere (or it’s even regressing). The even better example of this is when he shows off the practice facility drills and showcases how he gets screwed at the end of the open shooting drill as the grade for his drill magically drops as it ends.
Let’s go again to 2K:
They say practice makes perfect, right? Badge level progression can also be worked on in Team Practice Facility, the Gatorade Training Facility, and at Chris Brickley’s Gym. In each of these modes, you will only ever improve your badge progress (in other words, you will never drop).
Now, I have to believe the drills portion is bugged to some extent, but it still shows the various issues with badge progression/regression in all facets of the mode. Plus, as mentioned, the level of your badge matters a ton. A gold badge is so much better than a bronze (obviously) but it means leveling certain bronze badges absolutely sucks. Oh, and it also means all that work you did to get to a certain tier of a badge could be lost sooner than later.
Toxicity Is Even Worse
On a fundamental level, one of my main issues is what this does to the online aspects of the mode. MyPlayer is brutal on a good day. Trying to co-exist with random teammates in this game is tough in perfect conditions, so now when you stack something like badge regression on top of it, the toxicity and greed of players just amps up once again. Mind you, the idea of this system is that the badges change based on how you play. Being a good player/teammate is a lot of the time about being flexible. If you can’t throw oops some games because the big is sinking, then you shouldn’t try to throw them. But then you see the conundrum where “oh crap, my badge is going to go down/not progress” and the progress you make elsewhere will be irrelevant because it’s not how you “normally” play the game and bronze badges mostly don’t matter.
I’m sure you can see the issue here. You have guys not passing even more. You have bigs potentially going for even dumber blocks. You have guards going for even more terrible reaches. Oh, and if that teammate does not pass to you? Good luck leveling various badges. Everyone is out for themselves in the worst ways and ready to put you on blast every step of the way if you interfere.
Starfield And NBA 2K24 Are Similar On Their Worst Days
In a lot of ways, I find that MyCareer in NBA 2K24 is basically Checklist: The Game. I’ve been playing Starfield recently, and I know it’s getting lots of love from various folks, but I think NBA 2K24 and Starfield are actually similar in this way some of the time. Starfield is a game that in theory should be about exploring space, but most of the time there’s not much to explore on planets, and so I just end up opening the mission log and clicking to fast travel to the next location rather than traveling through galaxies and coming across all these emergent moments. It’s a game that ends up feeling more constricting (even though space is a pretty big place) because there’s so little true exploration within the core loop of the game.
The same holds true in NBA 2K24 a lot of the time. The way badges progress/regress was said to be freeing and allow you to play the game the way you want. It’s not true. Playing to win and being the best teammate is not going to be the way you gain and keep your badges. In Starfield, exploration is not the priority. In NBA 2K24, your ability to adapt and be a good teammate is not the priority. Instead, you’re just going through a checklist and trying to check off those boxes.
Every Step Is Another Chance To Pay 2K Moneyz
Beyond that, let’s make this clear: the grind is a lie. “The love of the grind” is a perfectly fine motto to have in your day-to-day life if that’s your thing, but grinding in NBA 2K is BS. One line I loved in Smoove’s video is that he said we “rent” these players. And it’s true. We don’t buy these players, we rent them. You’re not out there hustling every day to buy a dope house in your dream neighborhood. You’re out there punching in so you can rent a two bedroom instead of a one bedroom for a couple months.
We as sports gamers have accepted that we basically get to keep nothing year to year in these online modes and have to re-do everything the next year. Now, I do think starting from zero can be fun in these sports games (and building something from scratch is the most enjoyable part when it’s done well), but it’s not fun in this mode. Nobody wants to be a 60 or 65 overall, and 2K knows this.
That same concept applies to every facet of this mode as you go up the pyramid. You could play and slowly upgrade your player from a 60, but yeah most people probably are not going to want to play with you at that level, so here’s a way to buy some points to level your guy to at least an 80+ overall.
You don’t like that your badges could regress? Well, here’s something called “floor setters” so it never drops a level. Oh, you want the floor setter from the season pass? Yeah, you can grind for hours on end to get to that level of the pass, or you can buy levels in the pass and get them right now.
Oh, by the way, we just patched the badge you spent all this time working on and it’s garbage now. What’s that, you want to move that floor setter to another badge then, and you also want to re-spec your build because now it’s not as powerful? I don’t think so, idiot.
On top of all this, you have to worry about perks and multipliers when grinding now, which means it’s now a “did I leave the garage door open?” moment of thinking about whether you equipped a certain perk and are getting particular multipliers in games. In short, don’t make me do math on top of this grinding, I hate math — and I also hate when I think I left the garage door open but then drive back home and realize I didn’t.
And, here’s the thing, a lot of this would even be forgivable to some extent if any of the grinding was fun. But 2K knows the “grind” is not fun. It’s not fun to do the same thing over and over to progress a badge. It’s not fun to force yourself to play way more hours than you would otherwise because there’s no way you’re going to get to Level 40 and get your “free” floor setters and such for your player otherwise. That all sucks and they know it sucks.
Look, I still love this franchise and love NBA basketball. I’m going to have more positive thoughts on the game in the coming days because there’s some real cool stuff in this year’s version that’s worth praising. But it can’t be said enough how brazen 2K can be when it comes to trying to slide into your bank account. It goes beyond just taking cues from mobile games or its own past. NBA 2K is on another level when it comes to trying to yoink extra cash from you, and regardless of how many people pay up to push through those barriers to entry, it’s important to always be highlighting this and at least calling it out.
We’re not out here trying to tell you to boycott anything or not give them money if you just want to play the game you love, but man, when it comes to microtransactions it sure is crazy that every year seems like a new opportunity to point to another aspect of 2K that is even more exploitative than the year prior.