Everyone was obviously expecting there to be next-gen NBA 2K21 issues. 2K usually struggles with the online components in a new game, and there was the added issue now of being on new hardware. We also had limited supplies of next-gen consoles out there right now, and we were also coming off a year where the 2K series was more maligned than it had been in at least a couple seasons. At the same time, the next-gen previews had a lot of us hyped up, and so we raced towards a launch that had a lot of excitement but also a lot of baggage based on recent and long-term history.
But I think the big takeaway I have right now still comes back to something a lot of us on OS have talked about a lot in the past, and that’s separating out the technical issues from the “fun” issues. We need to look at the issues out there now and be clear about what “must” be fixed now versus what can wait or needs more time to be judged. I wanted to write about this after watching a video from Chris Smoove, a person some people call the “godfather of 2K” as a show of respect, and now that the storm around the #Make2KFunAgain hashtag has cooled off some.
There’s a lot of noise around this release, again, in part because not everyone can even play the new game right now due to the sparse nature of the next-gen consoles. So we had people boosting a hashtag who had not even played the game or just wanted to get a seat in the echo chamber. Beyond that, I said this in a flyby tweet once the heat had dropped a couple degrees:
#MAKE2KFUNAGAIN is the wrong way to do a hashtag, just a heads up 🙂
— Operation Sports (@OperationSports) November 18, 2020
I said it after the initial buzz because I didn’t want to cause a scene and be involved in what I thought was a bit of a messy topic, but I did mean it. The general context of a hashtag like “Make2KFunAgain” just is far too broad to be helpful. “Fun” is such a wide-ranging concept for a video game, and beyond that, it makes it hard for developers to really get to the core of what the community is talking about. It wasn’t that some people did not have good suggestions — a lot of the big content creators did — or didn’t engage with the hashtag in a helpful and serious manner, but there were just too many noisy components to it elsewhere.
This happens with almost all forms of social media, which is the same reason why a lot of the Madden hashtags were fun for those who wanted to air their grievances and feel like they were making a change, but ultimately did not really yield a response from EA. #FixMaddenFranchise was a form of a success story (for now) because it was concentrated on a specific topic after a very specific piece of news that franchise mode was not getting upgrades. It did garner a response from EA, but even then we have to really wait until Madden 22 to see if that was even effective on a larger scale — and thus even a success story.
This is not me jumping on a table to wag my finger at people for engaging in “useless” hashtags because if you want to annoy large companies who have monopolies on your favorite sport, by all means go ham. I’m not the fun police. I’m simply saying I don’t know how useful it really is beyond giving yourself that sweet, sweet dopamine hit, and so that’s what brings me to my next point.
Splitting Out The Fun From The Technical
The staff was relatively high on next-gen NBA 2K21 after launch, and I think that’s true for OS as a whole. A portion of that comes from the frustrations with current-gen NBA 2K21, but there is also a feeling that there’s some important structural changes and improvements that are long overdue finally taking place as it relates to gameplay.
But let me be clear from the start that there’s a lot of issues here. Instead of maybe one or two “major” issues being the problem, it’s like 100 small cuts just taking away from the enjoyment. Those small cuts perhaps become larger wounds depending on what sort of experience you’re looking for this year, but this is mostly to be expected with a next-gen launch game. It’s why I come back to Smoove’s video now as a way to preach patience on a lot of this “fun” stuff that people want immediately changed.
The biggest “fun” thing I’ve seen the most often relates to poster dunks being too effective. Smoove pushed back on that, and I would as well in a 5-on-5 setting, but sure, they’re probably OP right now. But that’s a pretty good place to be for gameplay if that’s the top issue that gets talked about over and over. The context is it’s of course going to be easier to launch and dunk when fewer people are on the court in a 2-on-2 setting, and when you’re more in a 5-on-5 setting you can do work early to get in the way or foul. Charges are finally a thing again this year, and it’s also easier to bump someone off their mark without elite badges. I would argue it’s still too easy to get by people by just using turbo, but your body position matters way more this year.
In other words, I would preach patience here with this “fun” issue and others like it. I think the pick and roll needs some work. We could still do more to prevent some offensive rebounding quirks off blocks. I think shooting is maybe a bit too easy on All-Star. I think we could use even more fouls overall. I think the fast-break defense still needs some love. But I would be fine with the developers mostly not touching these things still for at least a couple more weeks. 2K developers are so quick to patch and tune the gameplay that we lose so much by doing it too fast.
This is not a new topic either. We have talked about it a ton here in the past, and it’s been a thing elsewhere, that 2K in particular is too quick to patch things and impact the “meta” right after launch. Let people get a feel for the game. Let people see if they find ways to stop the dunks. Let people see if they can sort of figure out ways to change the “meta” on their own before you come in and start pulling levers.
Let the start of this new generation be a time for learning and changing rather than doubling down on past mistakes.
In the interim period, we should instead focus, like, 100 percent on the technical stuff that was also in that “fun” hashtag. Things like fixing the frame rate in The City are “fun” issues in a way because they annoy you and hurt the game, but really, they’re just bugs. Technical issues like that should already be fixed — or be getting fixed first and foremost. Fix the Mamba Mentality badge that causes an error code. If you want to make some minor tweaks around the edges go for that as well — it seems like one of the roster updates maybe helped pick-and-roll defense a bit in CPU games, for example. But focus on the “bugs” first and then worry about changing the meta in a couple weeks.
Otherwise, give everyone a chance to play this game. Give everyone a chance to dig in to playing the AI, and playing in Rec and playing in a fixed City. If the problems are still posters or players really are too good at everything now with this new build model that you have to scale back threes or dunks a little to make it a little easier to defend, then so be it. But don’t simply make the changes because you feel some “pressure” to act now.
For as crappy as monopolies are, it also affords you a chance to set the schedule. And the developers can choose to slow walk gameplay tuning and patches with little consequence, especially if they fix the technical issues that impact everyone equally and don’t have two sides to the argument like the gameplay elements.
Action From Us On NBA 2K21 Next-Gen Issues
As part of this effort to be another voice out there, one thing we will be doing here at OS is trying to be more vocal on a consistent basis with our feelings as a community. So I will be working on a next-gen feedback system here where I’m aggregating the bugs and suggestions that are bubbling up the most here at OS and putting them in one spot every so often so 2K can get a concise look at what is impacting a sim-oriented community.
No list will be perfect, but I hope to do this for next-gen NBA 2K, Madden and FIFA on a semi-regular basis, and we’ll expand it to other games as they release from now on.