NBA 2K14 hasn't made the jump to next-gen without encountering—and occasionally crashing headlong into—a few hurdles. Most of the kinks have been ironed out, in no small part thanks to a recent round of bug and glitch repair, as well as a welcomed roster update. In spite of these fixes, one problem remains rampant: in-game microtransactions. YouTube user GoodGameBroCom summed it up nicely with this video:
The fact remains that microtransactions—the purchasing of small (often cosmetic) items in a game using real money—are nothing more than a cash-grab and a crutch for subpar game design. Players will generally purchase items with real money if they decide that accumulating the required in-game resources or virtual money is too tedious a process—that the gameplay isn't rewarding enough to justify investing the time. It's a disturbing trend that the gaming industry has grown to embrace, with NBA 2K14 regrettably among the guilty parties.
One example: In the past, gamers could do in-game training exercises to build up the skill levels of the in-game players. It was a direct relationship: More exercises equals higher skill. Under the new system, training exercise earn gamers not skills, but rather in-game currency that can be used to boost skill levels. It's a subtle distinction if you're the type of gamer patient enough to train your way to stardom. But many people aren't. That's where the real-world money comes in.
Compounding the issue is that many aspects of the game's single-player campaign are lacking compared to past NBA titles, with more emphasis placed on the online modes—specifically "MyGM" and "My Career"—that, go figure, provide more opportunities for microtransactions. MyGM, for instance, puts you in the shoes of a general manager and tasks you with securing contracts, negotiating partnerships, and keeping up with player emotions. It's all backed by a skill system similar to the court skillset seen in single-player games—and, just as you need to build skills with a player in order to do the best moves, MyGM becomes more enjoyable once you've paid your dues and have more options available to you. It follows that players will want to advance to that level quickly, but it takes time and patience to do so. Unless, instead of paying your dues, you pay with your credit card.
As refreshing as it is to see a sports franchise implement a story mode that revolves around your decisions, it's alarming when the means of attaining that immersion and longevity is cutting corners and expecting player wallets to back it up. We've already spent $60 on the game.
Rather than propagating the Virtual Currency system by encouraging players to pay for the stats they want, why not reward players more thoroughly for winning against online opponents, raising their team ranking, or progressing through My Career? If items can be unlocked through enjoyable gameplay—which NBA 2K14 has in spades—the problem vanishes. You can have as many microtransactions as you want as long as they aren't effectively mandatory. Beefing up in-game rewards and increasing the rate at which players can improve their game for free solves everything.
Fortunately, the team over at 2K has repeatedly shown us that they are dedicated to improving the game and responding to player feedback. Let's hope they see the writing on the wall this time and rein in the wallet-prodding.