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Is NBA 2K20 the franchise’s NBA Elite moment?

It wouldn’t be a September (or October, depending on the year) without an NBA 2K release, and with that the subsequent controversy that seems to follow the franchise around for every yearly release.

Whether it’s server issues, in-game purchases, bugs, glitches, or whatever else the NBA 2K community fancies chucking up a stink about, there always seems to be something plaguing the game’s release.

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NBA 2K20 on face value appears to be more of the same. The base game is, objectively, very solid, and undoubtedly top of its class, although that’s a bit like saying the Nets are the best team in New York: there really isn’t all that much competition. So then how can we objectively know any different?

This year’s NBA 2K seems a bit … off. And not “off” in the same way past releases have felt, with small issues here and there have been subtlety fixed with hush-hush updates released in the dead of night.

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Rather, if anything, NBA 2K20 is suffering from a major identity problem.

The easy focus would be to fixate on the tone-deaf pre-launch marketing campaign, a hyperbolic mess of fluorescent colours that championed the game’s blatant in-game gambling. In the space of only a few hours, the marketing team shadowed any potentially positive and appealing new feature of the game.

Ignoring that, though, like most of the more dedicated NBA 2K community did, and there are bigger problems at play. The virtue of being anti-gambling is noble, and the story was probably more to do with how the game was classified, but there’s a disconnect here between community and media, and it’s probably worth readjusting the real focus here.

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Booting the game up and jumping into a meaningless Exhibition matchup probably won’t highlight any of what NBA 2K20 does wrong. More likely is it’s going to paint the picture of a very solid, well-crafted albeit complex and slow basketball simulation. Elsewhere, however, is the basketball game equivalent of a popular small town high school jock, who, 10 years on, is the only one from his graduating class that hasn’t actually graduated from the town.

Where the issues really lie with NBA 2K20 — or, what’s holding the franchise back — is a combination of an obsession with off-the-wall spinoff modes and mini-games, and the neglect of the game’s older, more cherished modes like MyGM and MyTEAM. The focus seems muddled, almost like NBA 2K forgot what it is that helped the franchise reach its peak, like it’s forgotten what it is that separated it, held it up, and propelled it above NBA Live.

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At the moment, NBA 2K is split into two games. Fenix Bazaar reader Randall summed it up best.

“All of that ancillary junk (which seems to always be broken at launch time) did not exist in NBA basketball video games 10 years ago.

“I have no interest in any of it. So all these complainers are speaking a different language when they voice their concerns. I literally have no idea what they are talking about. It’s as though we aren’t even playing the same game!”

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As someone that grew up playing NBA Live through the 90s and most of the 2000s, I feel this pain. The focus of some parts of the community, media, and development team seems split. One section is fixated on the core gameplay fundamentals — the “simulation” — and another is fixated on the “reality” component — create a player, walk through parks, play through a story. You have two different communities, critiquing two different games, and a developer that wrongly see the concerns as one single echo-chamber of criticism.

“And that’s the problem in my opinion,” Randall continues. “The NBA 2K game has gotten so convoluted with goofy niche spinoff modes that everyone ends up feeling neglected. I have my own frustrations with the game.

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“Seemingly easy fixes that NEVER get addressed, drive me up the wall every single year. But those gripes don’t make the game unplayable for me. Do I still voice my concerns? Sure. Do they get ignored? Sure. But the game is still fun for me.”

The reality is that we’re still going to buy, we’re still going to play, and we’re still going to celebrate, complain and compete. But NBA 2K20 may be the straw that broke the camels back, because the cries are coming in consistently from all cross-sections of the NBA 2K community. It might not truly be the NBA Elite moment for the franchise — it hasn’t quite reached critical — but it might be time for the NBA 2K team to really think about what the NBA 2K brand stands for.

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“As it stands right now,” says Randall, “we have a game that is getting eviscerated by the public and 90% (or more) of the complaints are specifically targeted toward all the secondary elements of the game.

“They need to take a proverbial axe to this game and split it up. I just don’t see how the franchise survives otherwise in the long run.”

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This may actually be a viable solution for a game and franchise that is losing its way, and opening the door to competitors. It took one bad demo for the NBA Live franchise to kill itself, when EA Sports rebranded it as “NBA Elite” and completely slaughtered the fundamental NBA Live experience.

The difference with NBA 2K is that it feels like a slow exploitation of what makes/made the franchise great, and it simply can’t go on forever.

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