Disclosure: Travel to this event was covered by 2K Games.
"I'm pretty much screaming into the void on this one," I said of NBA 2K's Virtual Currency back in 2017. I've been hardly alone. NBA 2K fans have been grumbling about "VC," NBA 2K's microtransaction-driven currency, for many years now.
If you're hoping that this is all a prelude to me saying that VC is finally being removed in NBA 2K20, I'm sorry to disappoint you. VC is alive and well. But NBA 2K20's development team at least seems to be taking community complaints somewhat seriously this time around, comprehensively overhauling MyCareer progression so buying VC feels less essential.
Basically, Visual Concepts is turbocharging leveling in NBA 2K20's MyCareer mode. While senior producer Erick Boenisch won't put a specific number to the progression, he says it's being sped up by "an order of magnitude."
"We didn't want people to feel like they were so trapped in this grind anymore," Boenisch says.
This will hopefully address one of the key complaints behind VC, which is that it necessarily weights progression in such a way that you will eventually get bored and spend some money. As currently constructed, MyCareer is a massive umbrella encompassing a story-driven campaign; an online hub with cosmetics, and online play. VC is earned by playing games, and it can in turn be spent on stat progression and cosmetics.
The microtransaction ties into gameplay has lately become a red line for players, especially in the wake of Star Wars Battlefront 2's loot box debacle, but Visual Concepts has refused to budge on VC. Instead, it has tinkered with elements like barriers that make it impossible to instantly spend to level 99. Still, the grind has remained too much for many players.
So Visual Concepts is simply speeding it up. Senior producer Ben Bishop tells USG, "Really, the game is more fun when you're on more of a level playing field with everyone else, and you're not feeling like you'll never get to an 80 or an 85. Hopefully with all the earning opportunities we give you, and the ability to move up much more quickly, you'll just be able to play and get there pretty quickly."
Unannounced additions to the Neighborhood hub will be among the features that help speed up the grind, Bishop says. NBA 2K20 will also feature a new MyPlayer Builder, which can be used to tinker with builds before starting a MyCareer run. It includes the ability to choose from archetypes, manually set your stat caps, and test out different badges. If you want to try out your build, you can take a fully leveled version on to a practice course for a test drive This makes the mode feel a little more deliberate than in the past, when points were often assigned haphazardly as players felt their way to a character that fit their chosen position.
Most important is a new "Dynamic Progression" feature for players who reach level 95. Previously, reaching this point would entail a long, painful grind before finally capping out. Now, your level is based on skill, so you can actually find yourself fluctuating between level 95 and 99 depending on your performance on the court. For competitive players, this is the kind of change that can make all the difference in the world.
"It's a quicker way to play the game," Boenisch says. "It keeps your attention from start to finish, and you're not going to hit that point where you hit 70 or 71 and you feel like you have so much more to go. This year it just keeps flowing really nicely. It took six years, but we finally hit that mark where it feels right."
It all sounds like a step in the right direction. NBA 2K has always been good about making it possible to earn VC across every single mode, and the updates to progression should make the grind much better. Still, it would be better if the accelerators were dropped entirely. Apart from feeling a bit like... well... cheating, they necessitate that MyCareer be played online, which makes it susceptible to the vagaries of servers and other issues. And really, NBA 2K wouldn't have these issues with grinding if it had never introduced VC in the first place.
VC is here to stay though. Microtransactions have made 2K an outrageous amount of money, and no amount of negative user reviews and fiery Youtube videos will get it to back off. The best you can hope for is that Visual Concepts will try and mitigate the damage. Hopefully NBA 2K20 will be the year that it finally follows through and does so.
"For us it's really important that our customers feel perceived value in the game," Boenisch says. "We've designed the game such that everything like that is supplemental. It's there, it's optional if you want, but everything has to feel natural. It can't be like a mobile game where you eventually hit a paywall. We never hit that in NBA 2K, and I think that's a really important point to drive home."
Players will be able to decide for themselves when NBA 2K20 comes out September 6 on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch, bringing with it an overhauled MyGM mode, the WNBA, and of course, Idris Elba. A Google Stadia version will also launch in November.