2K and EA Are Fumbling the Bag

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The mixed emotions I have this year during the peak of the major sports game release season is not a unique phenomenon. It seems to be a feeling that is cascading across wide swathes of OS and beyond in terms of tangible hope and frustration about Madden 23, NBA 2K23, and I would suspect FIFA 23 starting this week. Madden 23 and NBA 2K23 are far and away the best they have been gameplay-wise during this console generation, and in the case of NBA 2K23, I would say it’s maybe the best gameplay we’ve gotten during a launch window ever. For a franchise like NBA 2K, that’s impressive. And yet, all the good vibes that come from that gameplay goodness are being squandered by greed and, well, baffling decisions. Simply put, 2K and EA are fumbling the bag.

2K And EA Are Fumbling The Bag

Madden NFL 23 MUT

#Packstrike

I’ll start with Madden 23 because the “issues” here are a little more straightforward and concentrated. If you couldn’t already guess, the issues here are with MUT. Madden Ultimate Team has long been the most confusing and buggy of the “card collecting” modes. There are multiple currency types, training, and a lot of other friction that makes it hard to get invested in the mode if you’re coming to it from more straight forward versions like Diamond Dynasty. Perhaps all those added elements are why so much stuff seems to break with the mode, but generally speaking most of us are surprised when MUT is not bugging out.

I don’t even mean to write that to be harsh, it’s just sort of a fact. I’m sure everyone on the development side works hard, but whether it’s iffy development tools or not having enough support, MUT just breaks in various ways. For a variety of reasons, this has led to some within the community to start a #PackStrike hashtag on Twitter and sort of make it like a #FixMaddenFranchise moment. While I don’t think it has reached that level of notice among the wider gaming community, it’s some of the most palpable outrage I’ve seen from the MUT community in quite some time.

Generally speaking, rewards have just been a huge issue all year in MUT. They’re just not registering correctly. The big “win” for MUT at the start of the year seemed to be Solo Battles and an increase in ways for offline gamers to play the mode and still succeed. This has faded a bit, and MUT (and NBA 2K23) have rekindled their love for senseless grinding that is painful and not worth the time. I’ll talk about this more with NBA 2K23 in a bit, but in a way the studios are pretending we’re still in peak pandemic times. However, even if we couldn’t leave the house, this would still be wrong to do.

The issues also go a step beyond frustrating to simply unfair once EA is no longer paying out the right amount of rewards for the goals we do complete.

In the tweet above, Problem is pointing out how people have not been getting their coin rewards when winning things like the Super Bowl in MUT. This is a relatively new discovery, but it’s something where EA Help is sort of saying it will be rectified, and EA is now saying something about it, but it’s also tricky how you “make it right” when it has apparently been a bug all year. For some of the best players, that is a lot of coins they are missing, and I have to wonder if EA can even accurately track all the prior games in order to give everyone their proper coin rewards.

All of this creates an awkward scenario because MUT is technically supposed to be the poster child for “games as a service” that all these big sports games push on us now. Post-release content and these games living all year long are generally based on these card modes because that’s where the new content continuously comes in all cycle. The issue is how does any of this garner goodwill among your fans when the grinds are brutal and not worth it, and then on top of it, the grinds you do commit to completing don’t give out the proper rewards.

For me, it’s extra frustrating because while Madden 23 is not my Game of the Year or anything, it’s way more enjoyable online this year on the whole. The offensive line issues are brutal, man coverage is too strong, aggressive catches are still too powerful (as always), and some other defensive stuff is not working properly, but it’s a significant step up. Some offline folks are very frustrated by interceptions (I’m not really in that camp), but the sliders not working properly for interceptions is generally the bigger issue for offline folks because you could at least tune INTs if the sliders worked right. Point being, more people want to play Madden than usual right now, and EA is getting in the way of that in ways that seem foolish.

(I also won’t even get into CFM not working for some people, especially online users, but that’s obviously another massive issue not related to microtransactions.)

Finest Gary Sheffield

Perhaps there are data points that economists point to that show enraging your fans or making it incredibly hard to play the game normally leads to spending money on it, but with MUT it seems not worth it. The amount of money you would need to spend in order to get what you want is already exceptionally high — again, if you read Zirksee’s tweet, you’re not even guaranteeing yourself certain cards when buying $100 bundles and such — so the least you could do is make sure the reward payouts are accurate. On top of that, I’m one very small piece of the puzzle, but I’ve spent more money in Diamond Dynasty than I have in MUT, and I did it in DD not because I even had to, it was simply because that mode had garnered enough goodwill that I felt fine throwing a little money in for in-game stubs to finish up a collection I was working towards anyway.

NBA 2K23 MyTeam Demands All Your Free Time

NBA 2K23 MyTeam Too Much Grinding

On the 2K side of things, I’ll start with NBA 2K23 MyTeam before going over to MyCareer because some of the issues here intersect with the same issues from MUT. First and foremost, the amount of grinding you need to do for certain cards is silly. 2K has been doing weekly “agendas” for diamonds this month, and while the first one was annoying but doable (for Donovan Mitchell), they’re now back to being soul sucking endeavors.

The true irony to me for both MUT and MyTeam is that these modes go out of their way to make sure you don’t play the game to have a good time. By turning these games into pure checklists where you really can’t “earn” what you need by just playing the game to win while having fun, you’re instead just doing senseless tasks over and over in order to try and get the proper result you need. How is that fun? Why would you want to make us do these things?

Now, you can say “well, no one is making you do these things” and that’s correct. I am not doing the grinds for those weekly diamonds right now, but the time commitment to get even one of them is something worth considering. If you’re good at the game — like, really good — winning 15 Unlimited games, 25 Triple Threat online games, and 25 Clutch Time online games is still going to take you roughly 10 hours. The person who is winning most of their online games is not the normal user, so let’s double that time for a normal person, then also add in all the offline components. At this point, you’re looking at 25-30 hours over seven days for one card. And keep in mind, this is a card that probably won’t be relevant for more than a month (at best), and you’re probably playing some modes you don’t even like.

It’s nuts. And it’s not new because there have been absurd grinds in NBA 2K forever, but the fact that you’re on a clock now on top of everything else is just too much.

And, again, it’s frustrating because NBA 2K23 is fantastic online right now in a lot of ways. Defensive settings are not working and the rebounding is as bad as ever, but it’s a good time. And the MyTeam devs even fixed a lot of annoying issues to make stuff like Unlimited more rewarding. But the pack odds are still what they are, and even if 2K is letting us get certain cards now in guaranteed packs, it’s not at “fair” prices or anything of the sort.

NBA 2K23 MyCareer Demands Your Money

nba 2k23 goat boat

Time gouging is how I would classify NBA 2K23 MyTeam, but MyCareer is still good ol’ fashioned price gouging. They know you’re miserable, and they know your player sucks, so pay up. That’s it.

What’s truly gross about the whole leveling process this year is that the offline player can’t even ignore all the nonsense anymore. You will be interrupted and told to put on a hot dog hat, or you won’t be able to just play the game without completing quests etc. I’m not going to say this breaks an unwritten pact, but it does do that more or less. People who did not want to spend money or get trounced online could at least go at their own pace offline. Now, that does not even feel like it’s an option.

On top of that, the fact that the payment model basically comes down to “we know how much it sucks to be a 65 so pay us” is outrageous.

Like a lot of this stuff, this isn’t a new development. Every year, your progress gets reset, people realize how brutal it is being a low overall, and many pay up to at least get to a more usable overall. It’s just 2K has gone that next step once more to really squeeze you every step of the way. This is awkward for everyone because MyCareer is theoretically fun once you get through all the nonsense. It’s theoretically fun because 2K goes out of their way to try and pretend this is an RPG, which means all the worst (and most hilarious for the wrong reasons) things like your rap career and whatever other nonsense gets in the way of playing basketball far too often.

Just A Reminder That A 2k Durag Costs More Than A Real Life Durag from NBA2k

In a year where 2K went out of its way to deliver great gameplay, Eras mode, the Jordan Challenge redux, and basically just remind us how good it is at making a good old-fashioned NBA game, it’s also like they’re daring us to not like the game. Why do this to your consumers? Is it worth charging an exorbitant amount of VC for a piece of clothing after already raiding the wallet to make your player usable? Well, it must be worth it because it only seems to get more insidious every year.

Bottom Line

I’m not expecting major changes to these unfriendly consumer practices from 2K or EA. If they have been “working” this well for the bottom lines of each company for this long, they must feel empowered to keep stepping across that next line time after time. But it’s taken on new meaning this year because sports games feel like they’re back in some ways for the first time in a couple years. Forward progress is not always guaranteed with yearly sports titles — we’ve seen MLB The Show finally hit a wall a bit this year as proof of that — and so I look at these continued missteps on the post-release side of things as just doing your games a disservice over the course of the year.

If your game is good enough that people want to play it a lot, don’t squander that by making price gouging, time gouging, and making rewards nearly impossible to earn the main talking points after launch. FIFA 23 is now in our hands, and we have PGA Tour 2K23 right around the corner. We’ll see if these games are considered worth playing by the community soon enough, but if both these games fall into the same trap of great gameplay stuck behind a wall of monetized frustrations, it will be a bummer. And, on top of that, it will only raise concerns about what EA’s college football game will look like when that finally comes to market next summer.

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